In the most recent election for state contests, the voter turnout among Democrats was a paltry 11 percent in both the state and city. For Republicans, it was a feeble 8-1/2 percent in the city and 16 percent statewide.
Unfortunately, tepid voter participation is nothing new. Turnout in the Democrat primary for mayor in the city hasn’t cracked 30 percent since 1989.
What can be done to reverse this alarming slide that imperils our democracy?
Voter apathy in state elections must be addressed by boosting voter confidence that government serves the public interest and not special interests.
Strengthening state ethics laws of elected officials is the first place to start. Citizens Union last year found that one in 15 legislators left office in the past decade because of ethical or criminal misconduct.
The current oversight agency for the legislature is controlled by the very legislators being policed. Legislators should not be the sole people sitting in judgment of their peers. Creating a new ethics system that removes the conflict of interest of legislative self-policing and creates a more independent operation whose proceedings are transparent will lead to stronger ethics oversight and enforcement.
This may give the public more confidence that there is an effective watchdog looking out for the public interest and may motivate people that voting is an activity worthy of their engagement.
Alex Camarda is director of Public Policy and Advocacy of Citizens Union, an independent, nonpartisan, civic organization that promotes good government and political reform in New York.