The 2016 presidential election campaign season has been heated, with a multitude of memes, tweets, and protests. The public has been vocal on topics that the candidates have debated, ranging from abortion to healthcare to foreign policy a la Trump’s “Let’s build a wall” spiel. Residents of New York City, a traditionally progressive and cosmopolitan region, are equally as active, evidenced by the fact that the Bernie Sanders’ rally in the Bronx on March 31 attracted an estimated 15,000 people.
Hashtags like #ImWithHer and #FeeltheBern have been trending on Twitter like wildfire. The streets of New York have also seen people protesting outside of Trump Towers, wearing John Kasich buttons, and meme-ing Ted Cruz. Social media has proven to be an imperative platform for political engagement, chiefly for the Millennials, who make up more than 25 percent of the city’s population. The current trend is that time for change is now, and voices must be heard.
— tommy (@tommymcphail) April 5, 2016
The problem is, how many people are actually going to let their voices be heard in this election? The New York primary is on April 19, so the weeks before the March 25th registration were filled with initiatives to get people registered. New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) focused on a CUNY-campus based voter registration campaign because the Millennials, the same ones practicing clicktivism and creating political hashtags, have a notoriously lackluster voting record.
Emily Skydel, the head of Hunter College’s chapter of NYPIRG was very dedicated to the initiative and sent out regular emails stating “THE DEADLINE TO REGISTER TO VOTE IS THIS FRIDAY,” and “If you’re not registered, we will set you up! If all else fails, come! WE WANT TO HELP YOU.”
The capitalization shows an urgency, which is larger than the preference for any candidate, an attempt at counteracting the fact that there are many people who don’t utilize their right and their duty to vote. Organizations like Rock The Vote have been around for years trying to make voting seem cool, but evidence shows that it has not been working in New York. Despite the stereotype that New Yorkers are assertive with their opinions, a recent report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission showed that in 2015, only 25 percent of registered voters and less than 20 percent of those eligible to vote turned up to cast a ballot in New York City. The commission also revealed that the issue extends beyond the city’s limits, as New York state was ranked 46th in voter turnout for the midterm elections among all the states, which translates to about 29 percent of eligible voters actually voting.
This low turnout is nothing new, as a project completed in 2009 by public radio station WNYC 93.9 FM showed that the general trend across all of the city’s districts was an eligible voter turnout of less than 30 percent at gubernatorial elections. While FairVote reveals that turnout for the November presidential elections are considerably higher, with statewide eligible voter turnout hitting 53 percent, this number is still low, and the “big election” isn’t the only one the public needs to be concerned about. Nevertheless, the New York primaries are expected to have low turnout based on historical precedence, failure to register, or a cause unbeknownst to political analysts everywhere.
New York City’s Comptroller Scott Stringer doesn’t pretend to know this ambiguous factor, but he does have some ideas on how to counteract it. In his report, “Barriers To The Ballot: Voting Reform in New York City,” published on April 3, Stringer called for the implementation of pre-registration, automatic registration, and same-day registration, as practiced in Connecticut, Minnesota, and Colorado. In the introduction, Stringer highlights Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s activism which led to Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act, and states that, “If New York wants to reaffirm democratic values in the 21st century, we need voting laws that recognize our historic commitment to suffrage.”
Stringer’s report also says New York is one of a few states with inadequate voting alternatives, and cautions against voter laws that threaten to limit New Yorkers “exercising their franchise.” Stringer’s report is a comprehensive 16-point plan, but if adopted, it will still not be ready by the 2016 presidential election. Thus, the only option is to go beyond the hashtags, memes, and Drumpf jokes and actually reach the ballot box. Online voter registration is available here.
Photo by @