New York City is ready to vote. New statistics released Monday show a 12 percent increase in registered voters in the city since 2000, a jump from 3.7 million to 4.1 million.
But in New York State overall, the numbers are far less impressive. According to state Board of Elections’ statistics, total voter registration increased just 3 percent between March 2000 and November 2003, the most recent data available.
New York City’s growing power at the polls could make a big difference, if not this year then in 2006, when races for governor and the legislature take place. More than 60 percent of the New York City population voted in the 2000 general election–a high turnout by historical standards. But the turnout was closer to 30 percent in the 2002 elections, when Republican governor George Pataki won handily.
State Republicans have been trying to keep their advantage. Their “Four for 2004” plan, for example, demands that each state committee member pledge to register four new Republican voters each year. That translates to 28,000 new voters per year.
But it’s the work of independent advocacy groups, such as NYPIRG, urban minority organizations and Rock the Vote, that appear to be driving the surge in New York City registrations. Glenn Magpantay, staff attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund works to register newly naturalized citizens—one of the largest groups of unregistered voters in the country. Every Friday morning, when naturalization ceremonies are held, Magpantay and a crew of staffers wait outside of the federal courtroom to register new citizens.
The efforts of NYPIRG and other nonpartisan groups don’t just help Democrats, since new voters are registering for whatever party they choose. Indeed, the trend, as observed by the state Board of Elections, is for them to register as independents.
Rodney Capel, state political director for the Democratic Party, was vague when pressed on what his party was doing to beef up its own efforts. He said the party itself hasn’t begun any projects to boost youth or minority registration this year, though the current numbers disappoint many party officials. “I don’t think you’re ever satisfied,” he said. “Too many people are not engaged in the electoral process.”