What’s Wrong With New York?

Felix Hörhager/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

In recent years, we’ve seen a topsy turvy battle over the expansion and restriction of early voting and other reforms intended to make it easier for people to vote and thus expand the number of people who vote. Democrats (favoring more voting) and Republicans (favoring less) each act out of a certain self-interest. But contrary to articles like this one that present this as a mere battling for partisan advantage, the two sides aren’t equal. In a democratic society, efforts to expand the franchise have an inherent political morality on their side. And sites like TPM have routinely and rightly condemned various state GOPs who have gone to great lengths since 2010 clawing back early voting opportunities (and pushing other voting restrictions) to reduce voting by the young, the poor and the non-white.

So I bash Republicans in Ohio and North Carolina for restricting early voting. And yet I live in a state in which there’s no early voting at all. In fact, New York state might at best be described as living in a voting world of two or three decades ago.

The biggest fights over ballot access are in the states where there’s most on the line in national politics. So Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin and other states get a lot of attention and a lot of out-of-state mobilization goes on on either side. And because of this I’d assumed that it was the political importance of swing states that was driving ballot access reform forward while deep blue and deep red states remained with the same old laws because in a partisan sense no one really cared. These states – at least in national politics – were largely owned by one of the two parties.

But when I looked at the map, that logical and perhaps comforting logic really didn’t hold up.

Here is a map from a report prepared by the public policy think tank Demos.

As you can see, a bit of the supposed pattern I noted holds up. But not that well. The pattern doesn’t really track well with swing-state-itude. It’s an odd mix of one-time Confederate states with what you might call troubled histories of voting rights and most of the Northeast, supposedly one of the progressive and reformist regions of the country. (I’ve looked into it. Cuomo and state Democrats support reform and actually tried to pass it. But obviously, given their dominance in the state, not with a great deal of determination.) For New York at least it seems like a combination of two factors: Republicans don’t support expanded access to voting and Democrats, basically already running the state, don’t see a problem that needs fixing. Pennsylvania and the rest of New England also lagging behind suggests there’s maybe something more to it. Regardless, it’s an embarrassment and a shame.