Register, and then vote

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By Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal

New York State has some of the most prohibitive voting laws in the nation. We require new voters to register at least 25 days before the election, while some states allow new voters to register the same day they vote. We have closed primaries, so a registered Independent voter can’t vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries. Changing one’s party affiliation must be done 25 days prior to the previous year’s general election. No other state makes changing party affiliation this difficult.

Add to the logistical barriers the barrier of motivation — that is, the feeling that your vote doesn’t matter — and turnout becomes exceedingly low. New York State consistently has some of the lowest voter turnout in the nation, even in presidential election years, and our least engaged voting demographic is young people aged 18-29.

In March 2015 my office — along with NYC Votes, the New York Immigration Coalition, and the NYC Department of Education — held our first Student Voter Registration Day; we held events in 25 schools across the city and registered more than 2,000 students to vote. This March, we expanded the program to over 60 schools and registered over 8,500 students to vote in time for the presidential primary.

On Thursday, Oct. 6 we’re hosting our third registration day: this time at transfer schools, or public high schools with students who skew older and have completed at least one year of high school at another school.

As these students re-engage with their studies, we want them to consider voting and advocacy as tools to bring about change in their lives. At our March event, few students knew who their City Council Member was or what the City Council even does. They got interested when they learned their City Council member could get funding to renovate their school water fountains, gymnasium or science lab and bring after school programs like computer science, music and dance to their school. Students learned that some issues that impact their everyday lives — public university programs at their high school, for example — are determined by who they elect to state office.

Of course, not everyone in the audience is able to vote. If you’re not a U.S. citizen, you can still get involved to raise awareness of issues that matter to you: join your local community board, develop project ideas for Participatory Budgeting, or volunteer for an organization you believe in.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to register to vote; the burden would be on the government to register us. In Oregon they’ve started to do just that: every Oregonian who gets a driver’s license or state ID from that state’s motor vehicles department is automatically registered to vote and can opt out if they wish — rather than it being the other way around.

If you are a U.S. citizen and you aren’t registered to vote, be sure to register before the deadline on Oct. 14. (If you have a New York State DMV license, you can register to vote online!) And then — don’t forget to vote on Nov. 8.

Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal represents most of the Upper West on the City Council.

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