With the moniker of “Empire State” New York should be a leader.
We’re definitely not when it comes to voter participation.
Looking only at the gubernatorial elections since the mid-1970s, citizen engagement been in seriously steep decline. In the 1974 election, 75 percent of eligible New York voters went to the polls. By 1986, that number dropped to 55 percent. It lingered around 40 percent during the 2002, 2006, and 2010 campaigns before hitting rock bottom in 2014 with less than a third of all New Yorkers taking part.
It’s bad citizenship.
This year, turning that around became a serious goal of Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature.
To encourage greater participation they passed some excellent legislation, including excuse-free absentee voting and early voting, both of which this writer supported in a column earlier this year.
They’ve also passed some horrible standards, including a real gem that was hidden in the bowels of last week’s state budget which saw a transformation of the language of Section 1, Section 3-110 of state election law.
In the original version employers did not have to allow employees time off to vote if the polls were available 4 consecutive hours either before or after the shift. It was a common sense standard that protected the voting rights of workers who might have incredibly long shifts (like doctors, nurses and farm workers) and it encouraged workers on standard part- and full-time shifts to vote on their own time, as they would with any activity related to their personal liberty.
Last week’s change saw that 4-hour standard scrapped entirely.
Now, even if an employee has a quartet of hours or more to vote outside of work, the employer is required to grant that person up to 3 hours of leave during working hours, either at the beginning or end of the shift, to go to the polls as long as that individual requests it no less than two days before Election Day. He doesn’t have to show he has or doesn’t have plenty of time outside of work. Employers have to honor every request, no questions asked before or after: There is nothing in the bill that requires the employee to present proof of their having voted nor has the state put a mechanism in place for polling stations to produce that for voters.
It doesn’t end there.
The employer is also required to pay that person full wages for the time off that is “needed” for them to vote. So, even if the employee has all the time in the world to vote off the clock, they don’t have to and can get paid for it.
This standard applies to not only what many people believe to be “the” Election Day in November, but it also holds true for any election – village elections in March, presidential nominating primaries in April, school board elections in May, and primaries in June.
Employers can’t shirk or hide their duty, either, as they have to post in a conspicuous location their statement or policy reinforcing the state’s law no less than 10 working days before the election where it will remain until polls close.
While this is, allegedly, a step the state is taking to inspire good citizenship, it does nothing but inspire bad citizenship.
Voter participation is low and has been low for a reason. A lot of people just don’t care. If during one’s ample personal time -- which for most workers is two-thirds or more of an entire day – he couldn’t find or make the time to vote, then he really doesn’t care enough about the direction of his community, school, state, or nation. He’s either complacent or he was never properly educated on his civic duties by his parents or schools.
But, if now, if all sorts of voters like him come out of the woodwork to vote because it’s time away from work and 3 hours of free pay, there is nothing good that can come out of it. They won’t be voting for love of country, they’ll be voting for love of money and, at the same time, sticking it to their bosses and coworkers.
That’s not the sort of person we want or deserve at the polls. Some races are so tight just a few votes can make a difference. Do we really want completely disinterested and ignorant people choosing our mayors, council members, and senators just so they can get participation points and nearly a half day of pay?
Our republic wasn’t made by that. It was made by people who actually cared about it.
Sure, everyone has a right to vote – and deserves that right -- but the magic of America is that it’s not a requirement to vote. If someone cares enough, if someone researches the issues enough, they will go to the polls. They don’t need to be incentivized to vote….nor should they be.
From the 08 April 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News