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Does My Vote Even Matter?

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Dan Clark: Welcome to "New York & Voting." I'm your host, Dan Clark. With this show, we like to explain the impact that local and state government has on people's lives, while also encouraging folks to be civically engaged and active. And there's no way to make a civics education show without talking about voting. Considering how complex and powerful the Empire State is, casting your ballot is incredibly important. And yet, New York's voting numbers are not that impressive. And in the last several election cycles, there's been plenty of talk about voter fraud and voter suppression.

In this episode, we're going to take a look at why every single vote, including yours, matters, and why you can vote with confidence.

In 2017, there was a city council election in Troy, New York that was determined by one vote, just one. While an election being determined by a single vote is a rare occurrence. The fact of the matter is that local elections can run incredibly close. And local governments can have a greater impact on people's lives than you might think. Local government can affect things like what your commute is like, what housing gets built in your neighborhood, your property taxes, policing. Despite this, local elections tend to be the ones that people pay the least amount of attention to.

But even outside of local elections, New York's statewide voter turnout is underwhelming, with the state generally ranking in the bottom quadrant of the country. There certainly are reasons why people may choose not to vote. Maybe their district is gerrymandered, and they feel that the election results are already predetermined. Maybe they feel like they're voting for the lesser of two evils. And are thinking, "I can't believe these are the two options I'm left with." Maybe they feel like politicians simply are not listening to them.

That's an issue that Laura Bierman of the League of Women Voters of New York hopes campaign finance reform could help address.

Laura Bierman: So often candidates are influenced by their big donors. The people who have the money are donating to candidates. And the candidates feel that they need to be responsive to those donors to continue to get the money. That's why the public matching campaign finance system that's starting next year is so important. And we push so much for campaign finance reform, so that the candidates will listen to their constituents.

DC: New York's new campaign finance program will allow candidates running for statewide office, the state senate, and the state assembly to apply for a public match of donations received between $5 and $250 with certain stipulations. The idea is to allow campaigns to competitively fundraise without relying on big money donors that some may then feel beholden to. For more information on the public match program, check out the description. But in addition to campaign finance reform, New York is working to make it easier to vote. Let's take a look.

We've already told you about why people may choose not to vote. But it's important to note that New York State and its counties have been criticized in the past for a lack of streamlined voting. Voter suppression is when action is taken to prevent or reduce voter registration, or the number of ballots cast in an election. This can include adding red tape to the registration and voting process, moving a community's polling site to an inconvenient location, or committing acts of voter intimidation. But the state has been working on ways to make the voting process easier for folks in hopes of improving turnout. We spoke with Jennifer Wilson from the New York State Board of Elections, so she could tell us the ways the state is working to improve access to the ballot box.

Jennifer Wilson: We have really increased our access to voting. Previously, we didn't have early voting. Now we do have early voting. And that is something that will help build our voter participation. We have also decreased the voter registration time. So, now voters can register 10 days before an election. That's another thing that can help boost turnout. And we will soon be implementing automatic voter registration here in New York State. And that is another thing that will eliminate the barrier of having to register to vote. People will already be registered automatically through the DMV, so that will also help boost turnout over time.

DC: Between campaign finance reform and easier access to voting, New York is working to make elections more meaningful. But what about another voting issue that's been in the headlines lately, voter fraud and election integrity? We'll get into that next. 

Voter fraud is the illegal action of attempting to impact election results by casting false votes, voting multiple times, or generally conspiring to alter election results through illegal means. It's also something that rarely happens. There certainly are cases of fraud. Recently, in Rensselaer County, multiple county officials as well as a Troy City councilwoman were indicted on federal charges for absentee ballot fraud. The thing with voter fraud is that it's practically always caught. Here's Jennifer Wilson's take on it.

JW: Our state and most states have really extensive check and balance in place. So, when instances of fraud do occur, and they are very, very rare, but when it happens, they are always caught. They catch the people who try and submit fake ballots or vote under a fake name. We catch them and a lot of times they go to prison. So, it is a very risky thing to do to try and commit voter fraud. So, I would say it's something that the general public shouldn't be as concerned about, because when it happens, in the small instances that it does happen, we catch those people, and they get in a lot of trouble.

DC: To help emphasize the fact that our elections are secure, we thought it would be helpful to describe what happens to your ballot after you cast it. You fill out your ballot, and put it in the machine. At the end of the election, the machine prints out a total tabulated vote count. The submitted ballots are then collected, and securely transported, often by a police escort, to the county's respective Board of Elections. But what if the machines counted the votes wrong? Well, that doesn't really happen. 

For a voting machine to be used in New York State, it must receive certification. According to the State Board of Elections, in order for a machine to get certified, it must count 1 million ballots correctly. Any mistake in that chain of 1 million means that the machine will not be used. But even with the use of extremely accurate machines, an audit is still performed after the election, where counties choose 3% of the voting machines they used, and compare a hand versus machine count. If discrepancies are found, the audit expands until potentially reaching a countywide hand count. But that hasn't happened, because the machines, again, are incredibly accurate. Votes are tallied between early voting, absentee voting, and day of voting. Even after a winner is declared, it can take a few months before the election results are officially certified, since the boards want to be as accurate as possible with their safeguards. So, what I'm saying is this, vote with confidence, it will count. 

So, we know that New York has made changes to campaign finance, and has taken steps to make voting easier. We also know that your vote and our elections are secure and legitimate. But I want to emphasize again that your vote really counts. Remember when I mentioned the Troy City Council race that was determined by just one vote? Well, in 2020, a congressional race in New York's 22nd district was determined by just 109 votes out of more than 300,000. So, even at a larger scale, your voice matters. But your vote matters beyond the numbers. We asked Laura Bierman about her thoughts on why it's important to go out and vote.

LB: The younger people have voter participation rates much lower than the older generation. And so, then you think about, "Well, what are most of the discussions at the national level or even the state level?" It has to do with social security, Medicare, some of the things that affect those people. Now, if the younger people had a higher voter participation, don't you think that those candidates or those elected officials might be thinking about some of the issues that are more important to the young people?

DC: If candidates know that specific generations or groups won't consider voting for them, unless certain issues are addressed, then they're more likely to take into consideration the issues those groups find important. It all comes down to making your voice heard, and reminding our public servants what we're looking for in our government. Voting is one of the easiest ways to do that. Thanks for watching. And until next time, be well.

Watch the Episode

NY&Does My Vote Even Matter? | NY& Voting

New York NOW's Dan Clark breaks down the voting process in New York State and the importance of casting your vote.




Laura Bierman- Executive Director, League of Women Voters New York
Jennifer Wilson- Deputy Director, Public Information, New York State Board of Elections