Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/board-of-elections 2017-12-15T16:16:30+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Online Voter Registration Debate Continues, with Court Challenge Possible 2017-12-14T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-14T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7371:online-voter-registration-debate-continues-with-court-challenge-possible Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/36995856256_af91cc332f_z.jpg" alt="36995856256 af91cc332f z" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo voting (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Last month, the New York City Council passed a bill that provides for online voter registration for city residents without requiring DMV-issued identification. With guidance from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office allowing local jurisdictions to pass online registration measures, the bill holds up under state law. But state elections officials can’t agree on the validity of the bill, and city Board of Elections officials have yet to make a decision, portending that the matter may have to eventually be decided in court.</p> <p>The uncertainty is unfolding as Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to soon sign into law the city bill, Intro. 508, the lead sponsor of which was City Council Member Ben Kallos. The question at hand is whether the city and state Boards of Elections will accept online signatures as valid in registering to vote. As of November 1, per <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/enrollment/county/county_nov17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">state BOE</a> numbers, there are more than five million registered voters in New York City, but <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/2016-2017_Voter_Assistance_Annual_Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">an estimated</a> 700,000-plus eligible voters who are not registered, with more turning 18 years of age each year.</p> <p>Currently, the only agency authorized to accept online registration forms is the Department of Motor Vehicles, but only for people who already have DMV identification. The city bill would allow the New York City Campaign Finance Board to perform that role as well and would allow voters to submit electronic signatures matching their “wet” ink signature on paper. It would ease the process of registration for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, many from low-income communities of color who may lack DMV identification since they depend on public transportation.</p> <p>Following the bill’s passage, the New York City Board of Elections sought guidance from its parent body, the State BOE. But the Democratic and Republican state BOE commissioners reached a split verdict. In separate memoranda sent to the city Board earlier this week, the Democrats approved of the bill while the Republican commissioners questioned its validity.</p> <p>In a memorandum to the city BOE dated December 11, Todd Valentine, the Republican co-executive director of the state BOE, argued that the Council’s bill “would contravene New York State Constitution, state statutes and the rulings by the New York State Court of Appeals.”</p> <p>He cited a 1985 decision in Clark v Cuomo by the New York State Court of Appeals, which effectively prohibits any state or city agency that has not been specifically authorized under state law to distribute and collect voter registration forms. He also argued against acceptance of electronic signatures, insisting that they do not meet the standards for an affidavit under the Electronic Signatures and Records Act, though he did say the ESRA’s application is voluntary for agencies. (A voter registration form effectively functions as an affidavit and registrants can be held criminally liable for falsifying their information.)</p> <p>Valentine particularly noted that authorizing the city’s municipal identification program, IDNYC, as a signature repository “raises numerous issue in its own account.” “Specific research would need to be done to ensure that this program and any other so referenced, actually has strict safeguards and identification requirements to ensure that those applying for identification are, in fact, the individuals themselves,” he wrote.</p> <p>The state BOE Democratic co-executive director, Robert Brehm, wrote to the city BOE one day after Valentine. He included a memorandum prepared by co-counsel Brian Quail which read, in part, that the legislation “is consistent with state law, and the voter registration forms produced under its provisions should be processed in the normal course by boards of elections.”</p> <p>The memo pointed to A.G. Schneiderman’s <a href="https://ag.ny.gov/pdfs/2016-1_pw.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">informal opinion</a> issued to Suffolk County officials in April last year when they were considering implementing a similar system locally. “Indeed, such electronically-facilitated voter registration is, in our opinion, consistent with the expressed legislative policy of ‘encourag[ing] the broadest possible voter participation in elections,’” Schneiderman wrote at the time.</p> <p>Quail cited the opinion heavily in his memorandum. “Int. 508-A is little more than the cyber equivalent of requiring an agency of the government to provide pen and paper to persons wishing to complete a voter registration form. The legislation is crafted to comport with the parameters thoughtfully outlined in the Attorney General’s Opinion on the subject.”</p> <p>The bill provides “sufficient authority” to the Campaign Finance Board, he continued, to implement the law in a way to avoid conflicting with election law, including choosing how signatures can be submitted. “As caselaw evinces, the law defining signature has never been rigid, and Int. 508-A is precisely the type of practical extension of the law of signatures to new realities that changing modes of writing require,” he wrote.</p> <p>On the sidelines of a City Council oversight hearing on Wednesday, Douglas Kellner, Democratic co-chair of the state BOE, told Gotham Gazette that Schneiderman’s opinion “doesn’t seem to affect the Republicans.”</p> <p>“On that particular issue, the state Board of Elections really has no role, and ultimately the courts will have to decide,” he predicted. “Someone will register through that system and if the registration is not processed, that person could bring a lawsuit or if the registration is processed, someone who wants to challenge it could bring a lawsuit.”</p> <p>Kellner said the city BOE could decide to accept or reject electronically submitted signatures. The city BOE, as with its state counterpart, is a bipartisan body with ten commissioners, a Democrat and a Republican from each of the five boroughs, nominated through the party establishments. However, if they deadlock on processing such a registration form, under state law it would automatically be accepted.</p> <p>A frustrated Kellner criticized his Republican colleagues for rejecting such a common sense measure and more broadly for their obstructionist tactics. “So often, people have said there’s not a Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage and that election administration is similarly a nonpartisan function,” he said. “But it’s unfortunate that increasingly, there is a partisan divide over election administration. That more and more the Republican Party is imposing obstructions to allowing people to exercise their franchise and in an efficient manner.” &nbsp;</p> <p>He did say New York Republicans have been more “moderate” and have not pushed the types of voter suppression measures used in many states. “But on the other hand, it’s very disappointing that the New York Republicans have been resisting, so persistently, improvements in election administration that would make it easier for people to register to vote, easier for people to vote.”</p> <p>The New York City BOE executive director, Michael Ryan, told Gotham Gazette at the same Wednesday hearing that the city commissioners had yet to make a decision. “My expectation is that the commissioners will independently review those documents and give the executive management team of the BOE guidance on the direction that we’re going to go in,” he said. “Until such time as that information has been digested and discussed among the commissioners, we have no public opinion one way or the other.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/36995856256_af91cc332f_z.jpg" alt="36995856256 af91cc332f z" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo voting (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Last month, the New York City Council passed a bill that provides for online voter registration for city residents without requiring DMV-issued identification. With guidance from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office allowing local jurisdictions to pass online registration measures, the bill holds up under state law. But state elections officials can’t agree on the validity of the bill, and city Board of Elections officials have yet to make a decision, portending that the matter may have to eventually be decided in court.</p> <p>The uncertainty is unfolding as Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to soon sign into law the city bill, Intro. 508, the lead sponsor of which was City Council Member Ben Kallos. The question at hand is whether the city and state Boards of Elections will accept online signatures as valid in registering to vote. As of November 1, per <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/enrollment/county/county_nov17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">state BOE</a> numbers, there are more than five million registered voters in New York City, but <a href="https://www.nyccfb.info/pdf/2016-2017_Voter_Assistance_Annual_Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">an estimated</a> 700,000-plus eligible voters who are not registered, with more turning 18 years of age each year.</p> <p>Currently, the only agency authorized to accept online registration forms is the Department of Motor Vehicles, but only for people who already have DMV identification. The city bill would allow the New York City Campaign Finance Board to perform that role as well and would allow voters to submit electronic signatures matching their “wet” ink signature on paper. It would ease the process of registration for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, many from low-income communities of color who may lack DMV identification since they depend on public transportation.</p> <p>Following the bill’s passage, the New York City Board of Elections sought guidance from its parent body, the State BOE. But the Democratic and Republican state BOE commissioners reached a split verdict. In separate memoranda sent to the city Board earlier this week, the Democrats approved of the bill while the Republican commissioners questioned its validity.</p> <p>In a memorandum to the city BOE dated December 11, Todd Valentine, the Republican co-executive director of the state BOE, argued that the Council’s bill “would contravene New York State Constitution, state statutes and the rulings by the New York State Court of Appeals.”</p> <p>He cited a 1985 decision in Clark v Cuomo by the New York State Court of Appeals, which effectively prohibits any state or city agency that has not been specifically authorized under state law to distribute and collect voter registration forms. He also argued against acceptance of electronic signatures, insisting that they do not meet the standards for an affidavit under the Electronic Signatures and Records Act, though he did say the ESRA’s application is voluntary for agencies. (A voter registration form effectively functions as an affidavit and registrants can be held criminally liable for falsifying their information.)</p> <p>Valentine particularly noted that authorizing the city’s municipal identification program, IDNYC, as a signature repository “raises numerous issue in its own account.” “Specific research would need to be done to ensure that this program and any other so referenced, actually has strict safeguards and identification requirements to ensure that those applying for identification are, in fact, the individuals themselves,” he wrote.</p> <p>The state BOE Democratic co-executive director, Robert Brehm, wrote to the city BOE one day after Valentine. He included a memorandum prepared by co-counsel Brian Quail which read, in part, that the legislation “is consistent with state law, and the voter registration forms produced under its provisions should be processed in the normal course by boards of elections.”</p> <p>The memo pointed to A.G. Schneiderman’s <a href="https://ag.ny.gov/pdfs/2016-1_pw.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">informal opinion</a> issued to Suffolk County officials in April last year when they were considering implementing a similar system locally. “Indeed, such electronically-facilitated voter registration is, in our opinion, consistent with the expressed legislative policy of ‘encourag[ing] the broadest possible voter participation in elections,’” Schneiderman wrote at the time.</p> <p>Quail cited the opinion heavily in his memorandum. “Int. 508-A is little more than the cyber equivalent of requiring an agency of the government to provide pen and paper to persons wishing to complete a voter registration form. The legislation is crafted to comport with the parameters thoughtfully outlined in the Attorney General’s Opinion on the subject.”</p> <p>The bill provides “sufficient authority” to the Campaign Finance Board, he continued, to implement the law in a way to avoid conflicting with election law, including choosing how signatures can be submitted. “As caselaw evinces, the law defining signature has never been rigid, and Int. 508-A is precisely the type of practical extension of the law of signatures to new realities that changing modes of writing require,” he wrote.</p> <p>On the sidelines of a City Council oversight hearing on Wednesday, Douglas Kellner, Democratic co-chair of the state BOE, told Gotham Gazette that Schneiderman’s opinion “doesn’t seem to affect the Republicans.”</p> <p>“On that particular issue, the state Board of Elections really has no role, and ultimately the courts will have to decide,” he predicted. “Someone will register through that system and if the registration is not processed, that person could bring a lawsuit or if the registration is processed, someone who wants to challenge it could bring a lawsuit.”</p> <p>Kellner said the city BOE could decide to accept or reject electronically submitted signatures. The city BOE, as with its state counterpart, is a bipartisan body with ten commissioners, a Democrat and a Republican from each of the five boroughs, nominated through the party establishments. However, if they deadlock on processing such a registration form, under state law it would automatically be accepted.</p> <p>A frustrated Kellner criticized his Republican colleagues for rejecting such a common sense measure and more broadly for their obstructionist tactics. “So often, people have said there’s not a Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage and that election administration is similarly a nonpartisan function,” he said. “But it’s unfortunate that increasingly, there is a partisan divide over election administration. That more and more the Republican Party is imposing obstructions to allowing people to exercise their franchise and in an efficient manner.” &nbsp;</p> <p>He did say New York Republicans have been more “moderate” and have not pushed the types of voter suppression measures used in many states. “But on the other hand, it’s very disappointing that the New York Republicans have been resisting, so persistently, improvements in election administration that would make it easier for people to register to vote, easier for people to vote.”</p> <p>The New York City BOE executive director, Michael Ryan, told Gotham Gazette at the same Wednesday hearing that the city commissioners had yet to make a decision. “My expectation is that the commissioners will independently review those documents and give the executive management team of the BOE guidance on the direction that we’re going to go in,” he said. “Until such time as that information has been digested and discussed among the commissioners, we have no public opinion one way or the other.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Council Speaker Candidates Hesitant to Criticize or Reform Party-Controlled Board of Elections 2017-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7368:council-speaker-candidates-hesitant-to-criticize-or-reform-board-of-elections Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/24746697891_2461799422_z.jpg" alt="City Council chambers with members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>photo by William Alatriste/City Council</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Board of Elections has widely been acknowledged as a dysfunctional agency in need of urgent and sweeping reform, yet the political will for modernizing and professionalizing the board has not existed, at least in part because its current structure benefits those in power.</p> <p>Its system of appointments based on political patronage has long been a source of criticism and its mismanagement of election operations has frustrated voters and been the subject of City Council oversight hearings. But, when asked, the eight men vying to become the next Speaker of the City Council recently said concerns about the BOE are misguided. To varying degrees, they indicated that the board is effective and efficient, that its failings are isolated rather than systematic, and that its current structure should be preserved.</p> <p>At a November 20 speaker candidate forum hosted by Citizens Union, other government reform groups, and New York Law School, seven speaker candidates -- Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn -- were present and they mostly took the middle of the road when asked about the steps the City Council, which approves appointments to the BOE, could take to improve the board. The ten BOE commissioners include two -- one Republican and one Democrat -- from each borough.</p> <p>The Council members hedged their bets and praised the BOE, recognizing that any criticism could potentially be read as directed toward the county party organizations that nominate BOE commissioners and place other employees at the board -- the same county organizations whose support each candidate is seeking in order to become speaker. The eighth candidate, Ritchie Torres from the Bronx, would later give Gotham Gazette a similar response.</p> <p>None of the members were in favor of a non-partisan restructuring of the board. “That’s a tough question to ask of speaker candidates,” Williams said, to laughter from his colleagues in acknowledgement of the role of the county party machines in both picking BOE commissioners and picking the Council speaker. Williams defended the board but did acknowledge that patronage has played a role in appointments and that the Council could do more to improve it.</p> <p>“We know that we do have some issues and if we can just do some more thinking through that process and make sure that it’s not as patronage as some folks may think, we can move a lot further,” Williams said, taking the most bold position of the group. “I’m not sure if we push as hard as we can when things go wrong.”</p> <p>Other candidates spoke generally about reforming election and voting laws, a tangential subject that is mostly the prerogative of the state Legislature, and some staunchly argued in favor of the current partisan composition of the board, which they insisted maintains a balance and prevents one-party hegemony in elections.</p> <p>“I do not support non-partisan appointments to the Board of Elections,” said Johnson, one of the three perceived frontrunners in the race, along with Levine and Cornegy. “I believe that the parties play a particular role in ensuring that we make sure that any party that’s dominant at a given time cannot run roughshod over another party. If someone came up with a perfect system of a non-partisan way to handle it, maybe I’d entertain it. I’ve never heard of that system, I don’t know how you take political influence out of politics.”</p> <p>“I couldn’t agree more,” Van Bramer said in response.</p> <p>The city BOE falls under state jurisdiction, like all local boards of election, although the city gets to decide the board’s budget and not much else. The ten board commissioners are nominated by the county party machinery and appointed by the City Council. Representatives from the board testify at City Council hearings, usually during budget season, and receive recommendations and often admonitions from Council members, but are not bound to follow any Council mandates.</p> <p>The board is often seen as favoring the Democratic Party establishment, given that the vast majority of candidates for city offices are Democrats. Candidates not backed by the party machinery are often challenged in board proceedings and kicked off the ballot, though they are often first-time candidates with fewer resources and without experienced election lawyers.</p> <p>On Monday, Torres reiterated what his colleagues had said weeks ago. “I suspect you’re misdiagnosing the problem, the problem is a lack of resources,” he told Gotham Gazette at City Hall. “I suspect it’s a lack of resources more than the manner in which the appointments are made.”</p> <p>He continued, “Does the BOE have inefficiencies? Yes. It’s true of every agency in city government. There’s not a single agency in city government that’s free of inefficiency. So the notion that you would cite inefficiency as an excuse for fundamentally changing the structure of an institution is dubious.” Torres said he would oppose any measures that could weaken the party organizations’ role but conceded that the Council should “study the problem comprehensively” to determine the needs and inefficiencies of the BOE.</p> <p>There have been studies in the past, and each has found persistent issues.</p> <p>A <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/reports/pdf/2013/2013-12-30-BOE_Unit_Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2013 report</a> by the city’s Department of Investigations <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131230/civic-center/nyc-board-of-elections-riddled-with-problems-dept-of-investigation-finds" target="_blank" rel="noopener">found</a> a raft of problems in elections management as well as internal board administration. In 2016, the BOE was responsible for a massive voter purge in Brooklyn during the presidential primaries, resulting in legal action by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. In November, Schneiderman announced a consent decree with the BOE that requires added oversight of the board’s voter list maintenance.</p> <p>Less than a week before this year’s general election on November 7, city Comptroller Scott Stringer also released an <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/audit-report-on-the-board-of-elections-controls-over-the-maintenance-of-voters-records-and-poll-access/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">audit</a> that excoriated the BOE’s dysfunctional election operations. At each step, the BOE has pushed back and has been resistant to change. Even when Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a $20 million incentive for the board to enact major reforms -- recommending the empaneling of a Blue Ribbon Commission to analyze the BOE, more transparency in hiring and improved poll worker training, among other measures -- its commissioners refused.</p> <p>“The Mayor believes that it is critical that we reform the Board of Elections,” said Seth Stein, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement on Tuesday. “They have demonstrated time and again that they are unable to perform the basic functions of their office, like keeping eligible voters on the rolls. The Mayor looks forward to working with whoever the next Speaker is to encourage the Board to accept the $20 million we have offered in exchange for necessary reforms.”</p> <p>State-level BOE reforms have not progressed in Albany.</p> <p>Those who could take steps or apply pressure to improve the BOE’s abysmal record are the very people invested in the status quo, however, and the City Council, particularly its speaker, falls squarely within that dynamic. Election experts also tend to agree that the Council can pass little meaningful reform, absent legislative action at the state level, and that the bi-partisan BOE composition is appropriate. &nbsp;</p> <p>“There’s very little the City Council can do regarding the structural functioning of the agency,” said Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer. “They could maybe fund the board at a higher level so it could function better.”</p> <p>“In terms of patronage, it’s a bi-partisan agency, not a civil service agency. Unless that’s changed, the county organizations is where the commissioners and employees will come from,” she added. She insisted that most of the board’s employees are, in her experience, qualified and hard-working professionals. “As in any organization, some employees are better than others,” she said. And she warned that a civil service agency running elections could be open to political interference, while the current structure is designed to prevent just that.</p> <p>Steiner praised, in particular, the speed and accuracy with which the BOE provides election night results. But, she said, “they are less good at some of the work regarding candidates. I think the rules structure for candidates needs substantial revision.” Unlike the state BOE, the city agency doesn’t provide a public comment period for rules changes, she said, which often leaves the candidates and their campaigns unaware and unprepared. “The administrative rules are not as easy as the board thinks they are, and they’re largely a minefield,” she added.</p> <p>J.C. Polanco, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for public advocate this year, has served as &nbsp;president of the city BOE and saw the problems first hand and attempted to fix them. He campaigned this year on a platform that included BOE reform. He’s blunt about the Council speaker candidates and why they wouldn’t speak up against the agency. “Each candidate has to try not to offend the county organizations,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Though Polanco also agrees that the BOE’s partisan structure may be necessary, he believes it can be better. “One of the things to do is to professionalize the board,” he said, “by forcing every candidate to go through the crucible of the [Council’s] investigations process required of commissioners.” He favors merit-based hiring and called for it when he worked at the board.</p> <p>“There are professionals at the board that get a bad rap for the failures of the board to modernize,” he insisted, echoing Steiner. “You can definitely have a professionalized partisan agency.” The board should post positions with qualifications online, he said, and more publicly seek employees. “It would require an enlightenment of the citizenry and the board,” Polanco said. He also speculated about giving third parties representation on the board, proportionate to their vote shares in prior elections.</p> <p>Although the Council members poised to be the next speaker may not agree, the official they are hoping to succeed believes that the BOE needs improvement. Melissa Mark-Viverito, who, in the waning days of her speakership, has waded into <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/local-politics/2017/12/09/squabble-among-manhattan-democrats-pits-council-speaker-against-county-chair" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conflict</a> with the Manhattan Democratic County Committee over a BOE commissioner appointment, said the Council has discussed reforming the BOE for years. Responding to a question from Gotham Gazette, she said, “There’s obviously a lot more work that has to be done. We’ve seen the reports issued by DOI and others with the dysfunction at the Board of Elections and there definitely has to be a lot more professionalizing of the Board of Elections and being able to implement reforms.”</p> <p>While much of the conversation around elections and voting in New York tends to revolve around the state’s antiquated laws, there have been local attempts at such reform. Council Member Ben Kallos has been a particularly vocal critic of the board and, as chair of the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, has pushed legislation that can improve elections and voting access. He has time and again urged representatives of the board to move towards merit-based hiring -- &nbsp;“I favor the civil service over the patronage appointment process,” he told Gotham Gazette on Monday. Kallos’ bill allowing online voter registration recently passed the Council. The mayor is expected to sign it into law, and it is considered valid under guidance from A.G. Schneiderman.</p> <p>We can “find meaningful alternatives that can help fix the BOE at the city level,” Kallos said. “As we learned with online voter registration, with a little bit of creativity and good attorneys, I think a lot can be possible at the local level.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency">City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/24746697891_2461799422_z.jpg" alt="City Council chambers with members" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>photo by William Alatriste/City Council</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Board of Elections has widely been acknowledged as a dysfunctional agency in need of urgent and sweeping reform, yet the political will for modernizing and professionalizing the board has not existed, at least in part because its current structure benefits those in power.</p> <p>Its system of appointments based on political patronage has long been a source of criticism and its mismanagement of election operations has frustrated voters and been the subject of City Council oversight hearings. But, when asked, the eight men vying to become the next Speaker of the City Council recently said concerns about the BOE are misguided. To varying degrees, they indicated that the board is effective and efficient, that its failings are isolated rather than systematic, and that its current structure should be preserved.</p> <p>At a November 20 speaker candidate forum hosted by Citizens Union, other government reform groups, and New York Law School, seven speaker candidates -- Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan; Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens; and Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn -- were present and they mostly took the middle of the road when asked about the steps the City Council, which approves appointments to the BOE, could take to improve the board. The ten BOE commissioners include two -- one Republican and one Democrat -- from each borough.</p> <p>The Council members hedged their bets and praised the BOE, recognizing that any criticism could potentially be read as directed toward the county party organizations that nominate BOE commissioners and place other employees at the board -- the same county organizations whose support each candidate is seeking in order to become speaker. The eighth candidate, Ritchie Torres from the Bronx, would later give Gotham Gazette a similar response.</p> <p>None of the members were in favor of a non-partisan restructuring of the board. “That’s a tough question to ask of speaker candidates,” Williams said, to laughter from his colleagues in acknowledgement of the role of the county party machines in both picking BOE commissioners and picking the Council speaker. Williams defended the board but did acknowledge that patronage has played a role in appointments and that the Council could do more to improve it.</p> <p>“We know that we do have some issues and if we can just do some more thinking through that process and make sure that it’s not as patronage as some folks may think, we can move a lot further,” Williams said, taking the most bold position of the group. “I’m not sure if we push as hard as we can when things go wrong.”</p> <p>Other candidates spoke generally about reforming election and voting laws, a tangential subject that is mostly the prerogative of the state Legislature, and some staunchly argued in favor of the current partisan composition of the board, which they insisted maintains a balance and prevents one-party hegemony in elections.</p> <p>“I do not support non-partisan appointments to the Board of Elections,” said Johnson, one of the three perceived frontrunners in the race, along with Levine and Cornegy. “I believe that the parties play a particular role in ensuring that we make sure that any party that’s dominant at a given time cannot run roughshod over another party. If someone came up with a perfect system of a non-partisan way to handle it, maybe I’d entertain it. I’ve never heard of that system, I don’t know how you take political influence out of politics.”</p> <p>“I couldn’t agree more,” Van Bramer said in response.</p> <p>The city BOE falls under state jurisdiction, like all local boards of election, although the city gets to decide the board’s budget and not much else. The ten board commissioners are nominated by the county party machinery and appointed by the City Council. Representatives from the board testify at City Council hearings, usually during budget season, and receive recommendations and often admonitions from Council members, but are not bound to follow any Council mandates.</p> <p>The board is often seen as favoring the Democratic Party establishment, given that the vast majority of candidates for city offices are Democrats. Candidates not backed by the party machinery are often challenged in board proceedings and kicked off the ballot, though they are often first-time candidates with fewer resources and without experienced election lawyers.</p> <p>On Monday, Torres reiterated what his colleagues had said weeks ago. “I suspect you’re misdiagnosing the problem, the problem is a lack of resources,” he told Gotham Gazette at City Hall. “I suspect it’s a lack of resources more than the manner in which the appointments are made.”</p> <p>He continued, “Does the BOE have inefficiencies? Yes. It’s true of every agency in city government. There’s not a single agency in city government that’s free of inefficiency. So the notion that you would cite inefficiency as an excuse for fundamentally changing the structure of an institution is dubious.” Torres said he would oppose any measures that could weaken the party organizations’ role but conceded that the Council should “study the problem comprehensively” to determine the needs and inefficiencies of the BOE.</p> <p>There have been studies in the past, and each has found persistent issues.</p> <p>A <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/reports/pdf/2013/2013-12-30-BOE_Unit_Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2013 report</a> by the city’s Department of Investigations <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131230/civic-center/nyc-board-of-elections-riddled-with-problems-dept-of-investigation-finds" target="_blank" rel="noopener">found</a> a raft of problems in elections management as well as internal board administration. In 2016, the BOE was responsible for a massive voter purge in Brooklyn during the presidential primaries, resulting in legal action by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. In November, Schneiderman announced a consent decree with the BOE that requires added oversight of the board’s voter list maintenance.</p> <p>Less than a week before this year’s general election on November 7, city Comptroller Scott Stringer also released an <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/audit-report-on-the-board-of-elections-controls-over-the-maintenance-of-voters-records-and-poll-access/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">audit</a> that excoriated the BOE’s dysfunctional election operations. At each step, the BOE has pushed back and has been resistant to change. Even when Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a $20 million incentive for the board to enact major reforms -- recommending the empaneling of a Blue Ribbon Commission to analyze the BOE, more transparency in hiring and improved poll worker training, among other measures -- its commissioners refused.</p> <p>“The Mayor believes that it is critical that we reform the Board of Elections,” said Seth Stein, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement on Tuesday. “They have demonstrated time and again that they are unable to perform the basic functions of their office, like keeping eligible voters on the rolls. The Mayor looks forward to working with whoever the next Speaker is to encourage the Board to accept the $20 million we have offered in exchange for necessary reforms.”</p> <p>State-level BOE reforms have not progressed in Albany.</p> <p>Those who could take steps or apply pressure to improve the BOE’s abysmal record are the very people invested in the status quo, however, and the City Council, particularly its speaker, falls squarely within that dynamic. Election experts also tend to agree that the Council can pass little meaningful reform, absent legislative action at the state level, and that the bi-partisan BOE composition is appropriate. &nbsp;</p> <p>“There’s very little the City Council can do regarding the structural functioning of the agency,” said Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer. “They could maybe fund the board at a higher level so it could function better.”</p> <p>“In terms of patronage, it’s a bi-partisan agency, not a civil service agency. Unless that’s changed, the county organizations is where the commissioners and employees will come from,” she added. She insisted that most of the board’s employees are, in her experience, qualified and hard-working professionals. “As in any organization, some employees are better than others,” she said. And she warned that a civil service agency running elections could be open to political interference, while the current structure is designed to prevent just that.</p> <p>Steiner praised, in particular, the speed and accuracy with which the BOE provides election night results. But, she said, “they are less good at some of the work regarding candidates. I think the rules structure for candidates needs substantial revision.” Unlike the state BOE, the city agency doesn’t provide a public comment period for rules changes, she said, which often leaves the candidates and their campaigns unaware and unprepared. “The administrative rules are not as easy as the board thinks they are, and they’re largely a minefield,” she added.</p> <p>J.C. Polanco, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for public advocate this year, has served as &nbsp;president of the city BOE and saw the problems first hand and attempted to fix them. He campaigned this year on a platform that included BOE reform. He’s blunt about the Council speaker candidates and why they wouldn’t speak up against the agency. “Each candidate has to try not to offend the county organizations,” he said. &nbsp;</p> <p>Though Polanco also agrees that the BOE’s partisan structure may be necessary, he believes it can be better. “One of the things to do is to professionalize the board,” he said, “by forcing every candidate to go through the crucible of the [Council’s] investigations process required of commissioners.” He favors merit-based hiring and called for it when he worked at the board.</p> <p>“There are professionals at the board that get a bad rap for the failures of the board to modernize,” he insisted, echoing Steiner. “You can definitely have a professionalized partisan agency.” The board should post positions with qualifications online, he said, and more publicly seek employees. “It would require an enlightenment of the citizenry and the board,” Polanco said. He also speculated about giving third parties representation on the board, proportionate to their vote shares in prior elections.</p> <p>Although the Council members poised to be the next speaker may not agree, the official they are hoping to succeed believes that the BOE needs improvement. Melissa Mark-Viverito, who, in the waning days of her speakership, has waded into <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/local-politics/2017/12/09/squabble-among-manhattan-democrats-pits-council-speaker-against-county-chair" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conflict</a> with the Manhattan Democratic County Committee over a BOE commissioner appointment, said the Council has discussed reforming the BOE for years. Responding to a question from Gotham Gazette, she said, “There’s obviously a lot more work that has to be done. We’ve seen the reports issued by DOI and others with the dysfunction at the Board of Elections and there definitely has to be a lot more professionalizing of the Board of Elections and being able to implement reforms.”</p> <p>While much of the conversation around elections and voting in New York tends to revolve around the state’s antiquated laws, there have been local attempts at such reform. Council Member Ben Kallos has been a particularly vocal critic of the board and, as chair of the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, has pushed legislation that can improve elections and voting access. He has time and again urged representatives of the board to move towards merit-based hiring -- &nbsp;“I favor the civil service over the patronage appointment process,” he told Gotham Gazette on Monday. Kallos’ bill allowing online voter registration recently passed the Council. The mayor is expected to sign it into law, and it is considered valid under guidance from A.G. Schneiderman.</p> <p>We can “find meaningful alternatives that can help fix the BOE at the city level,” Kallos said. “As we learned with online voter registration, with a little bit of creativity and good attorneys, I think a lot can be possible at the local level.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency">City Council Speaker Candidates Address Power, Reform and Transparency</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
State Board of Elections Official Says City Must Move to Instant Runoff Voting 2017-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7369:state-board-of-elections-official-says-city-must-move-to-instant-runoff-voting Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/kallos_hearing.jpg" alt="kallos hearing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo via @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>Ahead of the September 12 primary, mayoral candidate Sal Albanese seemingly had the Reform Party ballot line locked up. It meant that Albanese would be on the general election ballot even if he lost the Democratic primary to Mayor Bill de Blasio. At the last minute, however, Republican candidate Nicole Malliotakis and independent candidate Bo Dietl attempted to snatch the Reform nomination from Albanese through an “opportunity to ballot,” which had effectively opened up the Reform line to write-in candidates. Albanese would prevail with 53 percent of the vote, but the spectacle raised major concerns for elections officials. Had all of the candidates failed to reach the 40 percent mark, it would’ve automatically triggered a laborious and costly citywide runoff election between the top two vote-getters.</p> <p>New York City “dodged a bullet” in avoiding a runoff election, said Douglas Kellner, Democratic co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, at a Wednesday oversight hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations. Kellner, who was there to give his assessment of the recent municipal elections and other matters, briefed the committee members on steps the Council could take to improve election management.</p> <p>“The first is something that is really in your lap, and that is dealing with the runoff primary election,” he said, calling on the Council to quickly implement instant runoff voting in which voters get to rank multiple candidates in order of preference. For the three citywide positions of Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller, New York City’s charter instead provides for a runoff to be held two weeks after a primary, burdening local election administrators and costing millions of dollars. Most recently, an expensive runoff infamously occured in the 2013 Democratic primary for public advocate, with the primary costing more than the annual budget for the office.</p> <p>Urgent action is necessary, Kellner said, since a significant amount of time can go into updating election equipment and planning for the next election cycle. Moving soon, four years out from the next city election, would also prevent individuals and parties from predicting, and gaming, the effects on the election system, he said.</p> <p>“Now, you dodged a bullet...but, that problem hasn’t gone away,” Kellner said, insisting that there was no significant benefit from a full runoff. “And if you’re not gonna do anything, then it’s your fault,” he joked. “But it’s not realistic to make the decision two or three years down the road.” The 2021 elections, when all three citywide posts will be open due to term limits, are expected to be especially competitive in the Democratic primaries.</p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos, the chair of the committee, is himself “incredibly supportive” of instant runoffs, he said Wednesday. “I believe that a certain elected official...in the city is opposing that legislation,” he said wryly, referring to Mayor de Blasio, who opposed instant runoff voting when he was public advocate. “While I here in the Council am willing to do so, I believe we still need to get the mayor to sign it,” Kallos added.</p> <p>All of the eight candidates to become the next City Council Speaker <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently said</a> that they support moving to instant runoff voting, often called ranked-choice voting.</p> <p>Kellner, who also floated the option of a charter amendment petition, which would go to the voters, said if the city failed to implement runoff voting, then it should abolish runoff elections entirely. “The city was lucky this last year that they didn’t have to spend the money on a runoff election,” he said. “And imagine what the reaction would’ve been if the city had to spend millions of dollars to hold a runoff election for one of the small parties, where they might’ve been spending as much as $30,000 per vote in order to administer a runoff election for one of the smaller parties. And that’s how the statute is set up now and it’s a crazy statute.”</p> <p>Indeed, in the 2013 race to replace de Blasio as public advocate, Democrats Letitia James and Daniel Squadron went to a runoff election that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/30/nyregion/high-cost-runoff-for-public-advocates-post-prompts-calls-for-reform.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">was estimated</a> to cost around $13 million. Both Squadron and James, the eventual winner of the race, came out in favor of instant runoff voting.</p> <p>“I think that that is a worthy conversation that needs to be had and we certainly would need to make some adjustments,” said New York City Board of Election Executive Director Michael Ryan, at Wednesday’s hearing. Ryan noted that the potential runoff for the Reform Party, which holds open primaries, would be open to approximately 800,000 unaffiliated voters and the 261 New Yorkers registered with the party itself as of November 1. “It would’ve been a full citywide runoff,” he said, “and considering the paucity of actual enrollees in the Reform Party, its very easy to field candidates when you need such a small number of signatures and then open the Board up to significant elections responsibilities and a potential runoff.”</p> <p>He said the Board had plans in place to hold the election, and pointed out the multiple hurdles they would face. Between primary day and the day of the runoff, there were multiple religious holidays, and the UN General Assembly was convening, where President Donald Trump was scheduled to speak. “So to say we dodged a bullet is an understatement,” he said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/kallos_hearing.jpg" alt="kallos hearing" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo via @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>Ahead of the September 12 primary, mayoral candidate Sal Albanese seemingly had the Reform Party ballot line locked up. It meant that Albanese would be on the general election ballot even if he lost the Democratic primary to Mayor Bill de Blasio. At the last minute, however, Republican candidate Nicole Malliotakis and independent candidate Bo Dietl attempted to snatch the Reform nomination from Albanese through an “opportunity to ballot,” which had effectively opened up the Reform line to write-in candidates. Albanese would prevail with 53 percent of the vote, but the spectacle raised major concerns for elections officials. Had all of the candidates failed to reach the 40 percent mark, it would’ve automatically triggered a laborious and costly citywide runoff election between the top two vote-getters.</p> <p>New York City “dodged a bullet” in avoiding a runoff election, said Douglas Kellner, Democratic co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, at a Wednesday oversight hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations. Kellner, who was there to give his assessment of the recent municipal elections and other matters, briefed the committee members on steps the Council could take to improve election management.</p> <p>“The first is something that is really in your lap, and that is dealing with the runoff primary election,” he said, calling on the Council to quickly implement instant runoff voting in which voters get to rank multiple candidates in order of preference. For the three citywide positions of Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller, New York City’s charter instead provides for a runoff to be held two weeks after a primary, burdening local election administrators and costing millions of dollars. Most recently, an expensive runoff infamously occured in the 2013 Democratic primary for public advocate, with the primary costing more than the annual budget for the office.</p> <p>Urgent action is necessary, Kellner said, since a significant amount of time can go into updating election equipment and planning for the next election cycle. Moving soon, four years out from the next city election, would also prevent individuals and parties from predicting, and gaming, the effects on the election system, he said.</p> <p>“Now, you dodged a bullet...but, that problem hasn’t gone away,” Kellner said, insisting that there was no significant benefit from a full runoff. “And if you’re not gonna do anything, then it’s your fault,” he joked. “But it’s not realistic to make the decision two or three years down the road.” The 2021 elections, when all three citywide posts will be open due to term limits, are expected to be especially competitive in the Democratic primaries.</p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos, the chair of the committee, is himself “incredibly supportive” of instant runoffs, he said Wednesday. “I believe that a certain elected official...in the city is opposing that legislation,” he said wryly, referring to Mayor de Blasio, who opposed instant runoff voting when he was public advocate. “While I here in the Council am willing to do so, I believe we still need to get the mayor to sign it,” Kallos added.</p> <p>All of the eight candidates to become the next City Council Speaker <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7331-city-council-speaker-candidates-address-power-reform-and-transparency?mc_cid=5cc59c4465&amp;mc_eid=6382885063&amp;utm_source=CFB+weekly+updates&amp;utm_campaign=cf7f97599c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_01&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_745d48d7ac-cf7f97599c-290605553" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recently said</a> that they support moving to instant runoff voting, often called ranked-choice voting.</p> <p>Kellner, who also floated the option of a charter amendment petition, which would go to the voters, said if the city failed to implement runoff voting, then it should abolish runoff elections entirely. “The city was lucky this last year that they didn’t have to spend the money on a runoff election,” he said. “And imagine what the reaction would’ve been if the city had to spend millions of dollars to hold a runoff election for one of the small parties, where they might’ve been spending as much as $30,000 per vote in order to administer a runoff election for one of the smaller parties. And that’s how the statute is set up now and it’s a crazy statute.”</p> <p>Indeed, in the 2013 race to replace de Blasio as public advocate, Democrats Letitia James and Daniel Squadron went to a runoff election that <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/30/nyregion/high-cost-runoff-for-public-advocates-post-prompts-calls-for-reform.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">was estimated</a> to cost around $13 million. Both Squadron and James, the eventual winner of the race, came out in favor of instant runoff voting.</p> <p>“I think that that is a worthy conversation that needs to be had and we certainly would need to make some adjustments,” said New York City Board of Election Executive Director Michael Ryan, at Wednesday’s hearing. Ryan noted that the potential runoff for the Reform Party, which holds open primaries, would be open to approximately 800,000 unaffiliated voters and the 261 New Yorkers registered with the party itself as of November 1. “It would’ve been a full citywide runoff,” he said, “and considering the paucity of actual enrollees in the Reform Party, its very easy to field candidates when you need such a small number of signatures and then open the Board up to significant elections responsibilities and a potential runoff.”</p> <p>He said the Board had plans in place to hold the election, and pointed out the multiple hurdles they would face. Between primary day and the day of the runoff, there were multiple religious holidays, and the UN General Assembly was convening, where President Donald Trump was scheduled to speak. “So to say we dodged a bullet is an understatement,” he said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Ahead of Election Day, Comptroller Audit Highlights Board of Elections Dysfunction 2017-11-03T18:54:01+00:00 2017-11-03T18:54:01+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7296:ahead-of-election-day-comptroller-audit-highlights-board-of-elections-dysfunction Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/unnamed-6.jpg" alt="unnamed 6" width="600" /></p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo courtesy of Comptroller's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Just four days before voters head to the polls on Tuesday, November 7, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a damning report highlighting the dysfunctional election operations of the New York City Board of Elections, a quasi-city agency that administers elections in the city.</p> <p>Stringer’s audit was launched in response to the BOE’s purge of more than 117,000 voters from the rolls in Brooklyn last year, ahead of the April presidential primary. The purge prompted widespread outrage, triggering an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office and a lawsuit by Common Cause New York, a good government advocacy group. The BOE <a href="https://www.wnyc.org/story/city-board-elections-admits-it-broke-law-accepts-reforms/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recently admitted</a> to violating federal and state law in the case and agreed to implement reforms.</p> <p>Following the purge, auditors from the comptroller’s office monitored 156 poll sites over the course of three subsequent elections in 2016 -- the congressional primary in June, the state legislative primary in September and the November general election -- and found that 90 percent of the sample sites showed significant problems ranging from severe violations of election law to inadequate poll worker training and lack of access for people with disabilities.</p> <p>“We have uncovered deep dysfunction,” Stringer said at a news conference Friday where he released the report.</p> <p>At 82 sites, about 53 percent, auditors witnessed violations of federal and state election laws and also of the BOE’s own rules. At 14 percent of sites, affidavit ballots were mishandled, and at 10 percent of sites, voters received no assistance when they faced issues. Some poll workers even engaged in electioneering, telling voters which candidate to vote for. Stringer even singled out an “outrageous instance” in which a poll worker failed to notify a voter that their valid ballot had been rejected by a scanning machine. The ballot was marked void.</p> <p>The BOE failed to adequately staff poll sites, Stringer said, leading to “organizational and logistical chaos” at about 118 sites, or 76 percent. At one site, 41 percent of assigned poll workers did not show up, he noted. Stringer did emphasize that the blame does not fall on poll workers who are “overworked, undertrained and underpaid” and must work nearly 17 hours straight on election days (the state launched a pilot program this year to allow half-day shifts for polling workers). “These are, at their core, the failures of the Board of Elections,” he said.</p> <p>The audit found that 45 out of 156 polling sites failed to provide adequate assistance to voters with disabilities, with one out of ten sites being inaccessible. “It’s time to own up and fix the voter purge we see in every election,” Stringer said. “This purge happens under the radar...If we’re gonna have participatory democracy, we’ve got to get rid of the barriers to participating in voting.”</p> <p>New York has notoriously antiquated election laws and consistently lags behind most other states in voter turnout. The state ranked 41 of 50 for turnout in the November general last year. (In the city, which has seen a relatively tame election season this year with many incumbents running for reelection, only about 440,000 voters cast a ballot in the September 12 Democratic primary for mayor, just 14% of registered voters.)</p> <p>“The right to vote is a bedrock of our democracy, unfortunately our own New York City Board of Elections too often makes it harder for us to exercise those fundamental rights,” said City Council Member Dan Garodnick at Friday’s news conference.</p> <p>Garodnick called attention to another BOE failing, one he attempted to fix through legislation. For the September 12 primary, the BOE changed poll sites from last year for more than 200,000 voters but did not post notices to inform voters, as required under a law sponsored by Garodnick and passed by the City Council last year. “The Board of Elections does not have the right to pick and choose which local laws it is going to follow,” Garodnick said. <br /> <br />Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, said the comptroller’s audit “sadly confirms” problems over which good government organizations have long cried foul. “The barriers to voting which incompetence sets up, as the comptroller pointed out, are simply unacceptable,” she said.</p> <p>Stringer’s report recommended that the BOE implement broader reforms, particularly for poll workers, including more hours of poll worker training, increased poll worker pay, and evaluating the pilot program on half-day shifts. “We haven’t had a new idea on how to run an election in this town in a hundred years, it’s ridiculous, it’s not sustainable,” Stringer said.</p> <p>“The Comptroller’s audit report once again confirms that the Board of Elections consistently fails the voters in exercising their right to vote,” said Seth Stein, a City Hall spokesperson, in an email. Stein said it was “shameful” that the BOE had to be forced by the courts into accepting reforms, and insisted that the agency needs to be restructured. While the BOE has city jurisdiction, it is controlled by state law, and is not answerable to the mayor.</p> <p>Stein reiterated that the BOE had refused to accept an offer of $20 million from de Blasio last year as an incentive to reform its operations. “It is essential that they do so now,” he added.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/unnamed-6.jpg" alt="unnamed 6" width="600" /></p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo courtesy of Comptroller's office)</p> <hr /> <p>Just four days before voters head to the polls on Tuesday, November 7, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a damning report highlighting the dysfunctional election operations of the New York City Board of Elections, a quasi-city agency that administers elections in the city.</p> <p>Stringer’s audit was launched in response to the BOE’s purge of more than 117,000 voters from the rolls in Brooklyn last year, ahead of the April presidential primary. The purge prompted widespread outrage, triggering an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office and a lawsuit by Common Cause New York, a good government advocacy group. The BOE <a href="https://www.wnyc.org/story/city-board-elections-admits-it-broke-law-accepts-reforms/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recently admitted</a> to violating federal and state law in the case and agreed to implement reforms.</p> <p>Following the purge, auditors from the comptroller’s office monitored 156 poll sites over the course of three subsequent elections in 2016 -- the congressional primary in June, the state legislative primary in September and the November general election -- and found that 90 percent of the sample sites showed significant problems ranging from severe violations of election law to inadequate poll worker training and lack of access for people with disabilities.</p> <p>“We have uncovered deep dysfunction,” Stringer said at a news conference Friday where he released the report.</p> <p>At 82 sites, about 53 percent, auditors witnessed violations of federal and state election laws and also of the BOE’s own rules. At 14 percent of sites, affidavit ballots were mishandled, and at 10 percent of sites, voters received no assistance when they faced issues. Some poll workers even engaged in electioneering, telling voters which candidate to vote for. Stringer even singled out an “outrageous instance” in which a poll worker failed to notify a voter that their valid ballot had been rejected by a scanning machine. The ballot was marked void.</p> <p>The BOE failed to adequately staff poll sites, Stringer said, leading to “organizational and logistical chaos” at about 118 sites, or 76 percent. At one site, 41 percent of assigned poll workers did not show up, he noted. Stringer did emphasize that the blame does not fall on poll workers who are “overworked, undertrained and underpaid” and must work nearly 17 hours straight on election days (the state launched a pilot program this year to allow half-day shifts for polling workers). “These are, at their core, the failures of the Board of Elections,” he said.</p> <p>The audit found that 45 out of 156 polling sites failed to provide adequate assistance to voters with disabilities, with one out of ten sites being inaccessible. “It’s time to own up and fix the voter purge we see in every election,” Stringer said. “This purge happens under the radar...If we’re gonna have participatory democracy, we’ve got to get rid of the barriers to participating in voting.”</p> <p>New York has notoriously antiquated election laws and consistently lags behind most other states in voter turnout. The state ranked 41 of 50 for turnout in the November general last year. (In the city, which has seen a relatively tame election season this year with many incumbents running for reelection, only about 440,000 voters cast a ballot in the September 12 Democratic primary for mayor, just 14% of registered voters.)</p> <p>“The right to vote is a bedrock of our democracy, unfortunately our own New York City Board of Elections too often makes it harder for us to exercise those fundamental rights,” said City Council Member Dan Garodnick at Friday’s news conference.</p> <p>Garodnick called attention to another BOE failing, one he attempted to fix through legislation. For the September 12 primary, the BOE changed poll sites from last year for more than 200,000 voters but did not post notices to inform voters, as required under a law sponsored by Garodnick and passed by the City Council last year. “The Board of Elections does not have the right to pick and choose which local laws it is going to follow,” Garodnick said. <br /> <br />Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, said the comptroller’s audit “sadly confirms” problems over which good government organizations have long cried foul. “The barriers to voting which incompetence sets up, as the comptroller pointed out, are simply unacceptable,” she said.</p> <p>Stringer’s report recommended that the BOE implement broader reforms, particularly for poll workers, including more hours of poll worker training, increased poll worker pay, and evaluating the pilot program on half-day shifts. “We haven’t had a new idea on how to run an election in this town in a hundred years, it’s ridiculous, it’s not sustainable,” Stringer said.</p> <p>“The Comptroller’s audit report once again confirms that the Board of Elections consistently fails the voters in exercising their right to vote,” said Seth Stein, a City Hall spokesperson, in an email. Stein said it was “shameful” that the BOE had to be forced by the courts into accepting reforms, and insisted that the agency needs to be restructured. While the BOE has city jurisdiction, it is controlled by state law, and is not answerable to the mayor.</p> <p>Stein reiterated that the BOE had refused to accept an offer of $20 million from de Blasio last year as an incentive to reform its operations. “It is essential that they do so now,” he added.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Public Advocate Candidate Outlines Election Reform Agenda 2017-08-24T04:00:00+00:00 2017-08-24T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7154:public-advocate-candidate-outlines-election-reform-agenda Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/polanco_bronxnet.jpg" alt="polanco bronxnet" width="600" height="452" /></p> <p>JC Polanco on BronxNet</p> <hr /> <p>With candidates vying for votes ahead of New York City’s September primary and November general elections, many in and around campaigns know that the state’s antiquated election laws will, in part, ensure that a small percentage of potential voters will cast ballots among limited choices.</p> <p>One candidate, Juan Carlos Polanco, known as J.C., is currently the presumptive Republican nominee for Public Advocate and has released an extensive package of proposed reforms to New York voting laws.</p> <p>As a former member of the New York City Board of Elections (BOE), Polanco has had personal experience with the system that certifies candidates and runs elections. In a document provided to Gotham Gazette and subsequent phone conversation, Polanco outlined plans he believes will update, improve, and secure elections in New York through a combination of legislative changes, ballot referendums, and even changes to the state constitution.</p> <p>“We have to really take a look at our election system and we have to modernize it,” said Polanco, who is eyeing a likely general election matchup with incumbent Letitia James, a Democrat.</p> <p>Polanco <a href="http://polancofornyc.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/J.C.-Polanco-Elections-Reforms.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">is putting forward 10 proposals</a>, some of which – like expanding the BOE’s reporting in the twice-yearly Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), which details performance of city agencies based on delivery of services – would be relatively easy shifts, and others – like instituting nonpartisan elections and starting a statewide voter identification program – would be fundamental reexaminations of voting in New York that would be very difficult to enact.</p> <p>Among the former group, in addition to the MMR initiative, Polanco calls for forwarding of voter death and new address data to the BOE from city and state agencies, a new procedure for a nationwide search of the board’s executive director, and an increased budget for the agency to help it run the expanded programs.</p> <p>The latter group are likely to be much more controversial; chief among them a proposal from Polanco for a statewide “free and fair voter identification program,” which the candidate framed as a compromise for including early voting and and no-fault absentee voting.</p> <p>Polanco explained that free identifications would be arranged by the BOE using its central voter registration database and then be distributed through municipalities for free to voters who did not otherwise have a valid ID. He could not provide a cost estimate, and when asked why such a program was necessary when <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/debunking-voter-fraud-myth" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> has shown that voter fraud is almost nonexistent, he said there were two schools of thought on voter fraud.</p> <p>“One is the [President Donald Trump] school, that 3 million people voted illegally in the election. Absolutely not. That’s an extreme view. Then we have the other extreme that no voter fraud happens. And that’s ridiculous,” Polanco said. He insisted that voters who turned up without IDs would not be disenfranchised, as they could fill out affidavit ballots – currently used by voters who arrive at polls to find they’re not on the rolls –&nbsp;that would be counted later if valid.</p> <p>Another proposed change for voters would be the early voting provisions, which would have to be approved in the unsympathetic Republican-controlled state Senate. The plan would allow New York City residents to vote one week before the election, and to vote absentee without having to prove inability to vote in person, which is currently required for absentee ballots.</p> <p>Polanco wants to change not only how New Yorkers vote but who they can vote for, by providing free legal counsel to candidates participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program who raise less than $10,000, and easing restrictions on ballot access for candidates.</p> <p>“Candidates are getting kicked off the ballot after spending all summer campaigning and collecting petitions, and they’re getting kicked off for the most ridiculous reasons,” said Polanco, citing issues like having a slightly incorrect petition number listed on a cover sheet. Indeed, various candidates have been kept off or taken off the ballot for multiple city races this cycle, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7112-removal-of-last-republican-primary-opponent-could-cost-malliotakis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">including</a> one of two final candidates for the Republican mayoral nomination.</p> <p>Unlike other populous cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, New York has a partisan election system where only voters registered to a particular party may vote in that party’s closed primary; that arrangement generally means that viable candidates tend to be selected only by the city’s registered partisans with one of the two major parties. Polanco wants to shift to a nonpartisan system, where rounds of voting, as opposed to primaries, would whittle down the candidate field.</p> <p>“If you look at our city, it’s become much more of a nonpartisan city,” he said, adding that independent, or party unaffiliated, voters “are not participating.” While unaffiliated voter enrollment has indeed <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/enrollmentcounty.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grown</a> in the city over the past five years, nonpartisan voters still represent a minority (17.6%) of all registered voters. As Polanco looks ahead to the general election, he knows that there are many more unaffiliated registered voters in the city than those registered with the Republican Party (about 10.4% of all registered voters). It is those types of “independents” who helped Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg win their mayoral terms.</p> <p>Finally, Polanco wants to address the undemocratic <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7126-special-elections-deserve-democratic-deliberation-not-backroom-deals" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trend</a> of elected officials stepping down from campaigns after ballot petitions have already been filed, allowing partisan county committees to pick their candidates and denying voters the opportunity to vote in an open primary. “They take it out of the hands of the voters and into the backrooms,” said Polanco of the practice. He said he would like to see, if not his ultimate goal of a nonpartisan election, then at least a mandated primary for special elections.</p> <p>Polanco suggests that gerrymandering – the practice of drawing districts to maximize or minimize a particular class of voters – is partly responsible for ensuring that Democratic candidates routinely win special elections, though in general city districts are not considered to be gerrymandered.</p> <p>Polanco acknowledged that in order to enact such an agenda, the Public Advocate – a largely ceremonial citywide elected position with little direct authority – needs to heavily rely on the bully pulpit and organizing, as opposed to hard power. Easier said than done. Polanco would be <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6916-on-the-bus-to-albany-for-better-new-york-voting-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">far</a> from the first person to go to Albany seeking voting reforms. With the Senate controlled by his GOP party-mates through a power-sharing agreement with breakaway Democrats, there has been virtually no appetite for election reform.</p> <p>He could have some ways around that, he said, such as getting proposals into a referendum to be voted on directly by voters. If the upcoming November <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/nyregion/constitutional-convention-voting-new-york.html?mcubz=3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vote</a> on whether the state will hold a constitutional convention is approved, Polanco said he would support trying to enshrine some voting reform measures into the updated constitution.</p> <p>

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/polanco_bronxnet.jpg" alt="polanco bronxnet" width="600" height="452" /></p> <p>JC Polanco on BronxNet</p> <hr /> <p>With candidates vying for votes ahead of New York City’s September primary and November general elections, many in and around campaigns know that the state’s antiquated election laws will, in part, ensure that a small percentage of potential voters will cast ballots among limited choices.</p> <p>One candidate, Juan Carlos Polanco, known as J.C., is currently the presumptive Republican nominee for Public Advocate and has released an extensive package of proposed reforms to New York voting laws.</p> <p>As a former member of the New York City Board of Elections (BOE), Polanco has had personal experience with the system that certifies candidates and runs elections. In a document provided to Gotham Gazette and subsequent phone conversation, Polanco outlined plans he believes will update, improve, and secure elections in New York through a combination of legislative changes, ballot referendums, and even changes to the state constitution.</p> <p>“We have to really take a look at our election system and we have to modernize it,” said Polanco, who is eyeing a likely general election matchup with incumbent Letitia James, a Democrat.</p> <p>Polanco <a href="http://polancofornyc.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/J.C.-Polanco-Elections-Reforms.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">is putting forward 10 proposals</a>, some of which – like expanding the BOE’s reporting in the twice-yearly Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), which details performance of city agencies based on delivery of services – would be relatively easy shifts, and others – like instituting nonpartisan elections and starting a statewide voter identification program – would be fundamental reexaminations of voting in New York that would be very difficult to enact.</p> <p>Among the former group, in addition to the MMR initiative, Polanco calls for forwarding of voter death and new address data to the BOE from city and state agencies, a new procedure for a nationwide search of the board’s executive director, and an increased budget for the agency to help it run the expanded programs.</p> <p>The latter group are likely to be much more controversial; chief among them a proposal from Polanco for a statewide “free and fair voter identification program,” which the candidate framed as a compromise for including early voting and and no-fault absentee voting.</p> <p>Polanco explained that free identifications would be arranged by the BOE using its central voter registration database and then be distributed through municipalities for free to voters who did not otherwise have a valid ID. He could not provide a cost estimate, and when asked why such a program was necessary when <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/debunking-voter-fraud-myth" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> has shown that voter fraud is almost nonexistent, he said there were two schools of thought on voter fraud.</p> <p>“One is the [President Donald Trump] school, that 3 million people voted illegally in the election. Absolutely not. That’s an extreme view. Then we have the other extreme that no voter fraud happens. And that’s ridiculous,” Polanco said. He insisted that voters who turned up without IDs would not be disenfranchised, as they could fill out affidavit ballots – currently used by voters who arrive at polls to find they’re not on the rolls –&nbsp;that would be counted later if valid.</p> <p>Another proposed change for voters would be the early voting provisions, which would have to be approved in the unsympathetic Republican-controlled state Senate. The plan would allow New York City residents to vote one week before the election, and to vote absentee without having to prove inability to vote in person, which is currently required for absentee ballots.</p> <p>Polanco wants to change not only how New Yorkers vote but who they can vote for, by providing free legal counsel to candidates participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program who raise less than $10,000, and easing restrictions on ballot access for candidates.</p> <p>“Candidates are getting kicked off the ballot after spending all summer campaigning and collecting petitions, and they’re getting kicked off for the most ridiculous reasons,” said Polanco, citing issues like having a slightly incorrect petition number listed on a cover sheet. Indeed, various candidates have been kept off or taken off the ballot for multiple city races this cycle, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7112-removal-of-last-republican-primary-opponent-could-cost-malliotakis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">including</a> one of two final candidates for the Republican mayoral nomination.</p> <p>Unlike other populous cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, New York has a partisan election system where only voters registered to a particular party may vote in that party’s closed primary; that arrangement generally means that viable candidates tend to be selected only by the city’s registered partisans with one of the two major parties. Polanco wants to shift to a nonpartisan system, where rounds of voting, as opposed to primaries, would whittle down the candidate field.</p> <p>“If you look at our city, it’s become much more of a nonpartisan city,” he said, adding that independent, or party unaffiliated, voters “are not participating.” While unaffiliated voter enrollment has indeed <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/enrollmentcounty.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grown</a> in the city over the past five years, nonpartisan voters still represent a minority (17.6%) of all registered voters. As Polanco looks ahead to the general election, he knows that there are many more unaffiliated registered voters in the city than those registered with the Republican Party (about 10.4% of all registered voters). It is those types of “independents” who helped Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg win their mayoral terms.</p> <p>Finally, Polanco wants to address the undemocratic <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/7126-special-elections-deserve-democratic-deliberation-not-backroom-deals" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trend</a> of elected officials stepping down from campaigns after ballot petitions have already been filed, allowing partisan county committees to pick their candidates and denying voters the opportunity to vote in an open primary. “They take it out of the hands of the voters and into the backrooms,” said Polanco of the practice. He said he would like to see, if not his ultimate goal of a nonpartisan election, then at least a mandated primary for special elections.</p> <p>Polanco suggests that gerrymandering – the practice of drawing districts to maximize or minimize a particular class of voters – is partly responsible for ensuring that Democratic candidates routinely win special elections, though in general city districts are not considered to be gerrymandered.</p> <p>Polanco acknowledged that in order to enact such an agenda, the Public Advocate – a largely ceremonial citywide elected position with little direct authority – needs to heavily rely on the bully pulpit and organizing, as opposed to hard power. Easier said than done. Polanco would be <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6916-on-the-bus-to-albany-for-better-new-york-voting-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">far</a> from the first person to go to Albany seeking voting reforms. With the Senate controlled by his GOP party-mates through a power-sharing agreement with breakaway Democrats, there has been virtually no appetite for election reform.</p> <p>He could have some ways around that, he said, such as getting proposals into a referendum to be voted on directly by voters. If the upcoming November <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/nyregion/constitutional-convention-voting-new-york.html?mcubz=3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vote</a> on whether the state will hold a constitutional convention is approved, Polanco said he would support trying to enshrine some voting reform measures into the updated constitution.</p> <p>

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
In Manhattan, District Leader Maps Redrawn Last Minute and Hard to Find 2017-08-07T20:12:09+00:00 2017-08-07T20:12:09+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7111:in-manhattan-district-leader-maps-redrawn-last-minute-and-hard-to-find Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/district_leader_palm_card_kim.png" alt="district leader palm card kim" width="600" height="566" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 500;"></span><span style="font-weight: 500;">Kim Moscaritolo&nbsp;</span>and Adam Roberts, district leaders for Manhattan's Assembly District 76, Part B<span style="font-weight: 500;"><br /></span></p> <hr /> <p>While much of the media and public’s attention is focussed on New York’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7099-20-races-to-watch-in-the-2017-city-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mayoral and City Council races</a>, lesser known elections are also slated to take place this fall.</p> <p>On primary day, September 12, and election day, November 7, Manhattanites will vote on their district leaders. While the position is part-time and unpaid, it comes with a degree of influence and is often a stepping stone to greater political posts. Sometimes elected officials at higher levels are also district leaders, giving them additional power.</p> <p>The county committee, which is made up of two to four representatives from each election district, is too large and unwieldy to be an effective body. Therefore, district leaders are elected biennially to form an executive committee and are enabled to exercise all or most of the powers of the county committee. In addition to acting as a liaison between constituents and paid elected officials, district leaders play a role in nominating civil judicial candidates, making formal party endorsements, and appointing paid poll workers.&nbsp;&nbsp;They also&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7074-democratic-club-calls-on-wright-to-choose-between-party-leadership-lobbying-job">vote for the Democratic Party county chairman</a>.</p> <p>In three boroughs -- Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Bronx -- a pair of district leaders are elected per State Assembly district, one male and one female. But in Queens and Manhattan, Assembly districts may be divided into two, three, or four district leader parts, marked by the letters A, B, C, and D.</p> <p>To get on the ballot, candidates must collect 500 signatures from residents of their Assembly district, or their part of an Assembly district, which in Manhattan can be comprised of between 10 and 50 election districts, BOE subdivisions marked by designated polling places within Assembly districts. Signatures from outside these boundaries can be challenged by an opponent, potentially leading to removal from the ballot.</p> <p>This year, several candidates for district leader positions say that a last minute redrawing of the Manhattan election district map sparked confusion and misinformation just days before the June ballot petitioning period kicked off. Ballot petitioning is the signature-gathering process whereby candidates qualify for the election ballot.</p> <p>When election districts are changed, the party must then adjust the district leader parts. A preliminary draft of the new “party call” -- which lists which election districts belong in which Assembly district parts -- is submitted to current Manhattan district leaders along with a map to see where additional adjustments can or should be made.</p> <p>Typically, district leaders agree on the boundaries amongst themselves and the party sends out a third version of the party call, which according to Manhattan Democratic Party rules, must be approved by district leaders with a two-thirds vote.</p> <p>This year, petitioning for district leader races began June 6, with the forms due between July 10 and July 13. Due to the newly drawn election districts, the district leader parts had yet to be made permanent or public by the final week in May, and candidates say the related confusion cut into their petitioning time and chances for success.</p> <p>"It was very short notice to find out the lines have changed and that greatly impacted people's targets,” said Ny Whitaker, a candidate for the 68th Assembly District, Part D. “I know for sure that I lost some huge blocks where I've built relationships over the last few years."</p> <p>In New York City, getting on the ballot for any elected seat is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/open-government/252-understanding-the-labyrinth-new-yorks-ballot-access-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a notoriously complex process</a>, riddled with pitfalls that can cause even experienced candidates to stumble, but for county party races like district leader, in some boroughs it can be that much more challenging to obtain basic information and clarity about guidelines.</p> <p>To deduce where their district parts are located, district leader candidates in Manhattan (and Queens) must match up the most recent “party call,” which lists which one- to two-block election districts are located in each part, with the latest election district map, available from the Manhattan (or Queens) Board of Elections.</p> <p>"There are many intricate layers to running for a party position, but there isn't a manual for telling you how to run,” said Whitaker. “Calculating the number of voters that you need for party positions and county positions is like a statistical equation involving algebra, geometry, and geography."</p> <p>For non-incumbents, unless they are very knowledgeable about the process, obtaining this information is even harder. The party call listed on the Manhattan Democratic Party <a href="http://manhattandemocrats.org/about/find-your-assembly-district-part/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a> is out-of-date (though this is an improvement from Queens, where the Democratic Party does not have a website to reference).</p> <p>Whitaker, who ran for district leader positions twice before, said the information was changed on such short notice that Votebuilder -- the voter roll database compiled by the Democratic National Committee, made available to Democratic candidates for a hefty subscription fee -- had not been updated with the new data, and until the very last petitioning day, even the Board of Elections could not provide an updated election district map.</p> <p>Whitaker, who wound up obtaining the new party call and latest electoral district map from the Manhattan Board of Elections office one day before the start of petitioning, said she only knew of the maps being redrawn because she attended the New York County Democratic Party’s executive committee meeting on May 17.</p> <p>During that meeting, district leader Johnny Rivera, who represents the 68th District, Part B, raised concerns about the short window he had to review any changes that were made to his part. However, he said, party officials were unwilling to address his concerns citing time constraints.</p> <p>“I am a district leader and I had some difficulty getting that information. It’s fundamental to running in a race, you need to know the boundaries to use your time wisely in collecting signatures in that particular election district,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. “Not knowing that can cost you the election.”</p> <p>The last time Assembly districts are redrawn was in 2012, however, the Manhattan Board of Elections is required to regularly alter election districts to accommodate demographic shifts and ensure that poll sites are well utilized. The redistricting often results in a complete renumbering of election districts on the map and with some EDs, as they are called, even dragged from one Assembly district into another.</p> <p>This year, the redistricting triggered a three-step effort to reconstruct the map in a way that is understandable and agreeable to current district leaders, according to Barry Weinberg, executive director for the New York County (Manhattan) Democratic Party, who was involved in the painstaking process.</p> <p>Weinberg said he and the party’s law chair received the new part lines on May 11, stayed up all night to create the preliminary party call and sent it out to district leaders the following day for review.</p> <p>“From the party’s perspective, we worked as fast as we possibly could to turn around the draft of the party call in under 24 hours, given the time constraints,” said Weinberg.</p> <p>There were some disagreements, such as one case, in Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District, where one boundary cut through a housing project. But in most cases, the district leaders worked things out on a conference call, according to Weinberg. There were also a few errors with the original election district map that had to be corrected by the Board of Elections.</p> <p>But Rivera, the district leader, said he was not aware of changes made to his part until hours before the May 17 vote, and asked that the vote be postponed, a request that was denied. The party call was due to be submitted to the BOE by May 23.</p> <p>Politics of course plays a role in how the boundaries are determined, and those who are not allies of County Democratic Party boss Keith Wright say they can be subtly shut out of the process.</p> <p>“The final changes, I didn’t have a say in it. I think it all depends on your relationship with the chairman. If you are in, you probably get the lines you wanted. If you are not in, you get whatever he decides, and you get it two or three hours before the meeting,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette, referring to Wright..</p> <p>For district leaders, petitioning was particularly stressful this year for other reasons. Most political candidates throughout the city obtain their petition printouts from a single print shop, <a href="https://www.politicalresources.com/2013-02-19-22-18-56/directory/campaign-media-services/media-production/nyprints-llc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">owned by Alan Handell</a>, who is entrusted to make sure the forms meet the BOE’s byzantine requirements. When it is an “on year” -- when City Council, mayoral, and other elections are taking place -- this creates a printing backlog delaying the petitioning process, according to at least one district leader who spoke with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“Because of the backlog, I wasn’t able to get my petitions until June 9,” three days after petitioning began, said Kelmy Rodriguez, who is challenging District Leader John Ruiz in the 68th Assembly District, Part C.</p> <p>There are few rules dictating how county Democratic parties operate, since they largely are empowered to set their own, and really only answer to the New York State Democratic Party.</p> <p>"The district leaders and the county have the right to have the parts redrawn because the parts are entirely the creature of the party. This year seems like it was done really close to the beginning of petitioning" said Sarah Steiner, a Manhattan election lawyer, who is involved in several district leader races. She added, “I do think the process should be more transparent."</p> <p>The inconsistent divisions in Manhattan formed over a century of New York’s history, a result of regulatory changes, demographic shifts and controversies, according to Doug Kellner, co-chair of the State Board of Elections and former law chair for the Manhattan Democratic Party. &nbsp;The splits often occurred to settle disputes between political clubs or district leaders.</p> <p>“It was something [former Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Herman ‘Denny’ Farrell] did not like to do when he was county leader, because it kept watering down the authority of the district leader,” said Kellner. “When you have eight district leaders in an Assembly district, it’s as if nobody is in charge.”</p> <p>In Manhattan, the practice dates back to the turn of the 20th Century, when it was mainly used as an anti-reform measure, when Tammany Hall -- the political machine that ruled the borough for the first half of the century -- was in power.</p> <p>“It was a method of redistricting and gerrymandering the party organization,” said Kellner. “Until reforms that [former First Lady] Eleanor Roosevelt pushed in the early 1950s, it was abused to prevent insurgents from gaining footholds within the county organization.”</p> <p>Roosevelt, who became heavily involved in reforming city politics after her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt became governor of New York in 1929, was instrumental in democratizing the vote for district leaders. Previously, only county committee members were able to vote for these representatives. Roosevelt and the League of Women Voters were instrumental in implementing the male and female pair, a structure that ensures the inclusion of more women in the party establishment.</p> <p>Redrawing of the parts, Kellner noted, was historically a way to ensure that people who &nbsp;belonged to a particular political club lived in the appropriate part.</p> <p>“It always came down to, from what I observed, it really was where club people resided, so people wouldn’t always join the club for the territory where they lived and when it came down to do the party call. They might address that by massaging the boundaries between the part,” he said.</p> <p>The regulations have since been loosened to allow club members and district leaders to live in any section of the Assembly district and choose which “part” they run for.</p> <p>Ultimately it is up to the party to find a system that works. The Staten Island Democratic Party previously divided its Assembly districts into parts, calling them “zones,” but at a county committee meeting in May, district leaders voted to adopt the two leader per district structure used by other boroughs.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the Staten Island Democratic Party said it has already saved the county and candidates time and money, streamlined the election process, and made petitioning easier for the upcoming election.</p> <p>In recent years, the Manhattan Democratic Party attracted a lot of young people -- many of whom were energized by the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections -- into the political process, which has sparked a push for more transparency and access across the borough.</p> <p>“There has been an effort to sort of modernize things and make things more available to people and a little more transparent,” said Kim Moscaritolo, district leader for the 76th Assembly District, Part B. “When I was first getting involved, it was nearly impossible to find that information, even finding out who the district leaders were for those parts.”</p> <p>Stephen Redden, member of the Manhattan Young Democrats, which Moscaritolo is active in, is working on creating an interactive, color-coded map to make the district leader information more accessible on the party’s website, according to Weinberg.</p> <p>Previously, candidates would have to get the maps from the BOE and color them in. “If there's a race, you would just draw with a highlighter where the lines are,” said Weinberg. “We’re hoping to bring that into the 21st Century.”</p> <p>The New York City Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/district_leader_palm_card_kim.png" alt="district leader palm card kim" width="600" height="566" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 500;"></span><span style="font-weight: 500;">Kim Moscaritolo&nbsp;</span>and Adam Roberts, district leaders for Manhattan's Assembly District 76, Part B<span style="font-weight: 500;"><br /></span></p> <hr /> <p>While much of the media and public’s attention is focussed on New York’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7099-20-races-to-watch-in-the-2017-city-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mayoral and City Council races</a>, lesser known elections are also slated to take place this fall.</p> <p>On primary day, September 12, and election day, November 7, Manhattanites will vote on their district leaders. While the position is part-time and unpaid, it comes with a degree of influence and is often a stepping stone to greater political posts. Sometimes elected officials at higher levels are also district leaders, giving them additional power.</p> <p>The county committee, which is made up of two to four representatives from each election district, is too large and unwieldy to be an effective body. Therefore, district leaders are elected biennially to form an executive committee and are enabled to exercise all or most of the powers of the county committee. In addition to acting as a liaison between constituents and paid elected officials, district leaders play a role in nominating civil judicial candidates, making formal party endorsements, and appointing paid poll workers.&nbsp;&nbsp;They also&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7074-democratic-club-calls-on-wright-to-choose-between-party-leadership-lobbying-job">vote for the Democratic Party county chairman</a>.</p> <p>In three boroughs -- Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Bronx -- a pair of district leaders are elected per State Assembly district, one male and one female. But in Queens and Manhattan, Assembly districts may be divided into two, three, or four district leader parts, marked by the letters A, B, C, and D.</p> <p>To get on the ballot, candidates must collect 500 signatures from residents of their Assembly district, or their part of an Assembly district, which in Manhattan can be comprised of between 10 and 50 election districts, BOE subdivisions marked by designated polling places within Assembly districts. Signatures from outside these boundaries can be challenged by an opponent, potentially leading to removal from the ballot.</p> <p>This year, several candidates for district leader positions say that a last minute redrawing of the Manhattan election district map sparked confusion and misinformation just days before the June ballot petitioning period kicked off. Ballot petitioning is the signature-gathering process whereby candidates qualify for the election ballot.</p> <p>When election districts are changed, the party must then adjust the district leader parts. A preliminary draft of the new “party call” -- which lists which election districts belong in which Assembly district parts -- is submitted to current Manhattan district leaders along with a map to see where additional adjustments can or should be made.</p> <p>Typically, district leaders agree on the boundaries amongst themselves and the party sends out a third version of the party call, which according to Manhattan Democratic Party rules, must be approved by district leaders with a two-thirds vote.</p> <p>This year, petitioning for district leader races began June 6, with the forms due between July 10 and July 13. Due to the newly drawn election districts, the district leader parts had yet to be made permanent or public by the final week in May, and candidates say the related confusion cut into their petitioning time and chances for success.</p> <p>"It was very short notice to find out the lines have changed and that greatly impacted people's targets,” said Ny Whitaker, a candidate for the 68th Assembly District, Part D. “I know for sure that I lost some huge blocks where I've built relationships over the last few years."</p> <p>In New York City, getting on the ballot for any elected seat is <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/open-government/252-understanding-the-labyrinth-new-yorks-ballot-access-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a notoriously complex process</a>, riddled with pitfalls that can cause even experienced candidates to stumble, but for county party races like district leader, in some boroughs it can be that much more challenging to obtain basic information and clarity about guidelines.</p> <p>To deduce where their district parts are located, district leader candidates in Manhattan (and Queens) must match up the most recent “party call,” which lists which one- to two-block election districts are located in each part, with the latest election district map, available from the Manhattan (or Queens) Board of Elections.</p> <p>"There are many intricate layers to running for a party position, but there isn't a manual for telling you how to run,” said Whitaker. “Calculating the number of voters that you need for party positions and county positions is like a statistical equation involving algebra, geometry, and geography."</p> <p>For non-incumbents, unless they are very knowledgeable about the process, obtaining this information is even harder. The party call listed on the Manhattan Democratic Party <a href="http://manhattandemocrats.org/about/find-your-assembly-district-part/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a> is out-of-date (though this is an improvement from Queens, where the Democratic Party does not have a website to reference).</p> <p>Whitaker, who ran for district leader positions twice before, said the information was changed on such short notice that Votebuilder -- the voter roll database compiled by the Democratic National Committee, made available to Democratic candidates for a hefty subscription fee -- had not been updated with the new data, and until the very last petitioning day, even the Board of Elections could not provide an updated election district map.</p> <p>Whitaker, who wound up obtaining the new party call and latest electoral district map from the Manhattan Board of Elections office one day before the start of petitioning, said she only knew of the maps being redrawn because she attended the New York County Democratic Party’s executive committee meeting on May 17.</p> <p>During that meeting, district leader Johnny Rivera, who represents the 68th District, Part B, raised concerns about the short window he had to review any changes that were made to his part. However, he said, party officials were unwilling to address his concerns citing time constraints.</p> <p>“I am a district leader and I had some difficulty getting that information. It’s fundamental to running in a race, you need to know the boundaries to use your time wisely in collecting signatures in that particular election district,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. “Not knowing that can cost you the election.”</p> <p>The last time Assembly districts are redrawn was in 2012, however, the Manhattan Board of Elections is required to regularly alter election districts to accommodate demographic shifts and ensure that poll sites are well utilized. The redistricting often results in a complete renumbering of election districts on the map and with some EDs, as they are called, even dragged from one Assembly district into another.</p> <p>This year, the redistricting triggered a three-step effort to reconstruct the map in a way that is understandable and agreeable to current district leaders, according to Barry Weinberg, executive director for the New York County (Manhattan) Democratic Party, who was involved in the painstaking process.</p> <p>Weinberg said he and the party’s law chair received the new part lines on May 11, stayed up all night to create the preliminary party call and sent it out to district leaders the following day for review.</p> <p>“From the party’s perspective, we worked as fast as we possibly could to turn around the draft of the party call in under 24 hours, given the time constraints,” said Weinberg.</p> <p>There were some disagreements, such as one case, in Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District, where one boundary cut through a housing project. But in most cases, the district leaders worked things out on a conference call, according to Weinberg. There were also a few errors with the original election district map that had to be corrected by the Board of Elections.</p> <p>But Rivera, the district leader, said he was not aware of changes made to his part until hours before the May 17 vote, and asked that the vote be postponed, a request that was denied. The party call was due to be submitted to the BOE by May 23.</p> <p>Politics of course plays a role in how the boundaries are determined, and those who are not allies of County Democratic Party boss Keith Wright say they can be subtly shut out of the process.</p> <p>“The final changes, I didn’t have a say in it. I think it all depends on your relationship with the chairman. If you are in, you probably get the lines you wanted. If you are not in, you get whatever he decides, and you get it two or three hours before the meeting,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette, referring to Wright..</p> <p>For district leaders, petitioning was particularly stressful this year for other reasons. Most political candidates throughout the city obtain their petition printouts from a single print shop, <a href="https://www.politicalresources.com/2013-02-19-22-18-56/directory/campaign-media-services/media-production/nyprints-llc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">owned by Alan Handell</a>, who is entrusted to make sure the forms meet the BOE’s byzantine requirements. When it is an “on year” -- when City Council, mayoral, and other elections are taking place -- this creates a printing backlog delaying the petitioning process, according to at least one district leader who spoke with Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>“Because of the backlog, I wasn’t able to get my petitions until June 9,” three days after petitioning began, said Kelmy Rodriguez, who is challenging District Leader John Ruiz in the 68th Assembly District, Part C.</p> <p>There are few rules dictating how county Democratic parties operate, since they largely are empowered to set their own, and really only answer to the New York State Democratic Party.</p> <p>"The district leaders and the county have the right to have the parts redrawn because the parts are entirely the creature of the party. This year seems like it was done really close to the beginning of petitioning" said Sarah Steiner, a Manhattan election lawyer, who is involved in several district leader races. She added, “I do think the process should be more transparent."</p> <p>The inconsistent divisions in Manhattan formed over a century of New York’s history, a result of regulatory changes, demographic shifts and controversies, according to Doug Kellner, co-chair of the State Board of Elections and former law chair for the Manhattan Democratic Party. &nbsp;The splits often occurred to settle disputes between political clubs or district leaders.</p> <p>“It was something [former Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Herman ‘Denny’ Farrell] did not like to do when he was county leader, because it kept watering down the authority of the district leader,” said Kellner. “When you have eight district leaders in an Assembly district, it’s as if nobody is in charge.”</p> <p>In Manhattan, the practice dates back to the turn of the 20th Century, when it was mainly used as an anti-reform measure, when Tammany Hall -- the political machine that ruled the borough for the first half of the century -- was in power.</p> <p>“It was a method of redistricting and gerrymandering the party organization,” said Kellner. “Until reforms that [former First Lady] Eleanor Roosevelt pushed in the early 1950s, it was abused to prevent insurgents from gaining footholds within the county organization.”</p> <p>Roosevelt, who became heavily involved in reforming city politics after her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt became governor of New York in 1929, was instrumental in democratizing the vote for district leaders. Previously, only county committee members were able to vote for these representatives. Roosevelt and the League of Women Voters were instrumental in implementing the male and female pair, a structure that ensures the inclusion of more women in the party establishment.</p> <p>Redrawing of the parts, Kellner noted, was historically a way to ensure that people who &nbsp;belonged to a particular political club lived in the appropriate part.</p> <p>“It always came down to, from what I observed, it really was where club people resided, so people wouldn’t always join the club for the territory where they lived and when it came down to do the party call. They might address that by massaging the boundaries between the part,” he said.</p> <p>The regulations have since been loosened to allow club members and district leaders to live in any section of the Assembly district and choose which “part” they run for.</p> <p>Ultimately it is up to the party to find a system that works. The Staten Island Democratic Party previously divided its Assembly districts into parts, calling them “zones,” but at a county committee meeting in May, district leaders voted to adopt the two leader per district structure used by other boroughs.</p> <p>A spokesperson for the Staten Island Democratic Party said it has already saved the county and candidates time and money, streamlined the election process, and made petitioning easier for the upcoming election.</p> <p>In recent years, the Manhattan Democratic Party attracted a lot of young people -- many of whom were energized by the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections -- into the political process, which has sparked a push for more transparency and access across the borough.</p> <p>“There has been an effort to sort of modernize things and make things more available to people and a little more transparent,” said Kim Moscaritolo, district leader for the 76th Assembly District, Part B. “When I was first getting involved, it was nearly impossible to find that information, even finding out who the district leaders were for those parts.”</p> <p>Stephen Redden, member of the Manhattan Young Democrats, which Moscaritolo is active in, is working on creating an interactive, color-coded map to make the district leader information more accessible on the party’s website, according to Weinberg.</p> <p>Previously, candidates would have to get the maps from the BOE and color them in. “If there's a race, you would just draw with a highlighter where the lines are,” said Weinberg. “We’re hoping to bring that into the 21st Century.”</p> <p>The New York City Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Longshot Mayoral Hopeful Outraises & Outspends Opponents, Technically 2017-07-18T23:48:31+00:00 2017-07-18T23:48:31+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7071:longshot-mayoral-contender-contributes-5-million-to-own-campaign Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/reform_party3.jpg" alt="reform party3" width="600" height="313" /></p> <p>Michael Tolkin (center) at a Reform Party forum (photo: Tolkinformayor.com)</p> <hr /> <p>Michael Tolkin, a 32-year-old tech entrepreneur who is among over a dozen long-shot candidates running to unseat New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, appears to have outspent every other contender in the race, including the mayor, with a $5 million in-kind contribution to his own campaign.</p> <p>An in-kind contribution is one in which goods or services instead of cash are given to a campaign, and in this case the entire contribution is also listed as an expenditure towards “campaign literature and assets,” according to the <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2026&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Tolkin,%20Michael%20I&amp;office=Mayor&amp;report=summ" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">latest filings</a> with the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB). As such, they require an estimate of the goods’ or services’ worth.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio himself has so far raised over $4.7 million in cash, with only $570 worth of in-kind contributions, and spent over $2.2 million of it. GOP contender Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, has raised just over $340,000, with $5,117 in in-kind contributions, and spent over $69,000.</p> <p>Tolkin, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, explained in a phone interview that the contribution would manifest in the coming weeks through “a bunch of content and programming that will be self evident” and which would leverage existing assets he controls. Tolkin, a New York native and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has launched several startups and also advises companies based in New York, such as virtual-room showcase website Rooms.com, which he founded.</p> <p>He referenced one of the potential projects that would form part of his purported $5 million expenditure, a “human rights council” that he would convene in New York. He declined to provide further details about the spending.</p> <p>Asked how this would relate to his campaign for mayor, Tolkin said that the programs would help promote his candidacy as well as a “better vision for New York.” He also said that he expected some of the programs to be revenue-generating, and that the revenue would be put back into the program to help develop that vision once he is elected mayor. Tolkin’s <a href="http://www.tolkinformayor.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a> describes his campaign as “non-ideological and apolitical,” and outlines an agenda centered on applying design and technology concepts to city governance; a campaign video refers to protecting small businesses, investing in emerging industries, and upgrading subway infrastructure, among other items.</p> <p>Tolkin was similarly cryptic about the eye-popping value of his contribution, saying simply that he comes from the “startup world” and that the $5 million is a “ballpark” figure based on startup-type valuation models. Essentially, the contribution estimate appears to be based on the revenue that he expects his upcoming projects to generate.</p> <p>“I’ve never heard of a campaign asset generating revenue,” said Matt Sollars, a spokesperson for the CFB, though he could not recall any specific prohibition against that. At this point, the figures on file with the agency are self-reported, and have not been audited by the CFB.</p> <p>Sarah Steiner, an attorney specializing in election law, said that she had never heard of anyone making an in-kind contribution of the type Tolkin was making to himself, but that might be the point; she said Tolkin’s supposed campaign initiatives could be a preview of the programs he’d want to promote as mayor.</p> <p>As for the scheme’s legality, Steiner said that as long as the programs were run with “his own money, and he’s not a campaign finance [public matching funds system] participant, and as long as he’s doing this as his campaign, he’s not breaking any campaign finance laws.” In terms of the presumptive revenue from the programs, those would generally be acceptable, depending on what was done with them.</p> <p>“If you thought of it as, ‘We’re going to buy a silk screen machine, we’re going to print t-shirts, we’re going to sell them, and it’s going to create revenue,’ that would be okay,” she said.</p> <p>A potential advantage of Tolkin’s massive contribution is that he may be able to qualify for the CFB’s official debates ahead of the September 12 primary election. Since Tolkin is not participating in the city’s public matching funds program, he would have to raise and spend at least $175,000 to qualify for the debates, a threshold that many of the candidates have struggled to meet. Even an in-kind contribution to himself might count towards this threshold.</p> <p>Steiner had her doubts about that argument, saying that the threshold was “$175,000 in real money.” Debate organizers could decide to count it “but I don’t think the system is intended for that threshold to be met by Silicon Valley valuation techniques for apps, basically,” she said. The Democratic primary debates are scheduled for August 23 and September 6.</p> <p>In any case, Tolkin appears to have more immediate issues: a city Board of Elections document on “campaign enrollment issues” reviewed by Gotham Gazette says that Tolkin is “not enrolled in the identified party on the petition,” the Democratic party. When presented with a copy of the document, Tolkin said in a text message, “That's incorrect and currently being resolved.” Calls to a BOE spokesperson went unanswered.</p> <p>

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/reform_party3.jpg" alt="reform party3" width="600" height="313" /></p> <p>Michael Tolkin (center) at a Reform Party forum (photo: Tolkinformayor.com)</p> <hr /> <p>Michael Tolkin, a 32-year-old tech entrepreneur who is among over a dozen long-shot candidates running to unseat New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, appears to have outspent every other contender in the race, including the mayor, with a $5 million in-kind contribution to his own campaign.</p> <p>An in-kind contribution is one in which goods or services instead of cash are given to a campaign, and in this case the entire contribution is also listed as an expenditure towards “campaign literature and assets,” according to the <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/CandidateSummary.aspx?as_cand_id=2026&amp;as_election_cycle=2017&amp;cand_name=Tolkin,%20Michael%20I&amp;office=Mayor&amp;report=summ" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">latest filings</a> with the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB). As such, they require an estimate of the goods’ or services’ worth.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio himself has so far raised over $4.7 million in cash, with only $570 worth of in-kind contributions, and spent over $2.2 million of it. GOP contender Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, has raised just over $340,000, with $5,117 in in-kind contributions, and spent over $69,000.</p> <p>Tolkin, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, explained in a phone interview that the contribution would manifest in the coming weeks through “a bunch of content and programming that will be self evident” and which would leverage existing assets he controls. Tolkin, a New York native and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has launched several startups and also advises companies based in New York, such as virtual-room showcase website Rooms.com, which he founded.</p> <p>He referenced one of the potential projects that would form part of his purported $5 million expenditure, a “human rights council” that he would convene in New York. He declined to provide further details about the spending.</p> <p>Asked how this would relate to his campaign for mayor, Tolkin said that the programs would help promote his candidacy as well as a “better vision for New York.” He also said that he expected some of the programs to be revenue-generating, and that the revenue would be put back into the program to help develop that vision once he is elected mayor. Tolkin’s <a href="http://www.tolkinformayor.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a> describes his campaign as “non-ideological and apolitical,” and outlines an agenda centered on applying design and technology concepts to city governance; a campaign video refers to protecting small businesses, investing in emerging industries, and upgrading subway infrastructure, among other items.</p> <p>Tolkin was similarly cryptic about the eye-popping value of his contribution, saying simply that he comes from the “startup world” and that the $5 million is a “ballpark” figure based on startup-type valuation models. Essentially, the contribution estimate appears to be based on the revenue that he expects his upcoming projects to generate.</p> <p>“I’ve never heard of a campaign asset generating revenue,” said Matt Sollars, a spokesperson for the CFB, though he could not recall any specific prohibition against that. At this point, the figures on file with the agency are self-reported, and have not been audited by the CFB.</p> <p>Sarah Steiner, an attorney specializing in election law, said that she had never heard of anyone making an in-kind contribution of the type Tolkin was making to himself, but that might be the point; she said Tolkin’s supposed campaign initiatives could be a preview of the programs he’d want to promote as mayor.</p> <p>As for the scheme’s legality, Steiner said that as long as the programs were run with “his own money, and he’s not a campaign finance [public matching funds system] participant, and as long as he’s doing this as his campaign, he’s not breaking any campaign finance laws.” In terms of the presumptive revenue from the programs, those would generally be acceptable, depending on what was done with them.</p> <p>“If you thought of it as, ‘We’re going to buy a silk screen machine, we’re going to print t-shirts, we’re going to sell them, and it’s going to create revenue,’ that would be okay,” she said.</p> <p>A potential advantage of Tolkin’s massive contribution is that he may be able to qualify for the CFB’s official debates ahead of the September 12 primary election. Since Tolkin is not participating in the city’s public matching funds program, he would have to raise and spend at least $175,000 to qualify for the debates, a threshold that many of the candidates have struggled to meet. Even an in-kind contribution to himself might count towards this threshold.</p> <p>Steiner had her doubts about that argument, saying that the threshold was “$175,000 in real money.” Debate organizers could decide to count it “but I don’t think the system is intended for that threshold to be met by Silicon Valley valuation techniques for apps, basically,” she said. The Democratic primary debates are scheduled for August 23 and September 6.</p> <p>In any case, Tolkin appears to have more immediate issues: a city Board of Elections document on “campaign enrollment issues” reviewed by Gotham Gazette says that Tolkin is “not enrolled in the identified party on the petition,” the Democratic party. When presented with a copy of the document, Tolkin said in a text message, “That's incorrect and currently being resolved.” Calls to a BOE spokesperson went unanswered.</p> <p>

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Rochester Mayor Accused of Circumventing Campaign Finance Rules 2017-07-12T19:03:00+00:00 2017-07-12T19:03:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7058:rochester-mayor-accused-of-circumventing-campaign-finance-rules Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/lovely-warren.jpg" alt="lovely warren" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren (via <a href="https://www.facebook.com/RochesterMayorLovelyWarren/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren is drawing scrutiny for apparently using a political action committee she founded in 2015 help finance her 2017 re-election campaign and for repeatedly accepting over-the-limit contributions from business interests, as shown by her campaign finance records.</p> <p>The Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC can accept virtually unlimited donations, but like other donors, the PAC is prohibited from contributing to Warren’s re-election campaign beyond the combined primary and general election limits set <a href="http://www2.monroecounty.gov/files/Campaign%20Contribution%20Limits_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by the Monroe County Board of Elections</a>, or $8,557 per four-year election cycle. These limits apply to monetary and in-kind donations.</p> <p>Warren, a first-term Democrat who is facing two primary challengers, <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2015/09/07/new-pac-fuels-rochester-mayor-lovely-warren-campaign-causes/71577626/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">created the PAC</a> without a clear objective beyond fundraising for Rochester initiatives and supporting local candidates, but similar spending patterns by her re-election campaign, Friends of Lovely Warren, and the PAC suggest the two pools of money are improperly being used to advance the same political objectives, which would be in violation of state election law.</p> <p>Since 2015, the PAC has raised $325,020 and spent $105,314, largely on what appear to be campaign-related activities, according to a review of its expenditure reports. The spending significantly surpasses the $8,557 cap on what the PAC is allowed to contribute to the campaign. While elected officials occasionally start their own leadership PACs, typically the committees are created to advance a particular cause and support other candidates, rather than backing the individual's own electoral endeavors, according to a spokesperson for the state Board of Elections.</p> <p>Both of Warren’s committees have been infused with cash from interests with business before the City of Rochester, with several donors exceeding campaign finance limits, according to campaign finance reports reviewed by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>A formal letter of complaint sent to State Board of Elections Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman in April by one of Warren’s primary challengers alleges illegal coordination between the campaign committee and the PAC and calls for an investigation.</p> <p>James Sheppard, a Monroe County legislator and former Rochester police chief who is running for mayor on the Working Families Party line and competing in the Democratic primary, charges in the letter that Warren’s two organizations “maintain common operational control with the same individuals exercising actual and strategic control over the day to day activities of both organizations,” and that Friends of Lovely Warren has received from the Warren PAC “goods, services and funds well in excess of what is permissible.”</p> <p>Sheppard identifies overlapping expenditures by the two entities, pointing to an annual fundraiser typically organized by Warren’s electoral campaign which in 2016 was organized by, and benefited, the Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC. Sheppard notes that the event was organized by and benefited Warren’s campaign in 2015 and 2017, however, in all three years, Warren solicited contributions to benefit her own re-election bid in a note posted on the event website.</p> <p>“The Mayor’s Ball is my annual fundraising event. As we celebrate Rochester’s accomplishments, this gathering raises money to support my vision for Rochester and my reelection campaign,” <a href="https://mayorlovelywarren.com/mayors-ball-2016/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the note reads</a>.</p> <p>A review of the PAC’s spending since 2015 confirms that the majority of $105,314 spent went to Rochester Riverside Convention Center, which is where the Mayor's Ball event is held each year. In addition, Warren’s campaign committee and PAC have made payments to 11 common vendors and payees during the four-year 2017 campaign cycle, totaling $14,577 of the PAC's spending. The PAC has contributed a comparatively small amount, slightly more than $5,000, to local candidates.</p> <p>“It is apparent, therefore, that Ms. Warren is permitting the two committees to act interchangeably as vehicles to conduct campaign activity in violation of the NYS Election Law. The value of funds, goods and services received by Friends of Lovely Warren from the Warren PAC from the event well-exceeds the amount permissible under controlling law,” states the Sheppard letter, which was obtained by Gotham Gazette and can be read in full <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#Letter" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">below</a>.</p> <p>PACs may coordinate with and donate to a particular candidate’s campaign committee, but may not spend money to “aid or take part in the election or defeat of a candidate or to promote the success or defeat of a ballot proposal, other than in the form of contributions, including in-kind contributions to candidates,” according to the state Board of Elections <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/finance/CF02PAC_PoliticalActionCommitteeType2CFRegForm.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>. PACs are also subject to the same contribution limitations as regular donors. Using a PAC to fund one’s own campaign would show a disregard for campaign finance rules and, in the case of an incumbent, provide an especially unfair advantage, according government watchdog groups.</p> <p>New York Public Interest Group Executive Director Blair Horner said the allegations against Warren and her groups are serious enough that they warrant scrutiny by Sugarman, whose job is to identify and investigate potential violations of campaign finance law.</p> <p>“New York’s campaign finance system is already riddled with loopholes. If the allegation is true, allowing this arrangement would demolish whatever limits still exist,” he said of using a PAC as a second campaign committee.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, said this practice is virtually unheard of, and indicates a significant lack of oversight at the county and the state levels. "It seems to be a flat out disregard for the law,” she said.</p> <p>Sugarman’s office, which is staffed with several investigators, lawyers and supporting staff, was created in 2014 by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, after the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption determined that the board’s prior investigations of election law were ineffective. It operates mostly independently from the state Board of Elections, and there have been <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/266227/rancorous-debate-at-board-of-elections-over-sugarmans-role/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disagreements in the past</a> between the board’s commissioners and Sugarman.</p> <p>Sugarman declined to comment on whether an investigation into Mayor Warren is underway.</p> <p>Aside from the questionable coordination between Warren’s committees, Friends of Lovely Warren has accepted more than $20,000 in total over-contributions from at least five donors, according to filings from the last four years. Nearly a dozen more entities contributed the maximum allowed to the campaign committee and also donated to the PAC (which, again, has no contribution limits).</p> <p>The list of these donors is mostly comprised of Rochester real estate companies, many with business before the city. Buckingham Properties, a development company that <a href="http://www.whec.com/news/buckingham-properties-midtown-parcel-2/4447742/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has benefited</a> from a sale of city property and tax break authorized by Warren, contributed an over-the-limit total of $10,350 to Friends of Lovely Warren in 2014 and 2015, and another $5,000 to Warren’s PAC in 2016.</p> <p>Winn Development, which owns Rochester’s historic Sibley Building and <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/05/luminate-ny-10m-photonics-competition-launched/103453486/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sought</a> to have a government-subsidized photonics company headquartered there, donated a combined $20,000 between Warren’s campaign ($5,000) and PAC ($15,000).</p> <p>One of the most flagrant over-the-limit donations came from the powerful healthcare union 1199 SEIU, which following two $7,500 donations to Friends of Lovely Warren in early 2015, and already in excess of giving limits, wrote the campaign committee another check, for $10,000, in March 2016.</p> <p>Representatives from state and local Boards of Elections said there are no routine overcontribution audits for county-level filers, because the local campaign limits are set by county boards, but filers who pull in or spend more than $1,000 typically register <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/CampaignFinanceFAQ.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">with the state Board of Elections</a>.</p> <p>“It’s a quirk with the way things work. [Local contribution limits] are based on voter registration. There’s no process in place where all the different contribution limits are provided to us,” said State Board of Elections spokesperson Thomas Connolly.</p> <p>He said that the agency’s compliance unit instead focuses its auditing resources on state-level filers, those for the state Legislature or statewide offices, for example. “We literally have tens of thousands of filers. There’s no realistic way our staff of a dozen and a half can look at every single filer,” he said.</p> <p>Connolly did note that both of Warren’s committees had in the past received correspondence from the BOE’s compliance unit for “items that were considered deficiencies and/or training issues.”</p> <p>Reached by phone, Monroe County Board of Elections’ Democratic Commissioner Thomas F. Ferrarese said the agency does not have the authority or means to audit local filers because the agency does not have access to filers’ data. “We just don't have that information,” he said.</p> <p>When asked if there was any routine overcontribution screening process by state and county boards of elections for local races, Ferrarese said, “No, not really.”</p> <p>Instead, campaign finance information is simply posted to the Board’s website, and an investigation may be opened if a formal complaint is filed and the special counsel deems it worthwhile.</p> <p>The county contribution limit is based on a formula set by the state and is calculated based on how many ballot lines a candidate is running on and how many eligible voters are in the district. While it may still fluctuate slightly, it’s not likely to change more than a few dollars for the Rochester mayoral race, according to Ferrarese.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Warren’s campaign committee said that its staff works hard to comply with election law and coordinates closely with the state Board of Elections, but did not address the illegal coordination charge.</p> <p>“Our all volunteer treasurer and fundraising teams always strive to be certain that contributions are within the limits set by the election board,” said Brittaney Wells, campaign manager for Friends of Lovely Warren. “If any contributors have unknowingly exceeded that limit in the past we have refunded the contribution in question and believe we are in full compliance. We will continue to work closely with the Board of Elections in the future on these and other campaign issues.”</p> <p>However, a review of refunds made by the committee during this election cycle indicates that just $5,300 was returned to Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local No. 3 in 2016 and a $2,500 donation was <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2017/01/18/sheppard-warren-raise-and-refund-union-cash/96723730/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">refunded</a> to a nonprofit called Rochester Community TV Inc. in 2015.</p> <p>There are other problems with the campaign finance filings of Friends of Lovely Warren committee that span more than a decade. Warren began her political career as aide to long-time Rochester Assemblymember David Gantt, who has described her as family. A comparison of Warren and Gantt’s campaign committees shows discrepancies, including more than 10 contributions between 2005 and 2015 reported as expenditures by Gantt’s committees that Warren’s committees shows no record of receiving.</p> <p>Warren’s campaign has also reported more than $22,000 in contributions from unspecified donors between 2005 to 2016, with approximately half of those donations received by the committee after Warren won the mayoral seat in 2013, according to the filings. The donations are simply listed as “unitemized,” and it is unclear if they meet the $100 threshold for including the donor’s name because they are grouped together by date.</p> <p>Warren has made significant campaign committee reimbursements to herself and an employee that have not been explained. Between 2007 and 2016, Warren has paid herself $17,783.98 in total from both of her committees, including at least $3,921.98 since she became mayor, records show. At least 18 reimbursements totalling $4,315.98 are either left blank or vaguely identified as “REMI” or “reimbursement.”</p> <p>In 2015 and 2016, Warren’s committees also collectively paid 10 unexplained reimbursements totaling $1,615 to Kiara Warren (it is unclear if Kiara is related to Lovely Warren).</p> <p>Finally, the campaign committee has failed to submit several filings and appears to have accepted contributions from nonprofits and other likely prohibited groups, such as a neighborhood association that is not officially registered as a corporate entity.</p> <p>A representative for the Warren campaign -- erroneously assuming Gotham Gazette was tipped off to these issues by lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy, a former supporter of Warren who has since had <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/07/robert-scott-gaddy-accused-hitting-columnist-weighs-plea-deal/103498262/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a falling out</a> with the Rochester mayor -- responded by pointing out that Gaddy’s lobbying firm <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/07/robert-scott-gaddy-accused-hitting-columnist-weighs-plea-deal/103498262/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was late </a>in filing disclosure forms with the state's Joint Commision on Public Ethics (JCOPE).</p> <p>Gaddy, who also once worked for Gantt alongside Warren, was involved in questionable campaign finance practices the first time Warren ran for mayor. In 2013, shortly before the Rochester mayoral primary, Gaddy spent more than $40,000 to support Warren through a last-minute independent expenditure committee called Rochester Rising. The committee was opened just prior to the Democratic primary and closed within one month. The practice,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/2013/10/03/hidden-cash-fueled-warren-campaign-/2919063/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drew criticism</a> from Rochester elected officials and good government groups given that it allowed Gaddy to circumvent the $3,335 contribution limits from a single individual to the Warren campaign. Gaddy is now backing Warren’s other Democratic challenger, Rachel Barnhart, a former television reporter.</p> <p>Areas of Upstate New York have seen outside expenditure committees infusing big money into local races for more than a decade. At times, these have been lawful but perhaps unseemly attempts for wealthy interests to influence political campaigns, but in other instances, lines appear to have been crossed. Recently, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office <a href="http://www.wkbw.com/news/more-charges-against-steve-pigeon-for-election-law-violations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">charged</a> Erie County operative Steve Pigeon and two others with bribery and "knowingly and willfully" coordinating illegally with campaign committees through their WNY Progressive Committee.</p> <p><em>Note: The figures in this story are from before January 2017 -- the next batch of campaign finance filings are due on July 15.&nbsp;</em></p> <p><a id="Letter"></a>

</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/lovely-warren.jpg" alt="lovely warren" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren (via <a href="https://www.facebook.com/RochesterMayorLovelyWarren/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren is drawing scrutiny for apparently using a political action committee she founded in 2015 help finance her 2017 re-election campaign and for repeatedly accepting over-the-limit contributions from business interests, as shown by her campaign finance records.</p> <p>The Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC can accept virtually unlimited donations, but like other donors, the PAC is prohibited from contributing to Warren’s re-election campaign beyond the combined primary and general election limits set <a href="http://www2.monroecounty.gov/files/Campaign%20Contribution%20Limits_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">by the Monroe County Board of Elections</a>, or $8,557 per four-year election cycle. These limits apply to monetary and in-kind donations.</p> <p>Warren, a first-term Democrat who is facing two primary challengers, <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2015/09/07/new-pac-fuels-rochester-mayor-lovely-warren-campaign-causes/71577626/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">created the PAC</a> without a clear objective beyond fundraising for Rochester initiatives and supporting local candidates, but similar spending patterns by her re-election campaign, Friends of Lovely Warren, and the PAC suggest the two pools of money are improperly being used to advance the same political objectives, which would be in violation of state election law.</p> <p>Since 2015, the PAC has raised $325,020 and spent $105,314, largely on what appear to be campaign-related activities, according to a review of its expenditure reports. The spending significantly surpasses the $8,557 cap on what the PAC is allowed to contribute to the campaign. While elected officials occasionally start their own leadership PACs, typically the committees are created to advance a particular cause and support other candidates, rather than backing the individual's own electoral endeavors, according to a spokesperson for the state Board of Elections.</p> <p>Both of Warren’s committees have been infused with cash from interests with business before the City of Rochester, with several donors exceeding campaign finance limits, according to campaign finance reports reviewed by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>A formal letter of complaint sent to State Board of Elections Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman in April by one of Warren’s primary challengers alleges illegal coordination between the campaign committee and the PAC and calls for an investigation.</p> <p>James Sheppard, a Monroe County legislator and former Rochester police chief who is running for mayor on the Working Families Party line and competing in the Democratic primary, charges in the letter that Warren’s two organizations “maintain common operational control with the same individuals exercising actual and strategic control over the day to day activities of both organizations,” and that Friends of Lovely Warren has received from the Warren PAC “goods, services and funds well in excess of what is permissible.”</p> <p>Sheppard identifies overlapping expenditures by the two entities, pointing to an annual fundraiser typically organized by Warren’s electoral campaign which in 2016 was organized by, and benefited, the Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC. Sheppard notes that the event was organized by and benefited Warren’s campaign in 2015 and 2017, however, in all three years, Warren solicited contributions to benefit her own re-election bid in a note posted on the event website.</p> <p>“The Mayor’s Ball is my annual fundraising event. As we celebrate Rochester’s accomplishments, this gathering raises money to support my vision for Rochester and my reelection campaign,” <a href="https://mayorlovelywarren.com/mayors-ball-2016/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the note reads</a>.</p> <p>A review of the PAC’s spending since 2015 confirms that the majority of $105,314 spent went to Rochester Riverside Convention Center, which is where the Mayor's Ball event is held each year. In addition, Warren’s campaign committee and PAC have made payments to 11 common vendors and payees during the four-year 2017 campaign cycle, totaling $14,577 of the PAC's spending. The PAC has contributed a comparatively small amount, slightly more than $5,000, to local candidates.</p> <p>“It is apparent, therefore, that Ms. Warren is permitting the two committees to act interchangeably as vehicles to conduct campaign activity in violation of the NYS Election Law. The value of funds, goods and services received by Friends of Lovely Warren from the Warren PAC from the event well-exceeds the amount permissible under controlling law,” states the Sheppard letter, which was obtained by Gotham Gazette and can be read in full <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#Letter" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">below</a>.</p> <p>PACs may coordinate with and donate to a particular candidate’s campaign committee, but may not spend money to “aid or take part in the election or defeat of a candidate or to promote the success or defeat of a ballot proposal, other than in the form of contributions, including in-kind contributions to candidates,” according to the state Board of Elections <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/finance/CF02PAC_PoliticalActionCommitteeType2CFRegForm.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>. PACs are also subject to the same contribution limitations as regular donors. Using a PAC to fund one’s own campaign would show a disregard for campaign finance rules and, in the case of an incumbent, provide an especially unfair advantage, according government watchdog groups.</p> <p>New York Public Interest Group Executive Director Blair Horner said the allegations against Warren and her groups are serious enough that they warrant scrutiny by Sugarman, whose job is to identify and investigate potential violations of campaign finance law.</p> <p>“New York’s campaign finance system is already riddled with loopholes. If the allegation is true, allowing this arrangement would demolish whatever limits still exist,” he said of using a PAC as a second campaign committee.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, said this practice is virtually unheard of, and indicates a significant lack of oversight at the county and the state levels. "It seems to be a flat out disregard for the law,” she said.</p> <p>Sugarman’s office, which is staffed with several investigators, lawyers and supporting staff, was created in 2014 by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, after the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption determined that the board’s prior investigations of election law were ineffective. It operates mostly independently from the state Board of Elections, and there have been <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/266227/rancorous-debate-at-board-of-elections-over-sugarmans-role/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disagreements in the past</a> between the board’s commissioners and Sugarman.</p> <p>Sugarman declined to comment on whether an investigation into Mayor Warren is underway.</p> <p>Aside from the questionable coordination between Warren’s committees, Friends of Lovely Warren has accepted more than $20,000 in total over-contributions from at least five donors, according to filings from the last four years. Nearly a dozen more entities contributed the maximum allowed to the campaign committee and also donated to the PAC (which, again, has no contribution limits).</p> <p>The list of these donors is mostly comprised of Rochester real estate companies, many with business before the city. Buckingham Properties, a development company that <a href="http://www.whec.com/news/buckingham-properties-midtown-parcel-2/4447742/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has benefited</a> from a sale of city property and tax break authorized by Warren, contributed an over-the-limit total of $10,350 to Friends of Lovely Warren in 2014 and 2015, and another $5,000 to Warren’s PAC in 2016.</p> <p>Winn Development, which owns Rochester’s historic Sibley Building and <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/05/luminate-ny-10m-photonics-competition-launched/103453486/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sought</a> to have a government-subsidized photonics company headquartered there, donated a combined $20,000 between Warren’s campaign ($5,000) and PAC ($15,000).</p> <p>One of the most flagrant over-the-limit donations came from the powerful healthcare union 1199 SEIU, which following two $7,500 donations to Friends of Lovely Warren in early 2015, and already in excess of giving limits, wrote the campaign committee another check, for $10,000, in March 2016.</p> <p>Representatives from state and local Boards of Elections said there are no routine overcontribution audits for county-level filers, because the local campaign limits are set by county boards, but filers who pull in or spend more than $1,000 typically register <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/CampaignFinanceFAQ.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">with the state Board of Elections</a>.</p> <p>“It’s a quirk with the way things work. [Local contribution limits] are based on voter registration. There’s no process in place where all the different contribution limits are provided to us,” said State Board of Elections spokesperson Thomas Connolly.</p> <p>He said that the agency’s compliance unit instead focuses its auditing resources on state-level filers, those for the state Legislature or statewide offices, for example. “We literally have tens of thousands of filers. There’s no realistic way our staff of a dozen and a half can look at every single filer,” he said.</p> <p>Connolly did note that both of Warren’s committees had in the past received correspondence from the BOE’s compliance unit for “items that were considered deficiencies and/or training issues.”</p> <p>Reached by phone, Monroe County Board of Elections’ Democratic Commissioner Thomas F. Ferrarese said the agency does not have the authority or means to audit local filers because the agency does not have access to filers’ data. “We just don't have that information,” he said.</p> <p>When asked if there was any routine overcontribution screening process by state and county boards of elections for local races, Ferrarese said, “No, not really.”</p> <p>Instead, campaign finance information is simply posted to the Board’s website, and an investigation may be opened if a formal complaint is filed and the special counsel deems it worthwhile.</p> <p>The county contribution limit is based on a formula set by the state and is calculated based on how many ballot lines a candidate is running on and how many eligible voters are in the district. While it may still fluctuate slightly, it’s not likely to change more than a few dollars for the Rochester mayoral race, according to Ferrarese.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Warren’s campaign committee said that its staff works hard to comply with election law and coordinates closely with the state Board of Elections, but did not address the illegal coordination charge.</p> <p>“Our all volunteer treasurer and fundraising teams always strive to be certain that contributions are within the limits set by the election board,” said Brittaney Wells, campaign manager for Friends of Lovely Warren. “If any contributors have unknowingly exceeded that limit in the past we have refunded the contribution in question and believe we are in full compliance. We will continue to work closely with the Board of Elections in the future on these and other campaign issues.”</p> <p>However, a review of refunds made by the committee during this election cycle indicates that just $5,300 was returned to Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local No. 3 in 2016 and a $2,500 donation was <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2017/01/18/sheppard-warren-raise-and-refund-union-cash/96723730/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">refunded</a> to a nonprofit called Rochester Community TV Inc. in 2015.</p> <p>There are other problems with the campaign finance filings of Friends of Lovely Warren committee that span more than a decade. Warren began her political career as aide to long-time Rochester Assemblymember David Gantt, who has described her as family. A comparison of Warren and Gantt’s campaign committees shows discrepancies, including more than 10 contributions between 2005 and 2015 reported as expenditures by Gantt’s committees that Warren’s committees shows no record of receiving.</p> <p>Warren’s campaign has also reported more than $22,000 in contributions from unspecified donors between 2005 to 2016, with approximately half of those donations received by the committee after Warren won the mayoral seat in 2013, according to the filings. The donations are simply listed as “unitemized,” and it is unclear if they meet the $100 threshold for including the donor’s name because they are grouped together by date.</p> <p>Warren has made significant campaign committee reimbursements to herself and an employee that have not been explained. Between 2007 and 2016, Warren has paid herself $17,783.98 in total from both of her committees, including at least $3,921.98 since she became mayor, records show. At least 18 reimbursements totalling $4,315.98 are either left blank or vaguely identified as “REMI” or “reimbursement.”</p> <p>In 2015 and 2016, Warren’s committees also collectively paid 10 unexplained reimbursements totaling $1,615 to Kiara Warren (it is unclear if Kiara is related to Lovely Warren).</p> <p>Finally, the campaign committee has failed to submit several filings and appears to have accepted contributions from nonprofits and other likely prohibited groups, such as a neighborhood association that is not officially registered as a corporate entity.</p> <p>A representative for the Warren campaign -- erroneously assuming Gotham Gazette was tipped off to these issues by lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy, a former supporter of Warren who has since had <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/07/robert-scott-gaddy-accused-hitting-columnist-weighs-plea-deal/103498262/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a falling out</a> with the Rochester mayor -- responded by pointing out that Gaddy’s lobbying firm <a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/politics/albany/2017/07/07/robert-scott-gaddy-accused-hitting-columnist-weighs-plea-deal/103498262/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">was late </a>in filing disclosure forms with the state's Joint Commision on Public Ethics (JCOPE).</p> <p>Gaddy, who also once worked for Gantt alongside Warren, was involved in questionable campaign finance practices the first time Warren ran for mayor. In 2013, shortly before the Rochester mayoral primary, Gaddy spent more than $40,000 to support Warren through a last-minute independent expenditure committee called Rochester Rising. The committee was opened just prior to the Democratic primary and closed within one month. The practice,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/2013/10/03/hidden-cash-fueled-warren-campaign-/2919063/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drew criticism</a> from Rochester elected officials and good government groups given that it allowed Gaddy to circumvent the $3,335 contribution limits from a single individual to the Warren campaign. Gaddy is now backing Warren’s other Democratic challenger, Rachel Barnhart, a former television reporter.</p> <p>Areas of Upstate New York have seen outside expenditure committees infusing big money into local races for more than a decade. At times, these have been lawful but perhaps unseemly attempts for wealthy interests to influence political campaigns, but in other instances, lines appear to have been crossed. Recently, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office <a href="http://www.wkbw.com/news/more-charges-against-steve-pigeon-for-election-law-violations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">charged</a> Erie County operative Steve Pigeon and two others with bribery and "knowingly and willfully" coordinating illegally with campaign committees through their WNY Progressive Committee.</p> <p><em>Note: The figures in this story are from before January 2017 -- the next batch of campaign finance filings are due on July 15.&nbsp;</em></p> <p><a id="Letter"></a>

</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Cuomo Refuses to Comply with Trump Election Commission Request 2017-06-30T00:00:00+00:00 2017-06-30T00:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7044:new-york-weighs-response-to-president-s-election-integrity-commission Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/new_yorkers_cast_their_votes_for_president_.jpg" alt="new yorkers cast their votes for president " width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>New Yorkers cast their votes for President (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York has joined the ranks of states refusing to comply with a request for voter information sent yesterday by Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State and vice chair of the newly-created federal Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.</p> <p>“We will not be complying with this request and I encourage the Election Commission to work on issues of vital importance to voters, including ballot access, rather than focus on debunked theories of voter fraud,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo in a statement on Friday afternoon.</p> <p>The letter, which asks that each state provide the administration with available data including the names, addresses, social security numbers, voter registrations, and voting histories of every voter in the state, immediately prompted concern over voter suppression and privacy.</p> <p>N.Y.U. School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice put out a statement calling on states to carefully review their legal obligations before turning over the data. While voter data is technically public, accessing it generally requires adhering to special protocols and making payments, such as submitting requests in writing for specific data. In New York, accessing public voter data requires mailing a completed form to the state’s Board of Elections, leaving a record of who is requesting the information.</p> <p>In the statement, Mryna Pérez, the center’s deputy director, recommended that secretaries of state have “frank conversations with their lawyers about the privacy and other implications of complying with Kobach’s extensive request.”</p> <p>Several voting rights organizations have also condemned the request, including the League of Women Voters, whose president, Chris Carson, called it a “fishing expedition” and a “distraction from the real issue of voter suppression” in a statement.</p> <p>Activists worry that the data will be used to target voters based on their political affiliations as opposed to the stated purpose of investigating voter fraud. The commission was created by President Donald Trump to investigate non-citizens casting ballots following his widely discredited claim that three to five million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election.</p> <p>As Kansas Secretary of State, Kobach ran a multi-year campaign and developed new computer systems to crack down on illegal voting, which ultimately resulted in only nine convictions, mostly of older Americans who had voted in two states or otherwise violated procedural laws. Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project once referred to Kobach as the “king of voter suppression” because of his efforts to limit voter registration in Kansas.</p> <p>New York joins California, Kentucky, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in turning away Kobach’s request, which is not legally binding.</p> <p>

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/new_yorkers_cast_their_votes_for_president_.jpg" alt="new yorkers cast their votes for president " width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>New Yorkers cast their votes for President (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York has joined the ranks of states refusing to comply with a request for voter information sent yesterday by Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State and vice chair of the newly-created federal Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.</p> <p>“We will not be complying with this request and I encourage the Election Commission to work on issues of vital importance to voters, including ballot access, rather than focus on debunked theories of voter fraud,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo in a statement on Friday afternoon.</p> <p>The letter, which asks that each state provide the administration with available data including the names, addresses, social security numbers, voter registrations, and voting histories of every voter in the state, immediately prompted concern over voter suppression and privacy.</p> <p>N.Y.U. School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice put out a statement calling on states to carefully review their legal obligations before turning over the data. While voter data is technically public, accessing it generally requires adhering to special protocols and making payments, such as submitting requests in writing for specific data. In New York, accessing public voter data requires mailing a completed form to the state’s Board of Elections, leaving a record of who is requesting the information.</p> <p>In the statement, Mryna Pérez, the center’s deputy director, recommended that secretaries of state have “frank conversations with their lawyers about the privacy and other implications of complying with Kobach’s extensive request.”</p> <p>Several voting rights organizations have also condemned the request, including the League of Women Voters, whose president, Chris Carson, called it a “fishing expedition” and a “distraction from the real issue of voter suppression” in a statement.</p> <p>Activists worry that the data will be used to target voters based on their political affiliations as opposed to the stated purpose of investigating voter fraud. The commission was created by President Donald Trump to investigate non-citizens casting ballots following his widely discredited claim that three to five million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election.</p> <p>As Kansas Secretary of State, Kobach ran a multi-year campaign and developed new computer systems to crack down on illegal voting, which ultimately resulted in only nine convictions, mostly of older Americans who had voted in two states or otherwise violated procedural laws. Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project once referred to Kobach as the “king of voter suppression” because of his efforts to limit voter registration in Kansas.</p> <p>New York joins California, Kentucky, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in turning away Kobach’s request, which is not legally binding.</p> <p>

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
8%! New Report Shows Shockingly Low Voter Turnout in NYC 2017-06-27T04:00:09+00:00 2017-06-27T04:00:09+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7036:8-new-report-shows-shockingly-low-voter-turnout-in-nyc Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/30833378216_dde865964a_z.jpg" alt="30833378216 dde865964a z" width="640" height="426" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/downloads/pdf/documents/boe/AnnualReports/BOEAnnualReport16.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recent report</a> by New York City’s Board of Elections details shockingly low voter turnout in the 2016 congressional and state primary elections. The new numbers come amid increased attention to New York’s suppressive voting laws but little action from state lawmakers who could implement reforms like early voting, same-day registration, automatic voter registration, or even consolidation of primaries.</p> <p>Because it was a presidential year, New Yorkers voted in three primaries -- presidential (April), congressional (June) and state (September) -- and the November general election.</p> <p>The BOE report shows middling turnout for the presidential primaries, despite -- or because of -- New York’s strict party registration rules, and somewhat strong turnout for the November general election. The two other primaries show abysmal numbers, however.</p> <p>The November 8 general election, wherein Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump topped the ballot, there was a 62% turnout rate among active eligible voters. Active voters are a smaller pool than eligible voters, which includes unregistered voters, and slightly smaller than if inactive registered voters would be included. The city turnout was slighter higher than the national turnout of 59.7%.</p> <p>Primary elections were a different story entirely: for the presidential primary in April 2016, the city saw a 35% turnout; for the June federal primary, 8%; and for the September state and local primary, 10% turnout.</p> <p>The report, simply titled “Annual Report 2016,” was released on the BOE’s website, although it does not indicate a date of publish and multiple representatives at the BOE could not provide a specific date of its publication. Along with information about the board’s president, Maria Guastella, and its borough commissioners, the report also includes data beyond just 2016 voter turnout.</p> <p>The city Board of Elections has been the focus of criticism for many years, especially of late, for mismanagement or even malice; after a mistaken voter roll purge led to thousands of active voters being removed from the rolls, many votes in the presidential primary were declared invalid, in a situation Attorney General Eric Schneiderman referred to in harsh terms. “Democracy itself is under attack,” he <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/purge-outdated-voter-rolls-nyc-tried-bad-results/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> upon joining a lawsuit over the purge.</p> <p>The BOE report on 2016 details actions undertaken by the board to increase turnout and streamline the election process, such as a public education campaign on city elections conducted in five different languages (English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Bengali are listed), along with voter registration drives at community events and pre-registration information sessions with high school students. There were 4,477,091 active registered voters in the city as of November 1, 2016, with Democrats (3,343,041) outnumbering Republicans (501,976) by almost seven to one.</p> <p>There were also 909,611 registered voters unaffiliated with any party; 123,677 voters registered with the Independence Party; 20,956 with the Conservative Party; and 16,651 with the Working Families Party; along with several thousand more registered with smaller parties.</p> <p>In each election held in 2016, turnout was higher in Manhattan than in the other boroughs. In the June federal primary, Manhattan saw 14% turnout; Brooklyn and the Bronx each saw 5% turnout and Queens saw 4%. Staten Island didn’t have a federal primary in 2016, owing to the fact that neither incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan nor his Democratic challenger faced a primary challenge. Manhattan’s higher turnout for the congressional primary is at least somewhat due to the fact that there was an open seat race: Charles Rangel, the longtime Harlem congressional representative, retired, leading to a crowded, open race for the seat. Over half of primary votes in Manhattan in 2016 were cast in Rangel’s 13th district, now represented by fellow Democrat Adriano Espaillat.</p> <p>However, Manhattan’s turnout was still higher than the other boroughs in the other elections. Manhattan’s turnout in state and local primaries was three points higher than the citywide average, nine points higher in the presidential primaries, and six points higher in the general election.</p> <p>Low voter turnout is nothing new for New York City, or New York State, of course. New York’s legislative districts are severely gerrymandered to the point that most legislative races in the state are noncompetitive. A <a href="https://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/nygerrymander.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> from the Prison Gerrymandering Project shows that in the Republican-controlled New York State Senate, districts in the city, which are mostly represented by Democrats, are overpopulated and therefore dilute the city’s voice in the Senate, whereas upstate districts more likely to be represented by Republicans are underpopulated and thus have an amplified voice relative to population size. The same is true of the Assembly, except in favor of city Democrats rather than upstate Republicans.</p> <p>Beyond gerrymandering, New York has regressive voting laws. The state does not allow no-excuse early voting, an electoral feature in 38 states, including many with notorious voting laws such as Florida, North Carolina, and Texas. It also doesn’t allow no-excuse absentee voting.</p> <p>The Assembly, in this past legislative session, passed a voting reform package including early voting, automatic voter registration, and electronic poll books, which was endorsed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who held two telephone town halls on electoral reform, but the package stalled in the Senate, with no action being taken in the body before the legislative session ended last week. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who outlined an electoral reform package in January, did nothing publicly to push the cause thereafter.</p> <p>Although voter apathy, or simply a lack of awareness, could’ve contributed to the extremely low turnout, the city’s primary elections have been criticized as suppressive as well. The state had three separate primary elections in 2016 rather than consolidate the federal and state primaries favored by voting rights advocates. State legislators have debated this issue, with the Assembly voting to consolidate primaries in June while the Senate has pushed an August date.</p> <p>New York also has a long six-month window between the required date to register with a party and the party’s actual primary, though this is only the case for those already registered who seek to enroll in a party or change party identification (newly enrolled voters can register within a few weeks of voting). In the presidential primary, wherein two unconventional outsider candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, drove large numbers of people to the polls who hadn’t voted before, some of whom were registered by not with a major political party, many hopeful voters learned that they couldn’t actually vote because they didn’t declare a party affiliation six months in advance. So-called independents, or “unaffiliated” registered voters, are blocked from voting in party primaries.</p> <p>Francis Barry, the Director of Public Affairs and a former speechwriter for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-18/voter-suppression-in-deep-blue-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote in Bloomberg</a> that New York “is the worst state for independents, bar none.”</p> <p>Voting rights and government reform advocates and many legislators have called for an overhaul of the state’s election law. Most agree that the state should institute early voting, same-day registration, consolidated primaries, automatic registration, and other reforms. Some argue for open primaries where any registered voter could vote in a primary election of their choosing.</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/30833378216_dde865964a_z.jpg" alt="30833378216 dde865964a z" width="640" height="426" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>A <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/downloads/pdf/documents/boe/AnnualReports/BOEAnnualReport16.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recent report</a> by New York City’s Board of Elections details shockingly low voter turnout in the 2016 congressional and state primary elections. The new numbers come amid increased attention to New York’s suppressive voting laws but little action from state lawmakers who could implement reforms like early voting, same-day registration, automatic voter registration, or even consolidation of primaries.</p> <p>Because it was a presidential year, New Yorkers voted in three primaries -- presidential (April), congressional (June) and state (September) -- and the November general election.</p> <p>The BOE report shows middling turnout for the presidential primaries, despite -- or because of -- New York’s strict party registration rules, and somewhat strong turnout for the November general election. The two other primaries show abysmal numbers, however.</p> <p>The November 8 general election, wherein Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump topped the ballot, there was a 62% turnout rate among active eligible voters. Active voters are a smaller pool than eligible voters, which includes unregistered voters, and slightly smaller than if inactive registered voters would be included. The city turnout was slighter higher than the national turnout of 59.7%.</p> <p>Primary elections were a different story entirely: for the presidential primary in April 2016, the city saw a 35% turnout; for the June federal primary, 8%; and for the September state and local primary, 10% turnout.</p> <p>The report, simply titled “Annual Report 2016,” was released on the BOE’s website, although it does not indicate a date of publish and multiple representatives at the BOE could not provide a specific date of its publication. Along with information about the board’s president, Maria Guastella, and its borough commissioners, the report also includes data beyond just 2016 voter turnout.</p> <p>The city Board of Elections has been the focus of criticism for many years, especially of late, for mismanagement or even malice; after a mistaken voter roll purge led to thousands of active voters being removed from the rolls, many votes in the presidential primary were declared invalid, in a situation Attorney General Eric Schneiderman referred to in harsh terms. “Democracy itself is under attack,” he <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/purge-outdated-voter-rolls-nyc-tried-bad-results/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> upon joining a lawsuit over the purge.</p> <p>The BOE report on 2016 details actions undertaken by the board to increase turnout and streamline the election process, such as a public education campaign on city elections conducted in five different languages (English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Bengali are listed), along with voter registration drives at community events and pre-registration information sessions with high school students. There were 4,477,091 active registered voters in the city as of November 1, 2016, with Democrats (3,343,041) outnumbering Republicans (501,976) by almost seven to one.</p> <p>There were also 909,611 registered voters unaffiliated with any party; 123,677 voters registered with the Independence Party; 20,956 with the Conservative Party; and 16,651 with the Working Families Party; along with several thousand more registered with smaller parties.</p> <p>In each election held in 2016, turnout was higher in Manhattan than in the other boroughs. In the June federal primary, Manhattan saw 14% turnout; Brooklyn and the Bronx each saw 5% turnout and Queens saw 4%. Staten Island didn’t have a federal primary in 2016, owing to the fact that neither incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan nor his Democratic challenger faced a primary challenge. Manhattan’s higher turnout for the congressional primary is at least somewhat due to the fact that there was an open seat race: Charles Rangel, the longtime Harlem congressional representative, retired, leading to a crowded, open race for the seat. Over half of primary votes in Manhattan in 2016 were cast in Rangel’s 13th district, now represented by fellow Democrat Adriano Espaillat.</p> <p>However, Manhattan’s turnout was still higher than the other boroughs in the other elections. Manhattan’s turnout in state and local primaries was three points higher than the citywide average, nine points higher in the presidential primaries, and six points higher in the general election.</p> <p>Low voter turnout is nothing new for New York City, or New York State, of course. New York’s legislative districts are severely gerrymandered to the point that most legislative races in the state are noncompetitive. A <a href="https://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/nygerrymander.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> from the Prison Gerrymandering Project shows that in the Republican-controlled New York State Senate, districts in the city, which are mostly represented by Democrats, are overpopulated and therefore dilute the city’s voice in the Senate, whereas upstate districts more likely to be represented by Republicans are underpopulated and thus have an amplified voice relative to population size. The same is true of the Assembly, except in favor of city Democrats rather than upstate Republicans.</p> <p>Beyond gerrymandering, New York has regressive voting laws. The state does not allow no-excuse early voting, an electoral feature in 38 states, including many with notorious voting laws such as Florida, North Carolina, and Texas. It also doesn’t allow no-excuse absentee voting.</p> <p>The Assembly, in this past legislative session, passed a voting reform package including early voting, automatic voter registration, and electronic poll books, which was endorsed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who held two telephone town halls on electoral reform, but the package stalled in the Senate, with no action being taken in the body before the legislative session ended last week. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who outlined an electoral reform package in January, did nothing publicly to push the cause thereafter.</p> <p>Although voter apathy, or simply a lack of awareness, could’ve contributed to the extremely low turnout, the city’s primary elections have been criticized as suppressive as well. The state had three separate primary elections in 2016 rather than consolidate the federal and state primaries favored by voting rights advocates. State legislators have debated this issue, with the Assembly voting to consolidate primaries in June while the Senate has pushed an August date.</p> <p>New York also has a long six-month window between the required date to register with a party and the party’s actual primary, though this is only the case for those already registered who seek to enroll in a party or change party identification (newly enrolled voters can register within a few weeks of voting). In the presidential primary, wherein two unconventional outsider candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, drove large numbers of people to the polls who hadn’t voted before, some of whom were registered by not with a major political party, many hopeful voters learned that they couldn’t actually vote because they didn’t declare a party affiliation six months in advance. So-called independents, or “unaffiliated” registered voters, are blocked from voting in party primaries.</p> <p>Francis Barry, the Director of Public Affairs and a former speechwriter for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-18/voter-suppression-in-deep-blue-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote in Bloomberg</a> that New York “is the worst state for independents, bar none.”</p> <p>Voting rights and government reform advocates and many legislators have called for an overhaul of the state’s election law. Most agree that the state should institute early voting, same-day registration, consolidated primaries, automatic registration, and other reforms. Some argue for open primaries where any registered voter could vote in a primary election of their choosing.</p> <p>

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>