How to Boost Voter Turnout With Just One Signature

Originally published in New York Times on .
Feet below a polling booth

In a rare bit of political good news in the final days of 2023, Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York has signed into law legislation aimed at increasing voter turnout.

For so many people, the temptation to tune out in this moment of uninspiring politics is stronger than ever. But in Albany, as in Washington, one of the clearest ways to build a saner, more responsive political system is to vastly increase the number of voters who cast ballots.

The bill enacted by Ms. Hochul and the State Legislature will do just that, by moving many county and local elections across New York to even-numbered years, aligning them with federal, statewide and State Legislature elections that draw more voters to the polls.

“Just by changing the date of these elections you can empower these voters,” James Skoufis, a Hudson Valley Democratic state senator who sponsored the legislation, told me.

The measure is in some ways modest: It doesn’t apply to New York City and other cities across the state, which are required by the State Constitution to hold elections during odd-numbered years. Also thanks to the State Constitution, the legislation doesn’t apply to elections for district attorney, county clerk, sheriff or many judicial posts. (The State Constitution seems due for some revisions on this count, despite the effort that would require.) The new law does apply to other county and town elections, from county executives and town supervisors to town board members, as well as county legislators and town clerks.

The law is a no-brainer for New York. Despite this, the bill faced opposition from some elected officials in the state — from both parties — who prefer that New York’s elections stay as they are.

“Even some Democratic elected officials have raised some concerns, a nonzero number of elected Democrats,” Mr. Skoufis told me. “It’s very much, ‘OK, the current system got me elected.’ They don’t want to lose that.”