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Opinion

Editorials of The Times

Posted September 12, 2018 10:38 p.m. EDT

Tickets From Poverty to a Better Future

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It was one of those rare moments of bipartisanship in Washington: Republican and Democratic lawmakers who agree on little seemed to concur, only months ago, that helping poor families escape poor neighborhoods was one path to making poor children’s futures brighter. The House approved — and the Senate is considering — a housing program that will help determine the most effective ways of assisting low-income families move to neighborhoods with better housing, better schools, better jobs and better transportation.

House and Senate negotiators meet in conference Thursday to start working out differences between the House and Senate funding bills. So far only the House has approved funding for the program, the Housing Voucher Mobility Demonstration Act.

The program would provide about 2,000 additional housing vouchers for families with children who would participate in the demonstration program. At the moment, the Housing Choice Voucher program serves 2.2 million households, subsidizing rents so they typically do not exceed 30 percent of a recipient’s income. The House Appropriations Committee has approved $50 million for the demonstration project, most of which would pay for a variety of services to help families find out about housing in better neighborhoods and to move to those areas.

Young people whose families used vouchers in a federally designed experiment in the 1990s to move from deeply impoverished neighborhoods to communities with more opportunities grew up to be better educated and have higher incomes, according to a 2015 study by three Harvard economists.

Relocation drove up the adult earnings of these children in all five cities involved in the study — a finding that held true for whites, blacks and Latinos, as well as for boys and girls. The longer children lived in better neighborhoods, the greater their eventual gains. The Harvard study showed that taxpayers as a whole benefit when poor families with children migrate to such communities, with tax revenues that flow from rising incomes possibly offsetting the cost of vouchers.

But according to a recent analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, only about 14 percent of voucher families with children find homes in wealthier areas, where fewer than 10 percent of the residents are poor.

Hundreds of thousands of children in voucher families are trapped in extremely poor neighborhoods — where 40 percent or more of residents are poor — that are likelier to be stricken by violence, health risks and other problems, the analysis shows.

The House voted almost unanimously in July to create the demonstration act, in order to determine the most effective ways of helping families move to and thrive in healthier neighborhoods.

The legislation would allow public housing agencies to help low-income tenants with security deposits and services, including outreach to private landlords, housing search assistance and financial coaching.

While the $50 million approved by the House is a pittance in the gargantuan federal budget, the program should be just the start of a reform to provide more opportunity for voucher families and keep them from being trapped in desperately poor areas that threaten children and their futures.

As a crucial start, House and Senate negotiators need to include the funding in the conference bill.

Make Voting Easier in New York

New Yorkers pride themselves on being among the most politically engaged citizens in the country. So why don’t they vote?

From Buffalo to the Bronx, voter turnout in New York is abysmal. In November 2016, when everyone in America seemed to have a strong opinion about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, only 57 percent of the state’s registered voters showed up at the polls. That was lower than 40 other states. But it was at least better than New York’s turnout for the 2014 midterms — 34.4 percent, 48th in the nation. Only Oklahoma and West Virginia did worse.

The picture in federal and state primaries is starker yet. Because New York’s electorate is heavily Democratic, the primaries effectively decide many elections. And yet in last year’s primary for mayor of New York City, only 12 percent of eligible voters bothered to weigh in.

Why is it so bad? For starters, blame the state’s “stupid policy,” as a political scientist described it to The New York Times recently. Sure, there’s reason to criticize other states for cutting back on polling places or hours, or passing voter-ID and proof-of-citizenship laws that make voting harder, especially for minorities and other vulnerable groups. But who are New Yorkers to judge? Their own electoral laws and practices are mired in the Dark Ages, prevented from entering the 21st century by lawmakers trying to protect their jobs.

It’s made worse by the city and state election boards, which run federal, state and local elections — a crucial job that needs to be done by professional, nonpartisan agencies. In New York, the boards are rife with incompetence.

There are easy fixes, which have been associated with higher turnout in many other states that have adopted them.

EARLY VOTING: This is a no-brainer for the millions of Americans with work, school or family commitments that prevent them from getting to the polls on Election Day. Today, 37 states and the District of Columbia let their voters cast ballots for a period of days or even weeks. Not in New York. Here, as in states like Mississippi, Alabama and Kentucky, it’s Election Day or bust.

NO-EXCUSE ABSENTEE BALLOTS: New York allows a registered voter to cast an absentee ballot, but only for an absurdly short list of reasons, like being out of the state on Election Day or being the primary caregiver for a disabled person. Voters should be able to cast an absentee ballot for any reason at all, as 27 states and the District of Columbia allow.

AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRATION: Probably the most effective approach to getting more voters to the polls is to register people automatically whenever they interact with a state agency like the Department of Motor Vehicles. Since Oregon took the lead in 2016, 12 other states and the District of Columbia have passed or begun to implement the practice. Automatic registration in New York could add as many as 2 million new voters. Automation also improves the accuracy of voter rolls, which reduces the likelihood of fraud as well as of big administrative missteps, like the purge of more than 100,000 New York City voters from the rolls ahead of the 2016 elections.

SAME-DAY VOTER REGISTRATION: Another simple fix for a common problem. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia permit people to register and vote on the same day; all but two of those also permit registration on Election Day. In New York, first-time voters must be registered no fewer than 25 days before a general election. The deadline for voters who want to change their party affiliation to vote in a primary is also 25 days before the general election ... of the previous year.

Lawmakers could easily pass most of these reforms, as well as others to make voting easier, including pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds; keeping polling places open longer, particularly upstate; designing clearer ballots and making important voter information available in more languages; providing better training for poll workers; and holding federal and state primaries on the same day.

But while bills have been introduced in Albany, they’ve gone nowhere. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given lip service to voting reform, but he’s done almost nothing, with the exception of his decision earlier this year to restore voting rights to 35,000 New Yorkers on parole.

As long as Albany dithers, cities and localities have the power to enact many reforms themselves. New York City did that with its small-donor matching funds program, which has reduced the power of big money in city politics and opened the door to a much wider and more diverse slate of candidates.

It’s true that when voting is easier, more people vote. But New Yorkers can’t blame bad laws and self-interested lawmakers entirely for their failure to show up at the polls. Even states with more aggressive anti-voter laws have better turnout than New York. By all means, let’s change our comically bad election laws. But all the reforms in the world mean nothing unless New Yorkers get out and vote.

What You Need to Know to Vote in New York’s Primary

On Thursday — yes, Thursday — voters across New York will make decisions that will substantially affect the future of the state and, possibly, the nation. Registered Democrats and registered Republicans will pick nominees for statewide, legislative and party positions. Even unaffiliated voters can cast ballots in the Reform Party primary.

Polls open at 6 a.m. in New York City and its suburbs, as well as Dutchess and Erie Counties, and at noon in other upstate counties. They close at 9 p.m. throughout the state.

Below are The New York Times’ Democratic primary endorsements.

GOVERNOR: Andrew Cuomo

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Jumaane Williams

ATTORNEY GENERAL: Zephyr Teachout

STATE SENATE DISTRICT 34, Bronx and Westchester County: Alessandra Biaggi

STATE SENATE DISTRICT 20, Brooklyn: Zellnor Myrie

STATE SENATE DISTRICT 13, Queens: Jessica Ramos

STATE SENATE DISTRICT 17, Brooklyn: Blake Morris

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