There are many arguments for Cynthia Nixon’s insurgent challenge to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. But the strongest of these arguments is the most basic one: Nixon wants to make it a whole lot easier to vote in a state where it is still ridiculously burdensome to cast a ballot.
“Our democracy should be a forum where every New Yorker has an equal say and is encouraged to make their voice heard,” declares the Nixon campaign, “but right now too many New Yorkers are silenced by our state’s restrictive voting laws.”
Simply by running, Nixon has renewed and energized the process in a state where too many entrenched and well-funded incumbents face little or no competition. The actor and activist has used her prominence—and her ability to build coalitions—to mount a spirited “David and Goliath” challenge not just to Cuomo but to the political establishment in New York.
Throughout the campaign, Nixon has criticized the governor for failing to take seriously New York’s democracy deficit.
And rightly so.
Cuomo, as the son of a former governor who has mounted five statewide campaigns since 2002, knows everything there is to know about elections in the state of New York. No one can, or should, doubt that the governor is well aware that the processes for organizing and running those elections in the state he has led for almost eight years are a mess. This mess contributes to exceptionally low turnout in a state that should be leading the nation when it comes to voter participation. Indeed, as PolitiFact notes, “Election data experts… rank New York state near the bottom of states for voter turnout.”
The evidence of the need for reform is everywhere. New Yorkers must wrestle with chaotic and confusing election scheduling that runs local, state, and federal elections at different times, with barriers to participation for newly engaged and unaffiliated voters who want to participate in “closed primaries,” some of the most extreme voter-registration requirements in the country, and dysfunctional campaign-finance laws that empower incumbents and special-interest donors rather than voters. “New York’s antiquated laws discourage voting and deny citizens the freedom to vote,” explains Common Cause New York, a member of the “Let NY Vote” coalition. “We’re a national leader on many issues, but still have some of the most regressive voting laws in the country.”