Samuel Adams once wrote:
"Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual . . . but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country."
Our nation’s forefathers held the right to vote as one of the most sacred of charges -- one of the defining characteristics of what it means to be an American citizen. And though it took over 100 years before every American citizen enjoyed this right, the right to vote is now the great equalizer in today’s American society.
Every citizen who attains majority (turns 18) –- regardless of wealth, gender, race, ethnicity or religion -– can choose who he or she wants to represent them in the halls of government.That is, unless you are a New Yorker serving our country overseas.
For the last two federal election cycles, New York’s state legislature failed to willingly comply with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009, a law passed to ensure that votes cast by our fighting men and women of the military and New Yorkers living abroad can participate in the electoral process.
In addition to the disrespect shown to New York’s overseas and military voters, Albany’s failure to comply with the MOVE Act disenfranchises voters here at home. When a federal judge ordered compliance with the law in 2012, New Yorkers endured one primary for Congress and Senate in June and another for state and local municipalities in September.
Additionally, because it was a presidential year, voters trudged out for a third time for the presidential primary in between those two races. So what is the problem?
The law requires New York to send out its military and overseas ballots 45 days prior to the general election. However, even in the best case scenarios, it is impossible to have general election ballots created, verified, and printed for New Yorkers overseas for the November general election because results from the September primary election cannot be certified.
There simply is not enough time to get everything done between the two elections.
The remedy lies in proposed legislation offered in the State Assembly. Assembly Bill A. 8198 will push the date for all federal, state, and local primary elections to the fourth Tuesday in June -- a date sufficiently early enough to give ample time to comply with federal law and tailored to address the delicate balance act between civic duty, religious observances, and summer frivolity.
New Yorkers will see immediate benefits from the change. Fewer trips to the polls makes it is more likely that voters will actually participate.
Fewer elections means less money spent on low-turnout races. With voter participation hitting an all-time low in New York City this year, any legislation that makes voting easier for the public is a good idea.
Candidates will also benefit from an earlier primary.
Currently, candidates begin their campaigns in the summer when many potential voters are hardly paying attention. By starting earlier, candidates have more of a captive audience who will be more likely home in late winter and early spring when their mail is delivered and their volunteers come looking for petition signatures.
Also, the legal process can take its natural course when a candidate brings a ballot challenge in court. With a reformed political calendar, time, as the Rolling Stones sang, is on the side of litigants, attorneys, and the courts because all proceedings start and end earlier.
Courts will no longer have to schedule a special summer session for election matters because ballot access issues can be resolved sufficiently in advance of the general election.
More importantly, the Board of Elections will have time to set things right should it commit ministerial error. In 2012, a judge in Brooklyn found the results from a primary for a local State Assembly seat were so irregular that the aggrieved candidate deserved a new election.
Yet, the tainted results stood because the Board of Elections could not set up and conduct a new primary election and have the winner’s name printed on the general election ballot just weeks later. An injustice such as this would not happen again if primary elections are held earlier than September.
With the midterm elections looming in 2014, New York is headed -- again -- for another election season that will try the limits of voter participation for even the most active and ardent of voters.
To avoid these unwanted and embarrassing consequences, Albany can act to comply with federal law, promote voter turnout at a savings and give candidates, the legal system, and the election bureaucracy time to conduct the business of the people -- all with one piece of legislation. Few proposed laws offer such common-sense solutions.
Our forefathers would be proud.
Photo Credit: Todd Maisel/New York Daily News