By JEFF GUILLOT //
Recent reforms in the way we conduct elections can help increase voter turnout on Long Island, change the scope of our elections and significantly affect the future of our region.
Let’s not mince words here: The Republicans got hammered in the 2018 midterms here in New York. I disagree with many pundits who assert that this was a generationally massive rebuke of a sitting president, because there have been plenty of midterm elections that have been particularly disastrous for the incumbent president and his party (see 2010 and 2014).
One of the byproducts of last year’s historic statewide drubbing is that our New York State Senate now boasts a 39-member Democratic majority, the largest in the state’s modern history. Among the very first things this new majority did, right out of the gate, was to catch New York State up with the rest of the country by instituting a series of sweeping changes to the way New Yorkers will vote in the future.
This news missed a lot of people’s radar due to headline-snatching debacles involving Amazon and the Southern Border Wall. For those unindoctrinated, the new voting laws include:
· Early voting: New Yorkers can now vote as early as eight days before Election Day at sites designated by the Board of Elections. Studies have shown that early voting often increases voter participation by 2 to 4 percent. This practice has been shown to affect communities of color in a positive way and can also bolster Republican turnout in non-presidential years.
· Pre-registration: The law now allows 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, meaning that a voter will automatically be registered on his or her 18th birthday. Studies have shown that this can increase youth voter turnout by 8 percent.
For the purpose of hypotheticals, let’s assume that these two measures alone increase turnout by 3 percent on Long Island. If these laws had been in place back in 2016, our State Legislature could have looked very differently – especially if you factor in the hypothetical uptick in young voters and minority voters.
Here are a couple of examples of State Senate races from November 8, 2016:
· District 8: John Brooks (D) 45.5 percent vs. Michael Venditto (R) 45.3 percent, margin of victory .2 percent
· District 5: James Gaughran (D) 45.3 percent vs. Carl Marcellino (R) 46.4 percent, margin of victory: 1.1 percent
· District 7: Adam Haber (D) 45 percent vs. Elaine Phillips (R) 47.2 percent, margin of victory: 2.2 percent
Among many possible scenarios, early voting and pre-registration could have combined to send James Gaughran to the State Senate two years earlier (he won his rematch with Marcellino in 2018) and could have defeated Elaine Phillips two years earlier (she was defeated by Anna Kaplan in 2018). And they could have swung the 8th Senate District in either possible direction, given how close that 2016 race was.
Let this sink in: Prior to the 2018 Elections, Republicans controlled the State Senate by one single vote. That, in a nutshell, is how powerful these new laws are. They will incontrovertibly bring more voices to the table and shift electoral outcomes for years to come.
Why does this matter? Because the higher our voter turnout, the more voices are at the table to decide on important issues that affect the region, like energy and infrastructure.
These are questions that influence the future of every Long Islander, and every voice deserves to have a say.