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/brian-kavanagh 2017-10-21T19:51:47+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com De Blasio Launches Voting Reform Push with Tele Town Hall 2017-06-07T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-07T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6980:de-blasio-launches-voting-reform-push-with-tele-town-hall Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/33027218345_919966a07d_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio voting" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio votes (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio held a telephone town hall with constituents on Wednesday night focused on voting reform. It was the first step in what the mayor recently promised <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">would be “a major effort”</a> to see electoral reforms like early voting passed through the state Legislature before the end of session in Albany, which is June 21.</p> <p>Joining de Blasio as hosts of the call were Assemblymembers Brian Kavanagh and Latrice Walker, Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY, and his counsel Henry Berger.</p> <p>Last week, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">de Blasio said</a> he and partners were on the verge of launching an effort to persuade the State Senate to pass a package of voting reforms that have already passed the Democratically-controlled Assembly numerous times, but have stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. New York’s voting laws are some of the most highly restrictive in the nation, contributing to lowly and declining voter turnout.</p> <p>New York is one of just 12 states to not have early voting; the state also doesn’t allow no-excuse absentee voting, and has the most restrictive party registration deadline to vote in a primary, at six months beforehand.</p> <p>“The current requirements are ridiculous, and they’re exclusionary and they don’t reflect human reality,” the mayor told “Eric,” a caller from Manhattan who inquired about the six-month party registration deadline, which was roundly castigated during and after the presidential primaries last April. Many people were motivated to register with a party -- changing from unaffiliated, or “independent” -- in order to vote for Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. But, many found that they couldn’t do it just before the April primary elections.</p> <p>The mayor also voiced support for keeping primaries restricted to party members, which some say disenfranchises independents in a two-party system. The mayor has said repeatedly in the past that “parties mean something.”</p> <p>Other factors that have led to criticism of New York’s voting system include the lack of same-day registration, automatic registration, and keeping electronic poll books, all of which the mayor has expressed support of.</p> <p>A caller named “Jeff” asked about online registration, which New York State also does not have. The mayor referred to it as a “purposeful effort to keep a lot of people from voting,” but mostly deferred the question to Assemblymember Kavanagh, who discussed a bill creating online voter registration that recently passed the Assembly but has stalled in the Senate. Current law requires a physical signature for registration, and electronic signatures are only applicable in limited circumstances.</p> <p>When another participant, “Mike,” brought up election integrity, arguing for safeguards against making it “too easy” to vote, and each official on the call other than Berger chimed in to refute the caller. The mayor refuted the caller’s implication of a voter fraud crisis, pointing out that in-person voter fraud is largely non-existent and that a larger issue is voter suppression and non-participation. Lerner stated that modernizing elections would ensure election integrity.</p> <p>Mike also asked why city landmarks, such as City Hall, weren’t lit up in red, white, and blue on the Fourth of July, to “commemorate our great nation,” but de Blasio only briefly touched upon that question, saying he’ll “look into it.”</p> <p>The mayor had broached the subject of electoral reform in October but largely fell silent on the matter afterward. When Gotham Gazette recently asked him at a press conference about this, he stated that the end of the legislative session, which is nearing, is “when things start to happen” in Albany.</p> <p>Wednesday’s call appears to be the start of de Blasio’s push. The mayor took about a dozen calls over about 45 minutes.</p> <p>On the call, de Blasio promoted a rally that will take place on Tuesday in Albany to urge state Senators to pass the voting reform package, and urged listeners to further promote the rally, which is being organized by the “Easy Elections NY” coalition of government reform groups and others. The mayor did not indicate if he will attend the rally in the capital.</p> <p>“We need the members of the Senate to feel this gathering momentum for making our elections truly open and inclusive,” he said. “And if we do that, we literally have the potential of getting millions of more people to participate, and that will change the trajectory of our city and state for the long term.”</p> <p>A caller named “Alex” asked the mayor why he believes voting reforms garner little traction in Albany. De Blasio immediately said that he would “struggle here to be non-partisan in my answer.” He noted that early voting, as an example, is a fixture in the voting systems of 38 states, red and blue, large and small.</p> <p>“Something’s wrong in our state. And, it is about our political history, and we have to address it, we have to break through. Neither party is entirely innocent here, to say the least,” de Blasio said. “So, I think it is a little bit because we have been presumed to be a progressive state that the pressure did not build internally or externally for us to address this issue the way it did in some other places.”</p> <p>De Blasio did not mention Governor Andrew Cuomo, his rival, who has expressed support for a slate of electoral reforms, but has done nothing since January to publicly push for them. Cuomo, who is known for getting what he wants through the Legislature, has not appeared to make electoral reform a priority.</p> <p>In terms of persuading Albany lawmakers to adopt the reforms, de Blasio referred to the Legislature’s inaction on the package as a “stain on New York State,” in response to a caller named “Amanda,” from Brooklyn. He stated that this should be a priority for activists and voters, adding that “if you get election reform right, a whole lot of other change is possible,” implying that the changes could help Democrats win more elections and enact policy priorities. It is widely believe that state Senate Republicans are blocking voting reforms because they believe making it easier to vote will hurt their chances of holding on to a razor thin majority in the chamber.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/33027218345_919966a07d_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio voting" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio votes (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio held a telephone town hall with constituents on Wednesday night focused on voting reform. It was the first step in what the mayor recently promised <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">would be “a major effort”</a> to see electoral reforms like early voting passed through the state Legislature before the end of session in Albany, which is June 21.</p> <p>Joining de Blasio as hosts of the call were Assemblymembers Brian Kavanagh and Latrice Walker, Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY, and his counsel Henry Berger.</p> <p>Last week, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">de Blasio said</a> he and partners were on the verge of launching an effort to persuade the State Senate to pass a package of voting reforms that have already passed the Democratically-controlled Assembly numerous times, but have stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. New York’s voting laws are some of the most highly restrictive in the nation, contributing to lowly and declining voter turnout.</p> <p>New York is one of just 12 states to not have early voting; the state also doesn’t allow no-excuse absentee voting, and has the most restrictive party registration deadline to vote in a primary, at six months beforehand.</p> <p>“The current requirements are ridiculous, and they’re exclusionary and they don’t reflect human reality,” the mayor told “Eric,” a caller from Manhattan who inquired about the six-month party registration deadline, which was roundly castigated during and after the presidential primaries last April. Many people were motivated to register with a party -- changing from unaffiliated, or “independent” -- in order to vote for Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. But, many found that they couldn’t do it just before the April primary elections.</p> <p>The mayor also voiced support for keeping primaries restricted to party members, which some say disenfranchises independents in a two-party system. The mayor has said repeatedly in the past that “parties mean something.”</p> <p>Other factors that have led to criticism of New York’s voting system include the lack of same-day registration, automatic registration, and keeping electronic poll books, all of which the mayor has expressed support of.</p> <p>A caller named “Jeff” asked about online registration, which New York State also does not have. The mayor referred to it as a “purposeful effort to keep a lot of people from voting,” but mostly deferred the question to Assemblymember Kavanagh, who discussed a bill creating online voter registration that recently passed the Assembly but has stalled in the Senate. Current law requires a physical signature for registration, and electronic signatures are only applicable in limited circumstances.</p> <p>When another participant, “Mike,” brought up election integrity, arguing for safeguards against making it “too easy” to vote, and each official on the call other than Berger chimed in to refute the caller. The mayor refuted the caller’s implication of a voter fraud crisis, pointing out that in-person voter fraud is largely non-existent and that a larger issue is voter suppression and non-participation. Lerner stated that modernizing elections would ensure election integrity.</p> <p>Mike also asked why city landmarks, such as City Hall, weren’t lit up in red, white, and blue on the Fourth of July, to “commemorate our great nation,” but de Blasio only briefly touched upon that question, saying he’ll “look into it.”</p> <p>The mayor had broached the subject of electoral reform in October but largely fell silent on the matter afterward. When Gotham Gazette recently asked him at a press conference about this, he stated that the end of the legislative session, which is nearing, is “when things start to happen” in Albany.</p> <p>Wednesday’s call appears to be the start of de Blasio’s push. The mayor took about a dozen calls over about 45 minutes.</p> <p>On the call, de Blasio promoted a rally that will take place on Tuesday in Albany to urge state Senators to pass the voting reform package, and urged listeners to further promote the rally, which is being organized by the “Easy Elections NY” coalition of government reform groups and others. The mayor did not indicate if he will attend the rally in the capital.</p> <p>“We need the members of the Senate to feel this gathering momentum for making our elections truly open and inclusive,” he said. “And if we do that, we literally have the potential of getting millions of more people to participate, and that will change the trajectory of our city and state for the long term.”</p> <p>A caller named “Alex” asked the mayor why he believes voting reforms garner little traction in Albany. De Blasio immediately said that he would “struggle here to be non-partisan in my answer.” He noted that early voting, as an example, is a fixture in the voting systems of 38 states, red and blue, large and small.</p> <p>“Something’s wrong in our state. And, it is about our political history, and we have to address it, we have to break through. Neither party is entirely innocent here, to say the least,” de Blasio said. “So, I think it is a little bit because we have been presumed to be a progressive state that the pressure did not build internally or externally for us to address this issue the way it did in some other places.”</p> <p>De Blasio did not mention Governor Andrew Cuomo, his rival, who has expressed support for a slate of electoral reforms, but has done nothing since January to publicly push for them. Cuomo, who is known for getting what he wants through the Legislature, has not appeared to make electoral reform a priority.</p> <p>In terms of persuading Albany lawmakers to adopt the reforms, de Blasio referred to the Legislature’s inaction on the package as a “stain on New York State,” in response to a caller named “Amanda,” from Brooklyn. He stated that this should be a priority for activists and voters, adding that “if you get election reform right, a whole lot of other change is possible,” implying that the changes could help Democrats win more elections and enact policy priorities. It is widely believe that state Senate Republicans are blocking voting reforms because they believe making it easier to vote will hurt their chances of holding on to a razor thin majority in the chamber.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Activists, Lawmakers Rally for Voting Reform at Capitol 2017-05-02T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-02T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6908:activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/vote_better_ny_capitol_.jpg" alt="vote better ny capitol " width="600" height="467" /></p> <p>Tuesday's rally (photo: @NYCVotes)</p> <hr /> <p>A coalition of electoral reform activists were joined by Democratic state lawmakers during their annual pilgrimage to the New York State Capitol Tuesday to call for legislation that would remove barriers to the ballot and ensure that eligible New Yorkers are provided more opportunity to vote.</p> <p>“Vote Better NY” seeks common sense changes to New York's voting laws to ensure that more eligible New Yorkers make it to the polls. This year, the organization is advocating for a slew of bills, including early voting, the Voter Empowerment Act, which would streamline the registration process, the New York Votes Act, which refers to automatic registration, as well as new preclearance measures before any additional requirements are added to the current voter registration process.</p> <p>Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Latrice Walker, and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh attended the rally, which was organized in large part by NYC Votes, the voter engagement arm of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and key member of the Vote Better NY coalition. More than 100 organizers and activists boarded three coach buses from the city early Tuesday morning to rally at the Capitol and then meet in small groups with individual legislators to lobby them toward supporting the voting reform agenda. There has been little movement on such reform in Albany despite a good deal of support and New York’s decidedly antiquated laws.</p> <p>“Elections have consequences. New York has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation and that should embarrass us,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement put out by Vote Better NY. “We should be making it easier to vote and not be putting up roadblocks. That is why I have advanced legislation to enable early voting, and why the Senate Democratic Conference has rolled out multiple pro-voter bills.”</p> <p>New York has some of the most arcane voter access guidelines in the nation. In 2014, the state ranked 49 of the country’s 50 states in terms of voter turnout. While other states have improved their voting laws to increase ballot access, New York’s abysmal turnout has grown worse for presidential, gubernatorial, and New York City mayoral elections.</p> <p>Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), who participated the rally, said, “New York ranks consistently as one of the nation's worst states in terms of voter participation, driven by our archaic voter registration and election administration systems. Still, young people want to participate in democracy. NYPIRG sees that every day on college campuses across the state.”</p> <p>In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, a new movement to overhaul New York’s voting laws gained support from several high-profile city and state officials, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6752-attorney-general-unveils-sweeping-voting-reforms-package" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">including Attorney General Eric Schneiderman</a> and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>During his 2017 State of the State speaking tour and in his executive budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of significant reforms: automatic registration, same-day registration, and early voting. Though the governor vowed to “try like heck” to have the reforms included in the state budget, they did not make it into the final policy and spending plan that was announced last month. In an April appearance at the governor’s mansion, Cuomo blamed the Legislature, which he said lacked the appetite for such reforms.</p> <p>"My point is: There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget," Cuomo <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/politics/2017/04/28/new-york-democrats-still-trying-to-overhaul-state-voting-laws.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told reporters</a> during an annual Easter open house.</p> <p>While increasing voter access should be a bipartisan issue, Republicans in the State Senate have historically blocked electoral reform measures, for fear that the conference would lose its razor-thin majority. After appearing at a rally for the corrections officers’ union Monday, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, suggested he may be open to discussing the idea, but couple that sentiment with skepticism about the cost and implementation of any real voting reform.</p> <p>“It depends how you define voter access; it’s a conversation we should be having regardless,” Flanagan told reporters, citing enlarging the font on the ballot as a sensible reform measure.</p> <p>When asked about early voting, he told reporters, “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day? I was just joking around that I’m supportive of early voting, just start 5 o’clock instead of 6. It is a serious subject and something we should be talking about, but how do you do that without costing astronomical amounts of money? Our county boards of election are strapped right now.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/vote_better_ny_capitol_.jpg" alt="vote better ny capitol " width="600" height="467" /></p> <p>Tuesday's rally (photo: @NYCVotes)</p> <hr /> <p>A coalition of electoral reform activists were joined by Democratic state lawmakers during their annual pilgrimage to the New York State Capitol Tuesday to call for legislation that would remove barriers to the ballot and ensure that eligible New Yorkers are provided more opportunity to vote.</p> <p>“Vote Better NY” seeks common sense changes to New York's voting laws to ensure that more eligible New Yorkers make it to the polls. This year, the organization is advocating for a slew of bills, including early voting, the Voter Empowerment Act, which would streamline the registration process, the New York Votes Act, which refers to automatic registration, as well as new preclearance measures before any additional requirements are added to the current voter registration process.</p> <p>Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Latrice Walker, and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh attended the rally, which was organized in large part by NYC Votes, the voter engagement arm of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and key member of the Vote Better NY coalition. More than 100 organizers and activists boarded three coach buses from the city early Tuesday morning to rally at the Capitol and then meet in small groups with individual legislators to lobby them toward supporting the voting reform agenda. There has been little movement on such reform in Albany despite a good deal of support and New York’s decidedly antiquated laws.</p> <p>“Elections have consequences. New York has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation and that should embarrass us,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement put out by Vote Better NY. “We should be making it easier to vote and not be putting up roadblocks. That is why I have advanced legislation to enable early voting, and why the Senate Democratic Conference has rolled out multiple pro-voter bills.”</p> <p>New York has some of the most arcane voter access guidelines in the nation. In 2014, the state ranked 49 of the country’s 50 states in terms of voter turnout. While other states have improved their voting laws to increase ballot access, New York’s abysmal turnout has grown worse for presidential, gubernatorial, and New York City mayoral elections.</p> <p>Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), who participated the rally, said, “New York ranks consistently as one of the nation's worst states in terms of voter participation, driven by our archaic voter registration and election administration systems. Still, young people want to participate in democracy. NYPIRG sees that every day on college campuses across the state.”</p> <p>In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, a new movement to overhaul New York’s voting laws gained support from several high-profile city and state officials, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6752-attorney-general-unveils-sweeping-voting-reforms-package" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">including Attorney General Eric Schneiderman</a> and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>During his 2017 State of the State speaking tour and in his executive budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of significant reforms: automatic registration, same-day registration, and early voting. Though the governor vowed to “try like heck” to have the reforms included in the state budget, they did not make it into the final policy and spending plan that was announced last month. In an April appearance at the governor’s mansion, Cuomo blamed the Legislature, which he said lacked the appetite for such reforms.</p> <p>"My point is: There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget," Cuomo <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/politics/2017/04/28/new-york-democrats-still-trying-to-overhaul-state-voting-laws.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told reporters</a> during an annual Easter open house.</p> <p>While increasing voter access should be a bipartisan issue, Republicans in the State Senate have historically blocked electoral reform measures, for fear that the conference would lose its razor-thin majority. After appearing at a rally for the corrections officers’ union Monday, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, suggested he may be open to discussing the idea, but couple that sentiment with skepticism about the cost and implementation of any real voting reform.</p> <p>“It depends how you define voter access; it’s a conversation we should be having regardless,” Flanagan told reporters, citing enlarging the font on the ballot as a sensible reform measure.</p> <p>When asked about early voting, he told reporters, “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day? I was just joking around that I’m supportive of early voting, just start 5 o’clock instead of 6. It is a serious subject and something we should be talking about, but how do you do that without costing astronomical amounts of money? Our county boards of election are strapped right now.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
One-House Budgets Show Little Indication Ethics, Voting & Campaign Finance Reforms Will Advance in Albany 2017-03-15T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6811:one-house-budgets-show-little-indication-ethics-voting-campaign-finance-reforms-will-advance-in-albany Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/19093862735_58ab30eb75_z.jpg" alt="heastie cuomo flanagan" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>In one-house budgets passed this week, the state Legislature showed little evidence that new government ethics, voting, and campaign finance reform measures will be passed in Albany any time soon. This, despite persistent issues with public corruption, antiquated election laws, and the ongoing ability for wealthy interests to donate virtually unlimited sums to politicians.</p> <p>Through his January State of the State tour, 2017 policy book, and executive budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out his proposals for such measures -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6711-acknowledging-pervasive-corruption-cuomo-releases-10-point-government-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">an ambitious reform agenda</a>, but one that the governor has done little to promote publicly since January.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the Democrat-led Assembly aligned itself with Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, on measures like voting and campaign finance reform, while separating on other items related to transparency and budget control. The Republican majority in the Senate, on the other hand, rejected virtually all of Cuomo’s “good government and ethics” proposals.</p> <p>The one-house budgets are statements of priority from the majorities of the two legislative houses, and set the stage for the final weeks of negotiation before a new state budget is agreed upon before the April 1 start to the new fiscal year. Government ethics, voting, and campaign finance reform do not appear to be particularly high on the list of priorities for Cuomo, the Assembly majority, the Senate majority, or the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (a group of eight breakaway Democrats that has a coalition agreement with Senate Republicans but nevertheless put forward its own conference budget resolution on Wednesday).</p> <p>Both the Senate and Assembly majorities pushed back on Cuomo’s move to secure more control of the budget, specifically a provision Cuomo had outlined that would allow the governor to slash funding mid-year in the event of federal cuts without consulting the Legislature. The legislative majorities also both rejected Cuomo’s call for the creation of new inspectors general appointed by the governor’s office to oversee the Port Authority and the State Education Department. They also indicated that they oppose proposals that expand the powers of the state Inspector General and extend the state’s freedom of information law (FOIL) to the Legislature.</p> <p>However, a major difference between the two chambers is the status of the infamous “LLC loophole,” which permits politicians to benefit from virtually unlimited corporate campaign contributions -- its closure, good government groups say, is essential to stemming pay-to-play politics and corruption.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/a1926/amendment/original" target="_blank">An Assembly bill</a> to close the loophole, sponsored by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, has passed multiple times with bipartisan support, and Cuomo has indicated he would sign the legislation if passed by both houses. Yet, the Senate has not brought such legislation to the floor for a vote, despite a companion bill existing for years.</p> <p>Both Cuomo’s executive budget proposal and <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Reports/WAM/20170313/" target="_blank">the Assembly’s one-house</a> resolution recommend that LLCs be subject to the same campaign contribution limitations as other corporations and require that the owners of each limited liability company be disclosed, but the Senate GOP’s resolution makes no mention of the legislation. It vaguely indicates that the Senate will “consider modifications” to the governor’s ethics and good governance proposals. “Any ethics reform requires balanced and measured actions to ensure New Yorkers are best served by their public officials,” the Senate document states.</p> <p>Senator Daniel Squadron, who sponsors <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s496" target="_blank">the Senate bill</a> to close the LLC Loophole, criticized the Senate Majority's removal of a measure from the budget resolution in a statement referencing the recent firing of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has famously crusaded against corrupt Albany lawmakers, including the former leaders of both legislative houses. "The vacancy in the Southern District of New York is a reminder that the Senate Majority must no longer be vacant on real ethics reform,” Squadron, a New York City Democrat, said in a statement. "There's a clear step to help get big money out of New York politics: closing the LLC Loophole. Taking that step will begin to reduce corruption and restore faith in government.”</p> <p>On the Senate floor Wednesday, Squadron asked Senator Catharine Young, a Republican from Chautauqua and Allegany Counties who chairs the Senate finance committee, for confirmation that the Senate Majority will not block closure of the LLC loophole in the final budget.</p> <p>“Under the Article XII bill that we introduced, we did not make any modification to the governor’s proposal, however in the resolution we say we are open to making modifications to the governor’s proposal,” responded Young.</p> <p>Cuomo's wide-ranging, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6711-acknowledging-pervasive-corruption-cuomo-releases-10-point-government-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">10-point ethics reform agenda</a> advocates for a public campaign financing system, early voting, and several additional measures that reform-minded advocates and legislators have been calling for, as well as others of his own.</p> <p>One of the governor’s proposals would require lawmakers consult the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee regarding any outside income, but stops short of banning such income. Cuomo also wants to significantly cap the outside income legislators can make. Legislators addressed the proposal in February, when the Senate and Assembly passed a joint resolution requiring any legislator earning more than $5,000 in outside income to seek an advisory opinion from the Legislative Ethics Commission as to whether the employment is consistent with the Public Officers Law.</p> <p>In their budget resolutions, the Assembly and Senate both call for increased disclosure and transparency requirements for the members of Cuomo’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs), which have been accused by lawmakers of self-dealing. The Legislature want to require council members to file annual financial disclosure statements, adhere to the Code of Ethics and FOIL requirements in the Public Officers Law, and abide by the open meetings law.</p> <p>Cuomo and his allies have pushed back on the idea of these disclosure requirements, saying that the regulations would make it difficult to recruit new members, who are volunteers and typically successful businesspeople.</p> <p>“Now several members want to derail the REDCs by requiring their members to disclose personal financial information to a degree that is inappropriate for a private citizen volunteer,’’ Virginia Horvath and Jeff Belt, co-chairs of the governor's Western New York regional economic development council, wrote in a Feb. 27 letter to Western New York legislators, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/01/cuomo-economic-development-appointees-blast-lawmakers/" target="_blank">according to the Buffalo News</a>.</p> <p>Meanwhile, in campaign finance reform, the Assembly is proposing new legislation to “prohibit housekeeping monies from being transferred or contributed out of the account to another segregated housekeeping account” or to be used “for political communications referencing a candidate.” An Assembly spokesperson confirmed to Gotham Gazette that this proposal is in response to tactics used by both Senate Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference during recent election cycles.</p> <p>While both Cuomo and Assembly Democrats favor creating a system of public campaign financing, perhaps similar to New York City’s, the Assembly did not specifically include that in its one-house and Senate Republicans in their one-house budget resolution again expressed opposition to taxpayer-funded campaigns. Senate Republicans also stated that they do not believe a full-time professional Legislature best represents the state -- meaning they do not want to see strict limits placed on legislators’ outside income.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/resolutions/2017/r1050" target="_blank">The Senate majority also stated</a> its objection to Cuomo’s proposal that the Legislature and the Legislative Ethics Commission become subject to the same freedom of information law provisions to which executive agencies are subject.</p> <p>“The legislative process is inherently open to the public for input, scrutiny and review. In contrast, the public is made aware of many Executive agency activities only after they occur. As such, for purposes of freedom of information law, these branches are treated differently,” the Senate’s one-house resolution states.</p> <p>The resolution notes that confidentiality is necessary with respect to the legislative ethics commission in order to encourage individuals to seek ethics guidance.</p> <p>As for voting reform, the Assembly voted to agree with Cuomo’s calls for automatic registration and early voting, but recommends a period of early voting commencing eight days before an election rather than the 12-day window proposed by the governor. Like the rest of Cuomo’s reform proposals, the Senate did not give indication of support to voting reforms.</p> <p>As usual, there was little drama in the Assembly, where Democrats hold a wide majority margin. But, in the Senate proceedings grew contentious Wednesday when mainline Democrats were forced, with little notice, to vote on two one-house resolutions, one for the Senate Majority and one for the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). This, while Senate Democrats were blocked from submitting their own resolution for a vote. In a headed session on the Senate floor, Democratic conference members, led by Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, objected to the unprecedented change in procedure, and expressed dismay that most of their policies were not represented in either the majority or IDC budget proposal.</p> <p>Senator Michael Gianaris, deputy leader of the mainline Democrats, asked for his conference to have a chance to put forth its own resolution, a request that was denied by a chamber vote.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/resolutions/2017/r1051" target="_blank">The IDC’s resolution</a>, written in broader strokes than the Republican majority’s, suggests that its members are on board with all of the governor’s proposed ethics reforms, including closure of the LLC loophole. While the IDC has some influence with Senate Republicans given that the breakaway conference helps bolster the GOP’s razor thin majority, it is unlikely that influence will extend to significant ethics, voting, or campaign finance reform this year.</p> <p>“The Governor has included comprehensive ethics reform in his Executive Budget proposal just as he has every other year," said Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer. "We strongly urge the Legislature to join us in this effort and pass these proposals this year.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/19093862735_58ab30eb75_z.jpg" alt="heastie cuomo flanagan" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>In one-house budgets passed this week, the state Legislature showed little evidence that new government ethics, voting, and campaign finance reform measures will be passed in Albany any time soon. This, despite persistent issues with public corruption, antiquated election laws, and the ongoing ability for wealthy interests to donate virtually unlimited sums to politicians.</p> <p>Through his January State of the State tour, 2017 policy book, and executive budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out his proposals for such measures -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6711-acknowledging-pervasive-corruption-cuomo-releases-10-point-government-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">an ambitious reform agenda</a>, but one that the governor has done little to promote publicly since January.</p> <p>On Wednesday, the Democrat-led Assembly aligned itself with Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, on measures like voting and campaign finance reform, while separating on other items related to transparency and budget control. The Republican majority in the Senate, on the other hand, rejected virtually all of Cuomo’s “good government and ethics” proposals.</p> <p>The one-house budgets are statements of priority from the majorities of the two legislative houses, and set the stage for the final weeks of negotiation before a new state budget is agreed upon before the April 1 start to the new fiscal year. Government ethics, voting, and campaign finance reform do not appear to be particularly high on the list of priorities for Cuomo, the Assembly majority, the Senate majority, or the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (a group of eight breakaway Democrats that has a coalition agreement with Senate Republicans but nevertheless put forward its own conference budget resolution on Wednesday).</p> <p>Both the Senate and Assembly majorities pushed back on Cuomo’s move to secure more control of the budget, specifically a provision Cuomo had outlined that would allow the governor to slash funding mid-year in the event of federal cuts without consulting the Legislature. The legislative majorities also both rejected Cuomo’s call for the creation of new inspectors general appointed by the governor’s office to oversee the Port Authority and the State Education Department. They also indicated that they oppose proposals that expand the powers of the state Inspector General and extend the state’s freedom of information law (FOIL) to the Legislature.</p> <p>However, a major difference between the two chambers is the status of the infamous “LLC loophole,” which permits politicians to benefit from virtually unlimited corporate campaign contributions -- its closure, good government groups say, is essential to stemming pay-to-play politics and corruption.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/a1926/amendment/original" target="_blank">An Assembly bill</a> to close the loophole, sponsored by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, has passed multiple times with bipartisan support, and Cuomo has indicated he would sign the legislation if passed by both houses. Yet, the Senate has not brought such legislation to the floor for a vote, despite a companion bill existing for years.</p> <p>Both Cuomo’s executive budget proposal and <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Reports/WAM/20170313/" target="_blank">the Assembly’s one-house</a> resolution recommend that LLCs be subject to the same campaign contribution limitations as other corporations and require that the owners of each limited liability company be disclosed, but the Senate GOP’s resolution makes no mention of the legislation. It vaguely indicates that the Senate will “consider modifications” to the governor’s ethics and good governance proposals. “Any ethics reform requires balanced and measured actions to ensure New Yorkers are best served by their public officials,” the Senate document states.</p> <p>Senator Daniel Squadron, who sponsors <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/s496" target="_blank">the Senate bill</a> to close the LLC Loophole, criticized the Senate Majority's removal of a measure from the budget resolution in a statement referencing the recent firing of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has famously crusaded against corrupt Albany lawmakers, including the former leaders of both legislative houses. "The vacancy in the Southern District of New York is a reminder that the Senate Majority must no longer be vacant on real ethics reform,” Squadron, a New York City Democrat, said in a statement. "There's a clear step to help get big money out of New York politics: closing the LLC Loophole. Taking that step will begin to reduce corruption and restore faith in government.”</p> <p>On the Senate floor Wednesday, Squadron asked Senator Catharine Young, a Republican from Chautauqua and Allegany Counties who chairs the Senate finance committee, for confirmation that the Senate Majority will not block closure of the LLC loophole in the final budget.</p> <p>“Under the Article XII bill that we introduced, we did not make any modification to the governor’s proposal, however in the resolution we say we are open to making modifications to the governor’s proposal,” responded Young.</p> <p>Cuomo's wide-ranging, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6711-acknowledging-pervasive-corruption-cuomo-releases-10-point-government-ethics-agenda" target="_blank">10-point ethics reform agenda</a> advocates for a public campaign financing system, early voting, and several additional measures that reform-minded advocates and legislators have been calling for, as well as others of his own.</p> <p>One of the governor’s proposals would require lawmakers consult the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee regarding any outside income, but stops short of banning such income. Cuomo also wants to significantly cap the outside income legislators can make. Legislators addressed the proposal in February, when the Senate and Assembly passed a joint resolution requiring any legislator earning more than $5,000 in outside income to seek an advisory opinion from the Legislative Ethics Commission as to whether the employment is consistent with the Public Officers Law.</p> <p>In their budget resolutions, the Assembly and Senate both call for increased disclosure and transparency requirements for the members of Cuomo’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs), which have been accused by lawmakers of self-dealing. The Legislature want to require council members to file annual financial disclosure statements, adhere to the Code of Ethics and FOIL requirements in the Public Officers Law, and abide by the open meetings law.</p> <p>Cuomo and his allies have pushed back on the idea of these disclosure requirements, saying that the regulations would make it difficult to recruit new members, who are volunteers and typically successful businesspeople.</p> <p>“Now several members want to derail the REDCs by requiring their members to disclose personal financial information to a degree that is inappropriate for a private citizen volunteer,’’ Virginia Horvath and Jeff Belt, co-chairs of the governor's Western New York regional economic development council, wrote in a Feb. 27 letter to Western New York legislators, <a href="http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/01/cuomo-economic-development-appointees-blast-lawmakers/" target="_blank">according to the Buffalo News</a>.</p> <p>Meanwhile, in campaign finance reform, the Assembly is proposing new legislation to “prohibit housekeeping monies from being transferred or contributed out of the account to another segregated housekeeping account” or to be used “for political communications referencing a candidate.” An Assembly spokesperson confirmed to Gotham Gazette that this proposal is in response to tactics used by both Senate Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference during recent election cycles.</p> <p>While both Cuomo and Assembly Democrats favor creating a system of public campaign financing, perhaps similar to New York City’s, the Assembly did not specifically include that in its one-house and Senate Republicans in their one-house budget resolution again expressed opposition to taxpayer-funded campaigns. Senate Republicans also stated that they do not believe a full-time professional Legislature best represents the state -- meaning they do not want to see strict limits placed on legislators’ outside income.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/resolutions/2017/r1050" target="_blank">The Senate majority also stated</a> its objection to Cuomo’s proposal that the Legislature and the Legislative Ethics Commission become subject to the same freedom of information law provisions to which executive agencies are subject.</p> <p>“The legislative process is inherently open to the public for input, scrutiny and review. In contrast, the public is made aware of many Executive agency activities only after they occur. As such, for purposes of freedom of information law, these branches are treated differently,” the Senate’s one-house resolution states.</p> <p>The resolution notes that confidentiality is necessary with respect to the legislative ethics commission in order to encourage individuals to seek ethics guidance.</p> <p>As for voting reform, the Assembly voted to agree with Cuomo’s calls for automatic registration and early voting, but recommends a period of early voting commencing eight days before an election rather than the 12-day window proposed by the governor. Like the rest of Cuomo’s reform proposals, the Senate did not give indication of support to voting reforms.</p> <p>As usual, there was little drama in the Assembly, where Democrats hold a wide majority margin. But, in the Senate proceedings grew contentious Wednesday when mainline Democrats were forced, with little notice, to vote on two one-house resolutions, one for the Senate Majority and one for the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). This, while Senate Democrats were blocked from submitting their own resolution for a vote. In a headed session on the Senate floor, Democratic conference members, led by Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, objected to the unprecedented change in procedure, and expressed dismay that most of their policies were not represented in either the majority or IDC budget proposal.</p> <p>Senator Michael Gianaris, deputy leader of the mainline Democrats, asked for his conference to have a chance to put forth its own resolution, a request that was denied by a chamber vote.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/resolutions/2017/r1051" target="_blank">The IDC’s resolution</a>, written in broader strokes than the Republican majority’s, suggests that its members are on board with all of the governor’s proposed ethics reforms, including closure of the LLC loophole. While the IDC has some influence with Senate Republicans given that the breakaway conference helps bolster the GOP’s razor thin majority, it is unlikely that influence will extend to significant ethics, voting, or campaign finance reform this year.</p> <p>“The Governor has included comprehensive ethics reform in his Executive Budget proposal just as he has every other year," said Cuomo spokesperson Abbey Fashouer. "We strongly urge the Legislature to join us in this effort and pass these proposals this year.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Cuomo Embraces Voting Reform Agenda, But Implementation Poses Challenges 2017-01-22T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-22T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6724:cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/22126244744_93e85a2a46_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo voting 2015" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo voting (photo: The Governor's Office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>During his State of the State tour early this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of major reforms hailed as important steps toward modernizing New York’s antiquated electoral system and increasing the state’s paltry voter turnout. While they are long-called for proposals that many are pleased to see Cuomo promote, implementing these goals could be more complicated than it may seem.</p> <p>Two of the three reforms, early voting and automatic voter registration, were outlined in Cuomo’s 2016 agenda, but the initiatives failed to move through the Legislature last year due to opposition from Senate Republicans, who control that chamber. It is a power structure that continues into the 2017 session, meaning the road to passage is uphill, and steeply so.</p> <p>New York is one of only about a dozen states without some semblance of early voting. While the state already has a form of automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles, Cuomo’s proposal is to streamline and expand the practice. If passed, it would amount to more widespread automatic registration, but not universal.</p> <p>The third electoral proposal from Cuomo, same-day registration, will likely require a constitutional amendment -- meaning approval from two consecutive classes of the state Legislature, then voters via ballot referendum -- a process that would take at least three years. There is some debate among constitutional law experts over whether such an amendment is required for any form of same-day registration, which would allow voters to show up at the polls to both register and vote on the same day.</p> <p>The three reforms are almost universally seen as long overdue in New York. Voter turnout in New York is especially poor: in 2014, the state ranked 49th of the country’s 50 states. While <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">New York has watched many other states change voting laws</a> to increase access to the ballot, the voter turnout deficit here is growing progressively worse, with just 19.7 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots in the 2016 presidential primaries. Turnout numbers have also consistently declined during gubernatorial elections and, in New York City, during mayoral election years.</p> <p>“New York is so far behind the curve on election administration that almost anything is an improvement,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of government reform group Common Cause New York. “I think the governor has picked issues that are very good places to start.”</p> <p>Those with high praise for Cuomo’s 2017 electoral agenda include Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who, after monitoring the state’s four election days of 2016, issued an exhaustive report with areas for reform at the end of the year.</p> <p>"I commend Governor Cuomo for proposing common sense reforms to our voting system. I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo, the legislature, and everyday New Yorkers across our state to address the systemic problems in New York's voting laws,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New York must become a national leader in voting rights by expanding and protecting the rights of all New Yorkers to cast their vote.”</p> <p>In the statement, Schneiderman also recommended consolidating New York's exhausting voting schedule into a single primary. In 2016, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6081-concerns-of-voter-fatigue-as-new-york-schedules-four-2016-election-days" target="_blank">there were three</a>: in April for the presidential race; in June for congressional races; and in September for state legislative races.</p> <p>While it is still early to speculate exactly how the Legislature will respond to Cuomo’s electoral reform agenda, there are key early markers, process details, and implementation questions ahead of whatever policy debate may occur.</p> <p>One thing is certain: Democrats in the Assembly, where they have the majority, and in the Senate, where they do not, will be behind the election and voting modernization efforts -- including and beyond Cuomo’s three main proposals. What is less clear is whether the governor will fully push for early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration in budget negotiations, which are just beginning; and whether there is any room for passage in the Republican-controlled Senate, perhaps with the help of the Independent Democratic Conference -- the seven-member body that has formed a ruling coalition with the Senate GOP.</p> <p><strong>Early Voting</strong><br />When it comes to early voting, New York is one of just 13 states without some window wherein voters can cast ballots before Election Day.</p> <p>For several years running, an early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s3813/amendment/b" target="_blank">bill</a> has passed the Assembly, only to be blocked in the Senate.</p> <p>According to Gov. Cuomo’s 2017 proposal, every county would offer residents access to at least one early voting poll site for every 50,000 residents during the 12 days leading up to Election Day. Voters would be guaranteed eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends to cast early ballots, and bipartisan county boards of elections would determine locations of the early poll sites.</p> <p>While high voter participation would ideally be a bipartisan issue, New York Republicans -- who cling to control of the state Senate by a tiny margin -- have calculated that better ballot access and more participation is likely to turn out Democratic voters, according Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens and outspoken proponent of voting reform.</p> <p>“These reforms are more necessary than ever and I’m glad they were included in the governor’s presentation, but the problem is Senate Republicans seem to have a personal interest in keeping people from voting,” said Gianaris, a co-sponsor of several packages of electoral legislation. “That's been the biggest hurdle to overcome, because voter restrictions tend to benefit them.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Senate Republicans did not return multiple requests for comment.</p> <p>A natural partner of early voting is absentee voting. In his State of the State <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6710-all-of-governor-cuomo-s-2017-state-of-the-state-proposals" target="_blank">policy book</a>, Gov. Cuomo, a second term Democrat, also cited the requirement for absentee ballot voters to provide an excuse, which is written into the state constitution and its removal would require a constitutional amendment.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s4456/amendment/a" target="_blank">A bill</a> to remove this requirement from the constitution has passed the Assembly and is, like other voting reforms, awaiting Senate approval.</p> <p>Senator Joseph Addabbo, who co-sponsored the bill and served as chair of the Senate Election Committee in 2009, said his staff has not looked closely at the governor’s plan yet but expressed hopeful optimism about the governor’s electoral reform agenda.</p> <p>“I’ll say I can embrace a lot of what he’s proposing and now our legal counsel might look at whether and how it can be implemented,” said Addabbo, a Democrat from Queens. “This is a lot of what we’ve worked on and proposed in 2009. We really go through painstaking measures to determine what is going to get voters to vote.”</p> <p>In addition to persuading the Senate majority, Cuomo and Assembly Democrats will have to hash out the details with counties, which, while supportive of early voting, want the governor to include a provision for who would foot the bill -- approximately $3 million per year, according to one estimate -- for the additional polling options.</p> <p>"Despite principled visions on the issue, on the fiscal nature of the cost shift it's unconscionable for the state to be shifting and enacting policies these days in the property-tax-cap era. It should be dead on arrival." Stephen Acquario, executive director of the state Association of Counties, <a href="http://www.app.com/story/news/politics/blogs/vote-up/2016/01/25/early-voting-cuomo-wants-counties-have-concerns/79319216/" target="_blank">told the USA Today Network</a>.</p> <p><strong>Automatic Voter Registration</strong><br />Automatically registering voters when they become eligible or when they come into contact with government agencies is a fairly new concept. Since 2015, automatic voter registration -- which can have different forms and meanings short of universal automatic registration of voters once they become eligible -- has been approved in six states with strong bipartisan support and is taking off across the country, <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/automatic-voter-registration" target="_blank">according to</a> the Brennan Center for Justice.</p> <p>The idea is to shift the onus of registering from the individual to the government. In addition to increasing voter registration in other states, automatic voter registration has been shown to have significant benefits for administrators, reduce costs, and improve the accuracy of electronic poll books.</p> <p>Cuomo’s proposal, recycled from last year, would automatically register anyone who comes into contact with a state Department of Motor Vehicles, unless the person chooses to opt out. Currently, eligible voters can register through the DMV, but they must provide additional voting information as they apply for DMV services.</p> <p>Cuomo’s proposed version of automatic registration is preferable to similar bills passed in Oregon and California, which only registers eligible citizens who apply for or renew a driver’s license. However, Cuomo’s plan is not as inclusive as say, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5963-as-new-yorkers-go-to-the-polls-activists-launch-vote-better-campaign" target="_blank">that which is outlined</a> in New York’s Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by Senator Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, which would enable a variety government agencies to automatically register voters.</p> <p>The Brennan Center <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/publications/Automatic_Permanent_Voter_Registration_How_It_Works.pdf" target="_blank">outlines four ways</a> that states can modernize their electoral systems with automatic registration. The first, of course, is by automatically registering anyone who interacts with government offices, unless the person declines registration. The second is portability, which ensures that registered voters remain on the voter rolls even after they move within the state. The third, online access, allows voters to register, check, and update their registration records through a web portal. And fourth, the state should provide a “safety net,” that allows citizens to correct errors on the voter rolls or register before and on Election Day.</p> <p>Ideally, automatic registration would occur through many different state-run agencies, reaching well beyond the DMV to the the widest possible segment of eligible voters. There is a sizeable population, especially in urban centers like New York City, that does not drive or interact with the DMV. Broader automatic registration would include:</p> <p>DMVs;&nbsp;Medicaid and public assistance offices; colleges and high schools; military recruiters and other military offices; unemployment and other public benefit offices; firearm licensing agencies; immigration offices; government-funded job-training centers; law enforcement and corrections agencies that interact with people who regain their voting rights after a criminal conviction.</p> <p>Some community groups have raised concerns that tying automatic voter registration to the DMV alone may skew registration number in favor of areas with high rates of car ownership, disproportionality impacting upstate voters over New York City, for example.</p> <p>Researchers at the Brennan Center are exploring whether data can shed light on the concern that automatic registration through the DMV advantages some groups over others.</p> <p>“We recognize that this is a serious concern for some important groups and we want to take a close look at this question,” said Chisun Lee, senior counsel at the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “We are hopeful that the net benefits for increasing the franchise, and reaching voters who otherwise wouldn't be enrolled, will be positive for all.”</p> <p><strong>Same-Day Voter Registration</strong><br />Same-day voter registration, perhaps the boldest of Cuomo’s proposals, would allow New Yorkers to register and vote on the same day.</p> <p>Currently, New Yorkers must register to vote 25 days prior to an election, though the state constitution's requirement is only ten days. Depending on how it would be implemented, same-day registration may require a constitutional amendment. However, if early voting is passed, there are legal experts who argue that the constitution would allow same-day registration for those who vote prior to ten days before Election Day.</p> <p>Again, a constitutional amendment is typically at minimum a three-year process which would require two “yes” votes from consecutive Legislatures and the passage of referendum on the following year’s general election ballot.</p> <p>Alternately, a “yes” vote on the constitutional convention referendum, which will be on the ballot this November, could provide another avenue to remove restrictions and institute reforms like same-day registration.</p> <p>At this point, 13 states and the District of Columbia have same-day voter registration, and California, Vermont, and Hawaii have approved the provision, though it has not yet been implemented, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>The upcoming opportunity to amend the state constitution via constitutional convention, which, for New Yorkers, appears as a ballot referendum every 20 years will be&nbsp;November 7, 2017. A constitutional convention is a four-year public <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/859-constitutional-convention" target="_blank">process</a> that could result significant changes to the entire document and laws of the state. If New Yorkers say “yes” to a convention on this year’s ballot, a year later, voters will select delegates to participate in the convention; the following year, in 2019, the convention will convene; and voters will be able to vote on any proposed changes the following Election Day.</p> <p>Like with the electoral and voting reforms Gov. Cuomo has proposed, he <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6720-constitutional-convention-absent-from-cuomo-s-2017-agenda" target="_blank">has expressed varying degrees of support</a> for a "yes" vote on a constitutional convention, but whether the governor <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6720-constitutional-convention-absent-from-cuomo-s-2017-agenda" target="_blank">takes significant action</a>&nbsp;will go a long way toward determining the outcome.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/22126244744_93e85a2a46_z_1.jpg" alt="Cuomo voting 2015" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo voting (photo: The Governor's Office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>During his State of the State tour early this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of major reforms hailed as important steps toward modernizing New York’s antiquated electoral system and increasing the state’s paltry voter turnout. While they are long-called for proposals that many are pleased to see Cuomo promote, implementing these goals could be more complicated than it may seem.</p> <p>Two of the three reforms, early voting and automatic voter registration, were outlined in Cuomo’s 2016 agenda, but the initiatives failed to move through the Legislature last year due to opposition from Senate Republicans, who control that chamber. It is a power structure that continues into the 2017 session, meaning the road to passage is uphill, and steeply so.</p> <p>New York is one of only about a dozen states without some semblance of early voting. While the state already has a form of automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles, Cuomo’s proposal is to streamline and expand the practice. If passed, it would amount to more widespread automatic registration, but not universal.</p> <p>The third electoral proposal from Cuomo, same-day registration, will likely require a constitutional amendment -- meaning approval from two consecutive classes of the state Legislature, then voters via ballot referendum -- a process that would take at least three years. There is some debate among constitutional law experts over whether such an amendment is required for any form of same-day registration, which would allow voters to show up at the polls to both register and vote on the same day.</p> <p>The three reforms are almost universally seen as long overdue in New York. Voter turnout in New York is especially poor: in 2014, the state ranked 49th of the country’s 50 states. While <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">New York has watched many other states change voting laws</a> to increase access to the ballot, the voter turnout deficit here is growing progressively worse, with just 19.7 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots in the 2016 presidential primaries. Turnout numbers have also consistently declined during gubernatorial elections and, in New York City, during mayoral election years.</p> <p>“New York is so far behind the curve on election administration that almost anything is an improvement,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of government reform group Common Cause New York. “I think the governor has picked issues that are very good places to start.”</p> <p>Those with high praise for Cuomo’s 2017 electoral agenda include Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who, after monitoring the state’s four election days of 2016, issued an exhaustive report with areas for reform at the end of the year.</p> <p>"I commend Governor Cuomo for proposing common sense reforms to our voting system. I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo, the legislature, and everyday New Yorkers across our state to address the systemic problems in New York's voting laws,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New York must become a national leader in voting rights by expanding and protecting the rights of all New Yorkers to cast their vote.”</p> <p>In the statement, Schneiderman also recommended consolidating New York's exhausting voting schedule into a single primary. In 2016, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6081-concerns-of-voter-fatigue-as-new-york-schedules-four-2016-election-days" target="_blank">there were three</a>: in April for the presidential race; in June for congressional races; and in September for state legislative races.</p> <p>While it is still early to speculate exactly how the Legislature will respond to Cuomo’s electoral reform agenda, there are key early markers, process details, and implementation questions ahead of whatever policy debate may occur.</p> <p>One thing is certain: Democrats in the Assembly, where they have the majority, and in the Senate, where they do not, will be behind the election and voting modernization efforts -- including and beyond Cuomo’s three main proposals. What is less clear is whether the governor will fully push for early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration in budget negotiations, which are just beginning; and whether there is any room for passage in the Republican-controlled Senate, perhaps with the help of the Independent Democratic Conference -- the seven-member body that has formed a ruling coalition with the Senate GOP.</p> <p><strong>Early Voting</strong><br />When it comes to early voting, New York is one of just 13 states without some window wherein voters can cast ballots before Election Day.</p> <p>For several years running, an early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s3813/amendment/b" target="_blank">bill</a> has passed the Assembly, only to be blocked in the Senate.</p> <p>According to Gov. Cuomo’s 2017 proposal, every county would offer residents access to at least one early voting poll site for every 50,000 residents during the 12 days leading up to Election Day. Voters would be guaranteed eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends to cast early ballots, and bipartisan county boards of elections would determine locations of the early poll sites.</p> <p>While high voter participation would ideally be a bipartisan issue, New York Republicans -- who cling to control of the state Senate by a tiny margin -- have calculated that better ballot access and more participation is likely to turn out Democratic voters, according Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens and outspoken proponent of voting reform.</p> <p>“These reforms are more necessary than ever and I’m glad they were included in the governor’s presentation, but the problem is Senate Republicans seem to have a personal interest in keeping people from voting,” said Gianaris, a co-sponsor of several packages of electoral legislation. “That's been the biggest hurdle to overcome, because voter restrictions tend to benefit them.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Senate Republicans did not return multiple requests for comment.</p> <p>A natural partner of early voting is absentee voting. In his State of the State <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6710-all-of-governor-cuomo-s-2017-state-of-the-state-proposals" target="_blank">policy book</a>, Gov. Cuomo, a second term Democrat, also cited the requirement for absentee ballot voters to provide an excuse, which is written into the state constitution and its removal would require a constitutional amendment.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s4456/amendment/a" target="_blank">A bill</a> to remove this requirement from the constitution has passed the Assembly and is, like other voting reforms, awaiting Senate approval.</p> <p>Senator Joseph Addabbo, who co-sponsored the bill and served as chair of the Senate Election Committee in 2009, said his staff has not looked closely at the governor’s plan yet but expressed hopeful optimism about the governor’s electoral reform agenda.</p> <p>“I’ll say I can embrace a lot of what he’s proposing and now our legal counsel might look at whether and how it can be implemented,” said Addabbo, a Democrat from Queens. “This is a lot of what we’ve worked on and proposed in 2009. We really go through painstaking measures to determine what is going to get voters to vote.”</p> <p>In addition to persuading the Senate majority, Cuomo and Assembly Democrats will have to hash out the details with counties, which, while supportive of early voting, want the governor to include a provision for who would foot the bill -- approximately $3 million per year, according to one estimate -- for the additional polling options.</p> <p>"Despite principled visions on the issue, on the fiscal nature of the cost shift it's unconscionable for the state to be shifting and enacting policies these days in the property-tax-cap era. It should be dead on arrival." Stephen Acquario, executive director of the state Association of Counties, <a href="http://www.app.com/story/news/politics/blogs/vote-up/2016/01/25/early-voting-cuomo-wants-counties-have-concerns/79319216/" target="_blank">told the USA Today Network</a>.</p> <p><strong>Automatic Voter Registration</strong><br />Automatically registering voters when they become eligible or when they come into contact with government agencies is a fairly new concept. Since 2015, automatic voter registration -- which can have different forms and meanings short of universal automatic registration of voters once they become eligible -- has been approved in six states with strong bipartisan support and is taking off across the country, <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/automatic-voter-registration" target="_blank">according to</a> the Brennan Center for Justice.</p> <p>The idea is to shift the onus of registering from the individual to the government. In addition to increasing voter registration in other states, automatic voter registration has been shown to have significant benefits for administrators, reduce costs, and improve the accuracy of electronic poll books.</p> <p>Cuomo’s proposal, recycled from last year, would automatically register anyone who comes into contact with a state Department of Motor Vehicles, unless the person chooses to opt out. Currently, eligible voters can register through the DMV, but they must provide additional voting information as they apply for DMV services.</p> <p>Cuomo’s proposed version of automatic registration is preferable to similar bills passed in Oregon and California, which only registers eligible citizens who apply for or renew a driver’s license. However, Cuomo’s plan is not as inclusive as say, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5963-as-new-yorkers-go-to-the-polls-activists-launch-vote-better-campaign" target="_blank">that which is outlined</a> in New York’s Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by Senator Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, which would enable a variety government agencies to automatically register voters.</p> <p>The Brennan Center <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/publications/Automatic_Permanent_Voter_Registration_How_It_Works.pdf" target="_blank">outlines four ways</a> that states can modernize their electoral systems with automatic registration. The first, of course, is by automatically registering anyone who interacts with government offices, unless the person declines registration. The second is portability, which ensures that registered voters remain on the voter rolls even after they move within the state. The third, online access, allows voters to register, check, and update their registration records through a web portal. And fourth, the state should provide a “safety net,” that allows citizens to correct errors on the voter rolls or register before and on Election Day.</p> <p>Ideally, automatic registration would occur through many different state-run agencies, reaching well beyond the DMV to the the widest possible segment of eligible voters. There is a sizeable population, especially in urban centers like New York City, that does not drive or interact with the DMV. Broader automatic registration would include:</p> <p>DMVs;&nbsp;Medicaid and public assistance offices; colleges and high schools; military recruiters and other military offices; unemployment and other public benefit offices; firearm licensing agencies; immigration offices; government-funded job-training centers; law enforcement and corrections agencies that interact with people who regain their voting rights after a criminal conviction.</p> <p>Some community groups have raised concerns that tying automatic voter registration to the DMV alone may skew registration number in favor of areas with high rates of car ownership, disproportionality impacting upstate voters over New York City, for example.</p> <p>Researchers at the Brennan Center are exploring whether data can shed light on the concern that automatic registration through the DMV advantages some groups over others.</p> <p>“We recognize that this is a serious concern for some important groups and we want to take a close look at this question,” said Chisun Lee, senior counsel at the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “We are hopeful that the net benefits for increasing the franchise, and reaching voters who otherwise wouldn't be enrolled, will be positive for all.”</p> <p><strong>Same-Day Voter Registration</strong><br />Same-day voter registration, perhaps the boldest of Cuomo’s proposals, would allow New Yorkers to register and vote on the same day.</p> <p>Currently, New Yorkers must register to vote 25 days prior to an election, though the state constitution's requirement is only ten days. Depending on how it would be implemented, same-day registration may require a constitutional amendment. However, if early voting is passed, there are legal experts who argue that the constitution would allow same-day registration for those who vote prior to ten days before Election Day.</p> <p>Again, a constitutional amendment is typically at minimum a three-year process which would require two “yes” votes from consecutive Legislatures and the passage of referendum on the following year’s general election ballot.</p> <p>Alternately, a “yes” vote on the constitutional convention referendum, which will be on the ballot this November, could provide another avenue to remove restrictions and institute reforms like same-day registration.</p> <p>At this point, 13 states and the District of Columbia have same-day voter registration, and California, Vermont, and Hawaii have approved the provision, though it has not yet been implemented, according to Cuomo’s office.</p> <p>The upcoming opportunity to amend the state constitution via constitutional convention, which, for New Yorkers, appears as a ballot referendum every 20 years will be&nbsp;November 7, 2017. A constitutional convention is a four-year public <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/859-constitutional-convention" target="_blank">process</a> that could result significant changes to the entire document and laws of the state. If New Yorkers say “yes” to a convention on this year’s ballot, a year later, voters will select delegates to participate in the convention; the following year, in 2019, the convention will convene; and voters will be able to vote on any proposed changes the following Election Day.</p> <p>Like with the electoral and voting reforms Gov. Cuomo has proposed, he <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6720-constitutional-convention-absent-from-cuomo-s-2017-agenda" target="_blank">has expressed varying degrees of support</a> for a "yes" vote on a constitutional convention, but whether the governor <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6720-constitutional-convention-absent-from-cuomo-s-2017-agenda" target="_blank">takes significant action</a>&nbsp;will go a long way toward determining the outcome.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Appeals for Support in Pushing Albany on Voting Reform 2016-11-18T05:00:00+00:00 2016-11-18T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6631:de-blasio-appeals-for-support-in-pushing-albany-on-voting-reform Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/30899955462_ac0d3c2fed_z.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="bdb speech flag" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>In order to improve New York’s dismal voter turnout rates, it’s necessary to “shake the foundations of things,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in his keynote speech at a voter turnout symposium at New York Law School on Friday.</p> <p>Speaking to an audience of more than a hundred people, many of them advocates of voting and election reform, the mayor made a forceful appeal to reinforce his recent call for reform bills in Albany. De Blasio lamented the fact that New York is well behind dozens of other states in making voter registration and the act of voting easier and asked those in attendance to help him push the state government to act.</p> <p>“We know that the system as it’s currently structured under our state law literally cannot keep up with the reality of our modern democracy,” de Blasio said, bemoaning the state’s “arcane” electoral laws kept in place by entrenched lawmakers in Albany. “This state, this theoretically progressive modern state, when it comes to electoral laws, shows no evidence of being progressive and innovative and modern,” he added.</p> <p>De Blasio is calling for same-day voter registration, early voting, electronic poll-books, and other reforms, including wholesale restructuring of the state law that governs the city Board of Elections. Promising to push state lawmakers in the coming months, de Blasio told the crowd that the status quo is not working. “Now we have to take this battle to Albany, once and for all. And I hope you will join me in that,” he said.</p> <p>The symposium was hosted by Citizens Union, a government reform group, and co-sponsored by a number of organizations that promote voting reform and ballot accessibility. De Blasio’s keynote came after several panels on issues related to voting and elections that featured elected officials, advocates, and other experts. One participant was Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsors a variety of the related bills in Albany, where they have passed the Democratically-controlled Assembly, but not the Republican-controlled Senate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed his support for the slate of election and voting reforms.</p> <p>In the run up to the November 8 general election, and in the days since, the mayor has shown <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6629-taking-up-voting-reform-de-blasio-cites-sanders-campaign-as-motivation" target="_blank">a renewed interest in voting reform</a>. He held a major news conference the day before the state deadline for voters to register for the general election, hosted a number of Get-Out-The-Vote events before and on Election Day, and has been vocal about the need for reform on radio and television appearances.</p> <p>On Friday, he reiterated his call for reforms, again citing the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign as motivation, and saying that in their absence the state has passively disenfranchised millions of voters. There are roughly 2 million eligible voters in New York State who are unregistered, he said, 1 million of whom live in New York City alone.</p> <p>In the 2016 election, only 52.4 percent of voting-eligible New Yorkers cast a ballot, the 7th lowest turnout rate in the country and below the national rate of 58.1 percent, according to materials from Citizens Union handed out at the event. While voter participation has been increasing in recent election cycles, New York has consistently ranked below the national average turnout since 2000.</p> <p>On the national level, the mayor spoke of the need to do away with the electoral college system, which allows a presidential candidate to be victorious without winning the popular vote. (Case in point, de Blasio-backed Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead over President-elect Donald Trump has surpassed 1 million votes.) He also criticized the Citizens United Supreme Court verdict, as he often does, for facilitating the entry of massive amounts of money and corporate interests into elections. (De Blasio and his allies are the subject of multiple law enforcement investigations, including around whether the de Blasio administration did favors for donors to a political nonprofit the mayor's allies established. No one has been charged and de Blasio maintains no laws were broken.)</p> <p>Closer to home, de Blasio called out the city Board of Elections, saying it would be a more efficient agency if he was allowed to manage it, if it was restructured, or if it at least accepted his offer of $20 million in exchange for substantive reform.</p> <p>The mayor was preceded by reform advocates who delved into the myriad issues with voting in New York. They cited the lack of civics education in schools, the control exerted by political party machinery, a trust deficit in the political system, and voter fatigue as a few of the many reasons that the state has one of the lowest turnout rates in the country.</p> <p>De Blasio was introduced by Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, who thanked the mayor for his attention to voting and election reform. Dadey also praised the mayor for following through on campaign promises and remembered first collaborating with de Blasio in the early 1990s when the current mayor was an aide to then-Mayor David Dinkins and the two worked on advancing LGBT rights.</p> <p>“There is a status quo that is not working for a lot of people in this city, in this state, in this country,” de Blasio said of the political machinery and bureaucracy. “We have to be the ones to break through. I think this is one of those historical moments. It is our time, the momentum is with us, all of us who want reform.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/30899955462_ac0d3c2fed_z.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="bdb speech flag" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>In order to improve New York’s dismal voter turnout rates, it’s necessary to “shake the foundations of things,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in his keynote speech at a voter turnout symposium at New York Law School on Friday.</p> <p>Speaking to an audience of more than a hundred people, many of them advocates of voting and election reform, the mayor made a forceful appeal to reinforce his recent call for reform bills in Albany. De Blasio lamented the fact that New York is well behind dozens of other states in making voter registration and the act of voting easier and asked those in attendance to help him push the state government to act.</p> <p>“We know that the system as it’s currently structured under our state law literally cannot keep up with the reality of our modern democracy,” de Blasio said, bemoaning the state’s “arcane” electoral laws kept in place by entrenched lawmakers in Albany. “This state, this theoretically progressive modern state, when it comes to electoral laws, shows no evidence of being progressive and innovative and modern,” he added.</p> <p>De Blasio is calling for same-day voter registration, early voting, electronic poll-books, and other reforms, including wholesale restructuring of the state law that governs the city Board of Elections. Promising to push state lawmakers in the coming months, de Blasio told the crowd that the status quo is not working. “Now we have to take this battle to Albany, once and for all. And I hope you will join me in that,” he said.</p> <p>The symposium was hosted by Citizens Union, a government reform group, and co-sponsored by a number of organizations that promote voting reform and ballot accessibility. De Blasio’s keynote came after several panels on issues related to voting and elections that featured elected officials, advocates, and other experts. One participant was Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsors a variety of the related bills in Albany, where they have passed the Democratically-controlled Assembly, but not the Republican-controlled Senate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed his support for the slate of election and voting reforms.</p> <p>In the run up to the November 8 general election, and in the days since, the mayor has shown <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6629-taking-up-voting-reform-de-blasio-cites-sanders-campaign-as-motivation" target="_blank">a renewed interest in voting reform</a>. He held a major news conference the day before the state deadline for voters to register for the general election, hosted a number of Get-Out-The-Vote events before and on Election Day, and has been vocal about the need for reform on radio and television appearances.</p> <p>On Friday, he reiterated his call for reforms, again citing the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign as motivation, and saying that in their absence the state has passively disenfranchised millions of voters. There are roughly 2 million eligible voters in New York State who are unregistered, he said, 1 million of whom live in New York City alone.</p> <p>In the 2016 election, only 52.4 percent of voting-eligible New Yorkers cast a ballot, the 7th lowest turnout rate in the country and below the national rate of 58.1 percent, according to materials from Citizens Union handed out at the event. While voter participation has been increasing in recent election cycles, New York has consistently ranked below the national average turnout since 2000.</p> <p>On the national level, the mayor spoke of the need to do away with the electoral college system, which allows a presidential candidate to be victorious without winning the popular vote. (Case in point, de Blasio-backed Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead over President-elect Donald Trump has surpassed 1 million votes.) He also criticized the Citizens United Supreme Court verdict, as he often does, for facilitating the entry of massive amounts of money and corporate interests into elections. (De Blasio and his allies are the subject of multiple law enforcement investigations, including around whether the de Blasio administration did favors for donors to a political nonprofit the mayor's allies established. No one has been charged and de Blasio maintains no laws were broken.)</p> <p>Closer to home, de Blasio called out the city Board of Elections, saying it would be a more efficient agency if he was allowed to manage it, if it was restructured, or if it at least accepted his offer of $20 million in exchange for substantive reform.</p> <p>The mayor was preceded by reform advocates who delved into the myriad issues with voting in New York. They cited the lack of civics education in schools, the control exerted by political party machinery, a trust deficit in the political system, and voter fatigue as a few of the many reasons that the state has one of the lowest turnout rates in the country.</p> <p>De Blasio was introduced by Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, who thanked the mayor for his attention to voting and election reform. Dadey also praised the mayor for following through on campaign promises and remembered first collaborating with de Blasio in the early 1990s when the current mayor was an aide to then-Mayor David Dinkins and the two worked on advancing LGBT rights.</p> <p>“There is a status quo that is not working for a lot of people in this city, in this state, in this country,” de Blasio said of the political machinery and bureaucracy. “We have to be the ones to break through. I think this is one of those historical moments. It is our time, the momentum is with us, all of us who want reform.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Taking Up Voting Reform, De Blasio Cites Sanders Campaign as Motivation 2016-11-16T05:00:00+00:00 2016-11-16T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6629:taking-up-voting-reform-de-blasio-cites-sanders-campaign-as-motivation Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/29677941203_f4e0259aaf_z.jpg" alt="de blasio register to vote brooklyn" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio registers a voter (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Public Advocate, Bill de Blasio strongly pushed for voting reform in New York, but as Mayor, it has not been high on his list of priorities. Last month, with Election Day around the corner, that seemed to change as de Blasio renewed his call for a system that will encourage voting in a state with one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country.</p> <p>The advocacy comes just ahead of de Blasio’s re-election year and is spurred in part, the mayor said, by the enthusiasm stirred up by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who de Blasio did not support in the Democratic presidential primary. It also requires action in Albany and an opportunity for the mayor to work collaboratively with Governor Andrew Cuomo, whom the mayor has been feuding with for years, on reforms the two agree on.</p> <p>On <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qf5_5EYBMsk" target="_blank">October 13</a>, one day before the state’s voter registration deadline for new voters wishing to vote November 8, de Blasio spent about 30 minutes registering voters in downtown Brooklyn. He then headed indoors for a news conference, where he was accompanied by elected officials, government reform advocates, and representatives of the city Campaign Finance Board. The mayor called on the state Legislature to pass broad voting and election reforms, including same-day voter registration, early voting, “no excuse” absentee voting, electronic poll books, consolidation of primary elections, reformatting ballots to make them more user-friendly, and pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds.</p> <p>Many of these reforms have been stalled in Albany, and de Blasio declared he was going to be part of a major push to see them passed in 2017, when the Legislature is back in session.&nbsp;“The bottom line is...the laws of New York State discourage participation in the democratic process,” de Blasio said. “Because everyone’s eyes are on election matters right now, we wanted to take this moment to make very, very clear that New York City and all of us here are going to be very, very actively engaged in a campaign to change state law in the coming months to finally make this a state that’s voter friendly, to finally make this a state where people can participate and not be disenfranchised.”</p> <p>De Blasio had been mostly quiet on these issues over the nearly three years of his term and held the news conference with no chance that Albany lawmakers could enact reforms for the 2016 elections even if they wanted to. But he credits his renewed interest to a reinvigorated national conversation about voter enfranchisement and issues in New York, both highlighted by the Sanders campaign.</p> <p>The mayor also asked the federal government to clear a backlog of pending naturalization applications, which would add about 57,000 new eligible voters to the rolls in New York alone, and more than 500,000 across the country.</p> <p>The city expanded its efforts to register voters this year, providing voter registration forms in 16 languages when the state only requires five and allowing registration for people that take civil service exams through the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. The administration also organized a voter registration drive in partnership with 12 street food vendors across the five boroughs, promoted on Twitter with the hashtag <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=#NoshTheVote&amp;src=typd" target="_blank">#NoshTheVote</a>.</p> <p>A day after the news conference, the mayor <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/ask-mayor-10-13" target="_blank">appeared on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show</a> for his weekly “Ask The Mayor” segment. He reiterated his appeal for voting reform, calling the state’s system “arcane” and blaming the “political class” for keeping participation low. “[New York] has got a set of voting standards that are some of the least effective, least inviting in the country,” de Blasio said. “It makes it hard for people to register, hard for people to vote."</p> <p>The mayor has time and again commended Senator Sanders’ campaign for bringing significant attention to voting reform around the April 19 primary election in New York. There were confused voters who were ineligible but tried to show up and vote for Sanders in a closed party primary, but also mismanagement by the city Board of Elections, with tens of thousands of Brooklyn voters inappropriately purged from the voter rolls ahead of the primary.</p> <p>At a November 4 news conference, Gotham Gazette asked the mayor why he hadn’t been vocal about voting and election reform earlier, in order to pressure Albany well ahead of the election, and what Governor Cuomo’s role should be in pushing for reforms.</p> <p>“I think [Governor Cuomo] needs to prioritize these reforms or the people will do it for him,” de Blasio said. He also explained that the Sanders campaign was a key impetus for change, adding, “I think a lot of us were disgusted by the New York State voting laws years ago and thought they were unmovable, particularly with a Republican Senate that was not going to be friendly to voting reform. What’s happened different, I think the Bernie Sanders campaign changed the entire national discussion, certainly what we saw happen in the primary did, but, again, not with such speed that it was going to make it something that could be achieved by the end of this last June.” De Blasio was referring to the June end of the state legislative session.</p> <p>With the Republicans likely to maintain control of the Senate going into next year, little has changed in Albany and those voting reforms may yet be unmovable. But the mayor has insisted he will work with state legislators and with the governor to push for reform. “I would happily, there’s no question,” de Blasio said at the news conference, when asked if he would work with Cuomo, a fellow Democrat but often the mayor’s political nemesis. “I want to get it done and I’ll work with anyone on either side of the aisle who wants to get it done,” de Blasio said. “So, I could happily work with the governor.”</p> <p>Although de Blasio has taken inspiration from Sanders, he doesn’t agree with the senator’s criticism of the closed primary system or calls for open primaries in New York. “I believe that parties mean something,” de Blasio said at the Oct. 13 news conference, “and if you’re going to determine the choice of a party, you should be a member of the party.” He said the closed primary system prevents interference from voters that strategically “jump into the opposite primary just for the day and then jump back out.”</p> <p>De Blasio has also been vocal in his support for administrative reform and even <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/389-16/mayor-de-blasio-make-20-million-available-city-board-elections-vital-reforms" target="_blank">offered</a> the New York City Board of Elections $20 million in funding if it agreed to institute crucial changes. But the board, which is governed by state law and notoriously inept, did not accept the funding.</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group, was one of those present at the October 13 news conference. Dadey acknowledges that de Blasio may be late to the effort, but does not fault him for it. “I know personally that he believes strongly in this needed issue of reform but clearly decided to wait until a later time in his term to deal with this,” he said. “That it’s coming on the eve of his own reelection battle is not lost on anyone as to the likely coincidence and the rationale.”</p> <p>Indeed, de Blasio’s campaign Twitter account pledged a fight for election reform: “We're going to reform NYS' voting access laws, because lack of early voting &amp; same day registration is disenfranchisement, plain and simple,” read <a href="https://twitter.com/BilldeBlasio/status/798538162322685952" target="_blank">a tweet</a> from the account sent out Tuesday morning.</p> <p>The mayor had other priorities in his first three years, such as implementing universal pre-kindergarten, expanding access to paid sick leave, creating affordable housing, and moving the NYPD into a new era of neighborhood policing while keeping crime down. Voting and election reform, largely state issues, have not been on the mayor’s radar, though his state legislative affairs office has sent memos to lawmakers in support of legislation, which has foundered in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p>De Blasio has made annual trips to Albany to testify at budget hearings, at which he outlines key city priorities. Voting and election reform have not been mentioned.</p> <p>“Do I wish that Mayor de Blasio had weighed in earlier on some important reform issues like he did when he was Public Advocate and his first news conference was on public oversight and police misconduct? Definitely, yes,” Dadey said. “But I also know that there are a lot of issues and priorities that needed to be addressed and [voting reform] was simply not one of them, unfortunately.”</p> <p>Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2010/12/bloomberg-pitches-voting-reforms-046066" target="_blank">pushed for</a> his favored voting reforms at different points, and he supports the open primary system that de Blasio does not. (Bloomberg is a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent.)</p> <p>Governor Cuomo has been in support of the measures de Blasio is now pushing, as has the Democrat-controlled State Assembly, which has time and again passed such bills, which fail in the Senate. Cuomo has not been a forceful public voice on the issues either, even if he does back early voting and other reforms. He’s included them in his State of the State speeches or policy books, but has done little else to publicly promote the reforms.</p> <p>Despite their agreement on the need for voting and election reforms, there is no indication, other than a few vague comments, that the two will coordinate their efforts to push the issue in Albany.</p> <p>In his 2015 State of the State address, the governor included a number of voting reforms in his list of legislative priorities, which were echoed in what de Blasio recently outlined. “Governor Cuomo has fought tirelessly to ensure New York's elections are fair, inclusive, and open,” said spokesperson Abbey Fashouer, in an email. “The Governor will continue to work with all state and local partners to strengthen the democratic process and ensure every New Yorker has the opportunity to make their vote count and their voices heard.”</p> <p>The governor can often bring Republicans to the table on issues that he favors, like the minimum wage, marriage equality, and more. He has not made voting reforms a top priority.</p> <p>Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for the mayor, defended the timing of de Blasio’s renewed efforts in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. It was important, she said, to piggyback off the election to grab people’s attention. “We need to talk to people when they're listening, and this has been a great opportunity,” she said. Goldstein also sought to dispel the idea that the mayor hasn’t consistently focused on the issue.</p> <p>The mayor does not submit a legislative agenda to the State but does testify before legislators each year. Although his testimony this year did not include any reference to voting reform, Goldstein said the mayor’s team in Albany works behind the scenes on such legislative issues. “Just because we're not talking about these things publicly doesn't mean we're not working on it,” she said. City Hall issues legislative memos to Albany on bills and has done so on voting and election reform, according to copies of such memos reviewed by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>City Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee on governmental operations, said in a phone interview that “All of these [reforms] should’ve happened before Election Day and if there’s an Albany special session it should be part of that agenda. The voters shouldn’t let their elected officials go back to Albany without getting this done.”</p> <p>The City Council has consistently advocated for voting and election reform in its annual <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/downloads/pdf/state-agenda-updated-final-2015-4pm.pdf" target="_blank">state legislative agenda</a>, including early voting, instant runoff voting for citywide primaries, and public campaign financing at the state level. De Blasio has said he has concerns about instant runoff voting but hasn’t taken a full position. The mayor has consistently called for campaign finance reform, calling the city’s public matching system a gold standard that the state should follow. Cuomo has professed support for such a system but has not gotten one passed and enacted.</p> <p>Kallos says he recognizes that the mayor hasn’t been able to prioritize election reform over other items on his agenda. “I think that we needed attention to this in 2014,” he said. “The mayor and I were able to advocate together for universal pre-kindergarten but election reforms weren’t on that list…I think that when we have so few people engaged in voting and such low turnout, people need to put good government on the same plane as things like universal pre-kindergarten.”</p> <p>He emphasized that elected officials should look beyond their own self-interest and vote for election and voting reform, and that voters need to speak up. “Anyone who waited in line, anyone who had trouble voting, needs to make their voices heard to their elected officials,” Kallos said, “and Albany needs to finally make these changes even if it isn’t in the interest of incumbents…Ultimately in 2017, we will have a vote on the Constitutional Convention, and if Albany won’t act then the electors might.”</p> <p>Indeed, one of the reasons that those who are supportive of a “yes” vote for a state Constitutional Convention believe it could be an opportunity to institute long-sought government, voting, election, and campaign finance reforms.</p> <p>Prior to November 8, voting reform was one issue that de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6605-cuomo-and-de-blasio-outline-priorities-for-a-democratic-senate-with-a-lot-in-common" target="_blank">mentioned as a priority</a> if the Democrats were able to take control of the state Senate from the Republicans. While there are two Long Island races still being counted that could change things, it appears that Republicans will continue their hold on the state Senate, putting a dent in de Blasio’s hopes for voting reform and other priorities, like a lengthy extension of mayoral control of city schools.</p> <p>Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, has been a staunch proponent of election reform, sponsoring many of the relevant bills that have passed his chamber, and he lays the failure of reform proposals at the feet of Senate Republicans. Kavanagh said he strongly supports the mayor’s and governor’s efforts on the issue, and denied that de Blasio has been passive. “I think [Mayor de Blasio’s] push to focus on changing these laws is important,” said Kavanagh, who participated in de Blasio’s October press conference. “He’s not operating in a vacuum but he’s also not late to the party. He’s been pushing both as mayor and even before he was mayor.”</p> <p>“I think the appropriate thing is to fault the Republican Senate majority,” Kavanagh said, insisting that the governor and the Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate have also backed the Assembly’s direction on election reform under Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. “This is not Democratic election reform,” he said. “This is common sense voting reform that will benefit everybody...Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on these.” Multiple requests for comment sent to Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s office were not returned.</p> <p>Dadey, from Citizens Union, had a few words of advice for de Blasio. “If the mayor is rejoining the fight for voting and election reform,” he said, “then he should really reach out proactively with the non-profit organizations that work with this to develop a collective agenda and strategy plan, but also engage the elected officials who represent the City of New York who are involved in these issues as well. It’s not as if he’s the first elected official to be talking about these issues.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/29677941203_f4e0259aaf_z.jpg" alt="de blasio register to vote brooklyn" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>De Blasio registers a voter (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Public Advocate, Bill de Blasio strongly pushed for voting reform in New York, but as Mayor, it has not been high on his list of priorities. Last month, with Election Day around the corner, that seemed to change as de Blasio renewed his call for a system that will encourage voting in a state with one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country.</p> <p>The advocacy comes just ahead of de Blasio’s re-election year and is spurred in part, the mayor said, by the enthusiasm stirred up by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who de Blasio did not support in the Democratic presidential primary. It also requires action in Albany and an opportunity for the mayor to work collaboratively with Governor Andrew Cuomo, whom the mayor has been feuding with for years, on reforms the two agree on.</p> <p>On <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qf5_5EYBMsk" target="_blank">October 13</a>, one day before the state’s voter registration deadline for new voters wishing to vote November 8, de Blasio spent about 30 minutes registering voters in downtown Brooklyn. He then headed indoors for a news conference, where he was accompanied by elected officials, government reform advocates, and representatives of the city Campaign Finance Board. The mayor called on the state Legislature to pass broad voting and election reforms, including same-day voter registration, early voting, “no excuse” absentee voting, electronic poll books, consolidation of primary elections, reformatting ballots to make them more user-friendly, and pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds.</p> <p>Many of these reforms have been stalled in Albany, and de Blasio declared he was going to be part of a major push to see them passed in 2017, when the Legislature is back in session.&nbsp;“The bottom line is...the laws of New York State discourage participation in the democratic process,” de Blasio said. “Because everyone’s eyes are on election matters right now, we wanted to take this moment to make very, very clear that New York City and all of us here are going to be very, very actively engaged in a campaign to change state law in the coming months to finally make this a state that’s voter friendly, to finally make this a state where people can participate and not be disenfranchised.”</p> <p>De Blasio had been mostly quiet on these issues over the nearly three years of his term and held the news conference with no chance that Albany lawmakers could enact reforms for the 2016 elections even if they wanted to. But he credits his renewed interest to a reinvigorated national conversation about voter enfranchisement and issues in New York, both highlighted by the Sanders campaign.</p> <p>The mayor also asked the federal government to clear a backlog of pending naturalization applications, which would add about 57,000 new eligible voters to the rolls in New York alone, and more than 500,000 across the country.</p> <p>The city expanded its efforts to register voters this year, providing voter registration forms in 16 languages when the state only requires five and allowing registration for people that take civil service exams through the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. The administration also organized a voter registration drive in partnership with 12 street food vendors across the five boroughs, promoted on Twitter with the hashtag <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=#NoshTheVote&amp;src=typd" target="_blank">#NoshTheVote</a>.</p> <p>A day after the news conference, the mayor <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/ask-mayor-10-13" target="_blank">appeared on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show</a> for his weekly “Ask The Mayor” segment. He reiterated his appeal for voting reform, calling the state’s system “arcane” and blaming the “political class” for keeping participation low. “[New York] has got a set of voting standards that are some of the least effective, least inviting in the country,” de Blasio said. “It makes it hard for people to register, hard for people to vote."</p> <p>The mayor has time and again commended Senator Sanders’ campaign for bringing significant attention to voting reform around the April 19 primary election in New York. There were confused voters who were ineligible but tried to show up and vote for Sanders in a closed party primary, but also mismanagement by the city Board of Elections, with tens of thousands of Brooklyn voters inappropriately purged from the voter rolls ahead of the primary.</p> <p>At a November 4 news conference, Gotham Gazette asked the mayor why he hadn’t been vocal about voting and election reform earlier, in order to pressure Albany well ahead of the election, and what Governor Cuomo’s role should be in pushing for reforms.</p> <p>“I think [Governor Cuomo] needs to prioritize these reforms or the people will do it for him,” de Blasio said. He also explained that the Sanders campaign was a key impetus for change, adding, “I think a lot of us were disgusted by the New York State voting laws years ago and thought they were unmovable, particularly with a Republican Senate that was not going to be friendly to voting reform. What’s happened different, I think the Bernie Sanders campaign changed the entire national discussion, certainly what we saw happen in the primary did, but, again, not with such speed that it was going to make it something that could be achieved by the end of this last June.” De Blasio was referring to the June end of the state legislative session.</p> <p>With the Republicans likely to maintain control of the Senate going into next year, little has changed in Albany and those voting reforms may yet be unmovable. But the mayor has insisted he will work with state legislators and with the governor to push for reform. “I would happily, there’s no question,” de Blasio said at the news conference, when asked if he would work with Cuomo, a fellow Democrat but often the mayor’s political nemesis. “I want to get it done and I’ll work with anyone on either side of the aisle who wants to get it done,” de Blasio said. “So, I could happily work with the governor.”</p> <p>Although de Blasio has taken inspiration from Sanders, he doesn’t agree with the senator’s criticism of the closed primary system or calls for open primaries in New York. “I believe that parties mean something,” de Blasio said at the Oct. 13 news conference, “and if you’re going to determine the choice of a party, you should be a member of the party.” He said the closed primary system prevents interference from voters that strategically “jump into the opposite primary just for the day and then jump back out.”</p> <p>De Blasio has also been vocal in his support for administrative reform and even <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/389-16/mayor-de-blasio-make-20-million-available-city-board-elections-vital-reforms" target="_blank">offered</a> the New York City Board of Elections $20 million in funding if it agreed to institute crucial changes. But the board, which is governed by state law and notoriously inept, did not accept the funding.</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group, was one of those present at the October 13 news conference. Dadey acknowledges that de Blasio may be late to the effort, but does not fault him for it. “I know personally that he believes strongly in this needed issue of reform but clearly decided to wait until a later time in his term to deal with this,” he said. “That it’s coming on the eve of his own reelection battle is not lost on anyone as to the likely coincidence and the rationale.”</p> <p>Indeed, de Blasio’s campaign Twitter account pledged a fight for election reform: “We're going to reform NYS' voting access laws, because lack of early voting &amp; same day registration is disenfranchisement, plain and simple,” read <a href="https://twitter.com/BilldeBlasio/status/798538162322685952" target="_blank">a tweet</a> from the account sent out Tuesday morning.</p> <p>The mayor had other priorities in his first three years, such as implementing universal pre-kindergarten, expanding access to paid sick leave, creating affordable housing, and moving the NYPD into a new era of neighborhood policing while keeping crime down. Voting and election reform, largely state issues, have not been on the mayor’s radar, though his state legislative affairs office has sent memos to lawmakers in support of legislation, which has foundered in the Republican-controlled Senate.</p> <p>De Blasio has made annual trips to Albany to testify at budget hearings, at which he outlines key city priorities. Voting and election reform have not been mentioned.</p> <p>“Do I wish that Mayor de Blasio had weighed in earlier on some important reform issues like he did when he was Public Advocate and his first news conference was on public oversight and police misconduct? Definitely, yes,” Dadey said. “But I also know that there are a lot of issues and priorities that needed to be addressed and [voting reform] was simply not one of them, unfortunately.”</p> <p>Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2010/12/bloomberg-pitches-voting-reforms-046066" target="_blank">pushed for</a> his favored voting reforms at different points, and he supports the open primary system that de Blasio does not. (Bloomberg is a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent.)</p> <p>Governor Cuomo has been in support of the measures de Blasio is now pushing, as has the Democrat-controlled State Assembly, which has time and again passed such bills, which fail in the Senate. Cuomo has not been a forceful public voice on the issues either, even if he does back early voting and other reforms. He’s included them in his State of the State speeches or policy books, but has done little else to publicly promote the reforms.</p> <p>Despite their agreement on the need for voting and election reforms, there is no indication, other than a few vague comments, that the two will coordinate their efforts to push the issue in Albany.</p> <p>In his 2015 State of the State address, the governor included a number of voting reforms in his list of legislative priorities, which were echoed in what de Blasio recently outlined. “Governor Cuomo has fought tirelessly to ensure New York's elections are fair, inclusive, and open,” said spokesperson Abbey Fashouer, in an email. “The Governor will continue to work with all state and local partners to strengthen the democratic process and ensure every New Yorker has the opportunity to make their vote count and their voices heard.”</p> <p>The governor can often bring Republicans to the table on issues that he favors, like the minimum wage, marriage equality, and more. He has not made voting reforms a top priority.</p> <p>Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for the mayor, defended the timing of de Blasio’s renewed efforts in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. It was important, she said, to piggyback off the election to grab people’s attention. “We need to talk to people when they're listening, and this has been a great opportunity,” she said. Goldstein also sought to dispel the idea that the mayor hasn’t consistently focused on the issue.</p> <p>The mayor does not submit a legislative agenda to the State but does testify before legislators each year. Although his testimony this year did not include any reference to voting reform, Goldstein said the mayor’s team in Albany works behind the scenes on such legislative issues. “Just because we're not talking about these things publicly doesn't mean we're not working on it,” she said. City Hall issues legislative memos to Albany on bills and has done so on voting and election reform, according to copies of such memos reviewed by Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>City Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee on governmental operations, said in a phone interview that “All of these [reforms] should’ve happened before Election Day and if there’s an Albany special session it should be part of that agenda. The voters shouldn’t let their elected officials go back to Albany without getting this done.”</p> <p>The City Council has consistently advocated for voting and election reform in its annual <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/downloads/pdf/state-agenda-updated-final-2015-4pm.pdf" target="_blank">state legislative agenda</a>, including early voting, instant runoff voting for citywide primaries, and public campaign financing at the state level. De Blasio has said he has concerns about instant runoff voting but hasn’t taken a full position. The mayor has consistently called for campaign finance reform, calling the city’s public matching system a gold standard that the state should follow. Cuomo has professed support for such a system but has not gotten one passed and enacted.</p> <p>Kallos says he recognizes that the mayor hasn’t been able to prioritize election reform over other items on his agenda. “I think that we needed attention to this in 2014,” he said. “The mayor and I were able to advocate together for universal pre-kindergarten but election reforms weren’t on that list…I think that when we have so few people engaged in voting and such low turnout, people need to put good government on the same plane as things like universal pre-kindergarten.”</p> <p>He emphasized that elected officials should look beyond their own self-interest and vote for election and voting reform, and that voters need to speak up. “Anyone who waited in line, anyone who had trouble voting, needs to make their voices heard to their elected officials,” Kallos said, “and Albany needs to finally make these changes even if it isn’t in the interest of incumbents…Ultimately in 2017, we will have a vote on the Constitutional Convention, and if Albany won’t act then the electors might.”</p> <p>Indeed, one of the reasons that those who are supportive of a “yes” vote for a state Constitutional Convention believe it could be an opportunity to institute long-sought government, voting, election, and campaign finance reforms.</p> <p>Prior to November 8, voting reform was one issue that de Blasio <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6605-cuomo-and-de-blasio-outline-priorities-for-a-democratic-senate-with-a-lot-in-common" target="_blank">mentioned as a priority</a> if the Democrats were able to take control of the state Senate from the Republicans. While there are two Long Island races still being counted that could change things, it appears that Republicans will continue their hold on the state Senate, putting a dent in de Blasio’s hopes for voting reform and other priorities, like a lengthy extension of mayoral control of city schools.</p> <p>Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, has been a staunch proponent of election reform, sponsoring many of the relevant bills that have passed his chamber, and he lays the failure of reform proposals at the feet of Senate Republicans. Kavanagh said he strongly supports the mayor’s and governor’s efforts on the issue, and denied that de Blasio has been passive. “I think [Mayor de Blasio’s] push to focus on changing these laws is important,” said Kavanagh, who participated in de Blasio’s October press conference. “He’s not operating in a vacuum but he’s also not late to the party. He’s been pushing both as mayor and even before he was mayor.”</p> <p>“I think the appropriate thing is to fault the Republican Senate majority,” Kavanagh said, insisting that the governor and the Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate have also backed the Assembly’s direction on election reform under Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. “This is not Democratic election reform,” he said. “This is common sense voting reform that will benefit everybody...Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on these.” Multiple requests for comment sent to Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s office were not returned.</p> <p>Dadey, from Citizens Union, had a few words of advice for de Blasio. “If the mayor is rejoining the fight for voting and election reform,” he said, “then he should really reach out proactively with the non-profit organizations that work with this to develop a collective agenda and strategy plan, but also engage the elected officials who represent the City of New York who are involved in these issues as well. It’s not as if he’s the first elected official to be talking about these issues.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Assembly to Begin Implementation of Technology-Based Reforms 2016-07-07T15:59:46+00:00 2016-07-07T15:59:46+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6428:assembly-to-begin-implementation-of-technology-based-reforms Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2015/17084452209_83b7800f6b_z.jpg" alt="17084452209 83b7800f6b z" height="390" width="600" /></p> <p>photo via The Governor's Office</p> <hr /> <p>Earlier this year, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie <a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews">announced</a> he would implement a series of recommendations -- proposed by the Assembly Workgroup on Legislative Process, Operations and Public Participation -- designed to increase transparency, efficiency and participation in the chamber. Some of those changes were voted on as rules reforms, others were made as pledges. But many of them that deal with technology, like a revamp of the Assembly&rsquo;s website, posting more information about bills and committee hearings online and broadcasting hearings, were not implemented during the legislative session.</p> <p>Assembly Democrats say staffers will begin implementing those technological improvements between now and the next session that begins in January. &ldquo;It was difficult for the staff to work on these things while in session but now that legislative work is wrapped up they will begin to put many of these things in place,&rdquo; Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh a Manhattan Democrat and co-chair of the 12-member workgroup that came up with the recommendations, told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;Now that we are in the off session we will be looking to get as many of these things in place as soon as possible.&rdquo;</p> <p>He stressed, however, that there is no &ldquo;item-by-item deadline&rdquo; to implement the reforms. Heastie&rsquo;s office did not return requests for comment.</p> <p>Assembly Republicans have criticized Kavanagh and his taskforce for <a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5854-assembly-transparency-group-operates-in-secret">taking nearly a year</a> to recommend a series of &ldquo;common sense&rdquo; changes that don&rsquo;t actually reform the power structure of the Assembly. They say the Assembly Democrats <a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/127-state/6043-assembly-reform-group-will-miss-own-deadline">didn&rsquo;t seek input</a> on rules changes and have not kept them updated on implementation.</p> <p>&ldquo;They worked a whole year supposedly and came up with things that aren't particularly brave, that don&rsquo;t change the power dynamic and (don&rsquo;t) give members the ability to move their own legislation,&rdquo; said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican from Canandaigua, to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Some of the technology-focused changes the Assembly pledged to implement include making the functionality of the legislature&rsquo;s bill-tracking system available to the public; creating a web portal that includes all information related to bills, including committee actions and evaluations by outside groups; the creation of a C-Span like legislative television channel; making the content of the legislative library searchable online and modernizing the Assembly&rsquo;s phone system to include digital voicemail boxes.</p> <p>"The recommendations put forth by the work group are thoughtful and comprehensive," Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle said in a statement in March when the reforms were released. "These measures build on the steps that we have taken recently to introduce technology into our operations. While these new changes will take some time to put into operation, this investment will increase efficiencies as well as provide greater transparency and accountability."</p> <p>The workgroup came together in the wake of the indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on multiple federal corruption charges last year. Heastie, in his bid to replace Silver, promised to appoint a group that would look at changing how the Assembly operates.</p> <p>Many good government groups had the expectation that the workgroup's proposals would help empower individual members while decreasing the speaker&rsquo;s ability to control all legislation, something they saw as playing into the charges against Silver, who had long resisted calls for basic technological changes to increase transparency. The Senate Republican Majority made these changes long ago.</p> <p>Those advocacy groups welcomed the workgroup&rsquo;s eventual recommendations but saw them as failing to deal with the issues that lead to Silver&rsquo;s indictment. &ldquo;Watching this process is like watching paint dry,&rdquo; said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. &ldquo;They&rsquo;ve done some good things but they haven't tackled anything to do with reforming the flaws in the system. It fits in with the overall Albany reaction to recent scandals, which has been to do nothing. Little has happened in the Assembly or in the Senate since Silver&rsquo;s indictment that would really change anything. The name of the game has been public relations.&rdquo;</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said he has faith that the Assembly will make good on promised changes in a timely fashion. &ldquo;Speaker Heastie has every reason to get this right to show he is a good manager and sincere leader,&rdquo; Kaehny said. &ldquo;He is under intense scrutiny by the press and watchdog groups and will lose a great deal of credibility if he can't manage to get these fairly modest improvements done on-time."</p> <p>As much as Assemblymember Kavanagh would like things implemented quickly, he also wants to make sure any changes are worthwhile. &ldquo;We need to do it right,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;and make sure we create a high functioning system.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2015/17084452209_83b7800f6b_z.jpg" alt="17084452209 83b7800f6b z" height="390" width="600" /></p> <p>photo via The Governor's Office</p> <hr /> <p>Earlier this year, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie <a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews">announced</a> he would implement a series of recommendations -- proposed by the Assembly Workgroup on Legislative Process, Operations and Public Participation -- designed to increase transparency, efficiency and participation in the chamber. Some of those changes were voted on as rules reforms, others were made as pledges. But many of them that deal with technology, like a revamp of the Assembly&rsquo;s website, posting more information about bills and committee hearings online and broadcasting hearings, were not implemented during the legislative session.</p> <p>Assembly Democrats say staffers will begin implementing those technological improvements between now and the next session that begins in January. &ldquo;It was difficult for the staff to work on these things while in session but now that legislative work is wrapped up they will begin to put many of these things in place,&rdquo; Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh a Manhattan Democrat and co-chair of the 12-member workgroup that came up with the recommendations, told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;Now that we are in the off session we will be looking to get as many of these things in place as soon as possible.&rdquo;</p> <p>He stressed, however, that there is no &ldquo;item-by-item deadline&rdquo; to implement the reforms. Heastie&rsquo;s office did not return requests for comment.</p> <p>Assembly Republicans have criticized Kavanagh and his taskforce for <a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5854-assembly-transparency-group-operates-in-secret">taking nearly a year</a> to recommend a series of &ldquo;common sense&rdquo; changes that don&rsquo;t actually reform the power structure of the Assembly. They say the Assembly Democrats <a target="_blank" href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/127-state/6043-assembly-reform-group-will-miss-own-deadline">didn&rsquo;t seek input</a> on rules changes and have not kept them updated on implementation.</p> <p>&ldquo;They worked a whole year supposedly and came up with things that aren't particularly brave, that don&rsquo;t change the power dynamic and (don&rsquo;t) give members the ability to move their own legislation,&rdquo; said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Republican from Canandaigua, to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Some of the technology-focused changes the Assembly pledged to implement include making the functionality of the legislature&rsquo;s bill-tracking system available to the public; creating a web portal that includes all information related to bills, including committee actions and evaluations by outside groups; the creation of a C-Span like legislative television channel; making the content of the legislative library searchable online and modernizing the Assembly&rsquo;s phone system to include digital voicemail boxes.</p> <p>"The recommendations put forth by the work group are thoughtful and comprehensive," Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle said in a statement in March when the reforms were released. "These measures build on the steps that we have taken recently to introduce technology into our operations. While these new changes will take some time to put into operation, this investment will increase efficiencies as well as provide greater transparency and accountability."</p> <p>The workgroup came together in the wake of the indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on multiple federal corruption charges last year. Heastie, in his bid to replace Silver, promised to appoint a group that would look at changing how the Assembly operates.</p> <p>Many good government groups had the expectation that the workgroup's proposals would help empower individual members while decreasing the speaker&rsquo;s ability to control all legislation, something they saw as playing into the charges against Silver, who had long resisted calls for basic technological changes to increase transparency. The Senate Republican Majority made these changes long ago.</p> <p>Those advocacy groups welcomed the workgroup&rsquo;s eventual recommendations but saw them as failing to deal with the issues that lead to Silver&rsquo;s indictment. &ldquo;Watching this process is like watching paint dry,&rdquo; said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. &ldquo;They&rsquo;ve done some good things but they haven't tackled anything to do with reforming the flaws in the system. It fits in with the overall Albany reaction to recent scandals, which has been to do nothing. Little has happened in the Assembly or in the Senate since Silver&rsquo;s indictment that would really change anything. The name of the game has been public relations.&rdquo;</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said he has faith that the Assembly will make good on promised changes in a timely fashion. &ldquo;Speaker Heastie has every reason to get this right to show he is a good manager and sincere leader,&rdquo; Kaehny said. &ldquo;He is under intense scrutiny by the press and watchdog groups and will lose a great deal of credibility if he can't manage to get these fairly modest improvements done on-time."</p> <p>As much as Assemblymember Kavanagh would like things implemented quickly, he also wants to make sure any changes are worthwhile. &ldquo;We need to do it right,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;and make sure we create a high functioning system.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Lobbying, in Albany, for Better Voting Laws 2016-05-08T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-08T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6323:lobbying-in-albany-for-better-voting-laws Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/vote_better_ny_dalton_political_nyc_votes.jpg" width="600" height="339" alt="vote better ny dalton political nyc votes" /></p> <p>Students in Albany to lobby for voting and registration reform (#VoteBetterNY)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Before dawn on a cold and rainy May morning, about 175 New Yorkers gathered outside a building on Church Street, waiting to board a bus to Albany. Some had left their Staten Island and Queens homes as early as 4 a.m. to make departure on time, others had taken the day off work or school, all were there for the same reason: to meet with state lawmakers and convince them to modernize New York’s antiquated election laws.</p> <p dir="ltr">Four buses pulled into the state capital a few hours later and members of the<a href="http://www.votebetterny.org/"> Vote Better NY coalition</a> lined up on the stairs of West Capitol Park, behind the New York State Capitol Building, for a rally calling for passage of legislation to enact early voting, automatic voter registration, and better ballot design. These reforms, advocates say, would help to increase New York’s dismal voter turnout by making it far easier for New Yorkers to register to vote and to cast their ballots. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The May 3 trip to Albany, the rally, and the 74 meetings with legislators and the governor’s office scheduled for the day were organized by NYC Votes, the non-partisan voter engagement campaign of the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Tuesday marked the third annual NYC Votes lobby day, wherein New York City residents head north to Albany by the busload to push for voting reform, and the delegation has nearly doubled in size since last year when about 100 people attended, up from about 50 the first year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We still vote like it’s the 19th century and voters are sick and tired of election laws designed to benefit elected officials, rather than the voters,” said Onida Coward Mayers, director of voter assistance at NYC Votes.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You know how they say, ‘there’s an app for that’? Well, there’s an act for that,” Mayers said, referring to the<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass"> Voter Empowerment Act</a>, a voting reform bill package that would expand online registration, allow certain government agencies to automatically register citizens to vote, extend party change and registration deadlines, and permit pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. “Voters in 37 other states have early voting,” Mayers added, “Why not New York?”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Vote Better NY coalition was joined for its rally by two state Assembly members and four state Senators, all of whom have either introduced or sponsored voting reform bills supported by the coalition, some of which have passed in the Democratic-controlled Assembly for years, only to die every time in the Republican-led Senate. The exclusively Democratic group of lawmakers present at the rally made their support for voting reform clear as ever, and repeatedly expressed exasperation at the lack of support for such reforms from their colleagues “across the aisle,” creating a situation where those who profess their support for voting reform offload all of the blame for the lack of movement on the reforms onto those who do not support the legislation.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We get it, we are sponsoring these bills, we have been trying to get [reform] through for years,” said Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “The last time we were able to do something significant [on voting reform] was when Democrats had the [Senate] majority.”</p> <p dir="ltr">There has been record turnout in nearly every state that has voted in primary elections so far in the presidential race, Senator Michael Gianaris said, except New York. The Empire State has the<a href="http://www.electproject.org/2016P"> second lowest turnout rate</a> of any state so far this year, with just 19.7 percent of the voting eligible population casting a ballot. “All these other states, where they’ve enacted these reforms, have record turnout. The answers are simple, they’re staring us in the face,” Gianaris said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Why is it so hard to do something that should be so easy?” Gianaris asked, referring to getting these “common-sense” voting reforms passed. “Because there’s a lot of people in that building who want fewer people to vote because it benefits them winning,” Gianaris said, gesturing toward the collection of government buildings in the Empire State Plaza.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it’s true that many Senate Republicans either don’t support or outright oppose many of the voting reform bills that have been introduced time and again in Albany, as Democratic Senator Brad Hoylman said when pressed to specify who was “standing in the way” of these reforms becoming law, “It’s important that everyone here get the Senators and Assembly members on the record as to whether they oppose or support extending the franchise…We can go to each Senator, Republican and Democrat, and ask them to cosponsor these bills.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kavanagh_voter_better_ny.jpg" width="300" height="264" alt="kavanagh voter better ny" style="margin: 8px; float: left;" />After the rally, members of the Vote Better NY coalition set out to change the minds of those not on board themselves, breaking off into groups of six or seven and heading into the labyrinth of the Legislative Office Building to meet with lawmakers. They were armed with messages of enfranchisement and efficiency, and checklists of legislators who have said they support early voting, the Voter Empowerment Act, and the Voter Friendly Ballot Act.</p> <p dir="ltr">One group, made up of three members of the New York City Campaign Finance Board and three representatives from DYCD NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers, had their first meeting of the day with Senator Jeff Klein’s office. The meeting apparently went well, though Gotham Gazette can’t say for sure, as Dan Levin, assistant counsel to Klein, said their office “doesn’t do meetings with reporters,” and asked this reporter to wait outside, despite offers not to take any notes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Members of the voting reform group expressed frustration with the fact that, though Klein’s counsel said the Senator is supportive of the voting reform bills, as leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, Klein could do more to get Senate Republicans to support such reforms. The IDC and Senate Republicans have a power-sharing agreement that gives the five-member IDC more sway than mainline Democrats, who are led by Stewart-Cousins. Klein has not signed on as a sponsor of any Vote Better NY bills.</p> <p dir="ltr">After the meeting with Levin, the group left Klein’s office, heading toward a newly-booked meeting with Senator Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican.</p> <p dir="ltr">“They call this ‘the million dollar staircase,’” one aide from Klein’s office quipped as she walked past the group, “because they say it cost a million dollars.” The inside of the connected government buildings that spanned the Empire State Plaza are more ornate than their gray exteriors with dark, thin windows, let on - white marble spans the majority of the interior, the "million dollar staircase" that actually<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/10/nyregion/a-tour-of-the-new-york-state-capitol.html?_r=0"> ran over</a> its million dollar budget, a part of a wall in the central hall with water cascading down it, a McDonald’s, and a Dunkin Donuts all inside the building’s winding halls.</p> <p dir="ltr">After waiting just long enough for members of the group to become bored enough to flip through a copy of the New York Post lying on Lanza’s waiting room table in search of the tabloid’s Met Gala photos, the group’s captain and the CFB’s public affairs officer, Amanda Melillo, was told that Lanza would be free later on, and to come back any time. (When the group returned about an hour later, Melillo was told that the senator was busy and instructed to leave some material for Lanza to read).</p> <p dir="ltr">The group wound back through the halls, stairs, elevators, and escalators of the disorienting Legislative Office Building and its connecting tunnels to their next meeting, with Senator Simcha Felder. The Brooklyn senator is perhaps the most important person determining the upper house’s balance of power - he’s elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans, and has recently created a 32-member majority in the 63-seat chamber.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Oh, I’m sorry, I was teaching him how to tap dance,” said an aide who stopped striking the floor with her foot and moved to stand behind the main desk in Felder’s waiting room upon the group’s arrival.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though the group was scheduled to meet with Felder himself in about ten minutes, with his tap dancing lesson cut short, Robert Farley, senior counsel in the New York State Senate, offered to meet with the group right away instead.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gotham Gazette remained for this meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes. Throughout the discussion, Farley expressed skepticism, disapproval, or outright rejection of every voting reform put forth by the group.</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo and others spoke about the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections">many issues New York City voters</a> encountered during the April 19 primary, including the fact that some 126,000 Democratic voters in Brooklyn had been removed from the voter rolls, and that many New Yorkers had showed up to the polls on election day, only to be told that they were not registered to vote and must sign an affidavit ballot instead.</p> <p dir="ltr">“A lot of people think they’re registered and they’re not,” Farley said, generally dismissing the group’s assertion that many of these people were registered to vote and were unable to cast a regular ballot. The bills at hand would, in part, make it easier to register to vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">One member of the group, Rosa Velez, told Farley that she had worked as a poll worker on several occasions, including during New York’s most recent primary, said she “had so many people cursing me out at the primary - it was so stressful, people would walk in and I would just hope their name was on the list.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“One woman who showed up to vote showed me on her phone that she was registered, but her name wasn’t on the list,” Velez added. “I told her she could fill out an affidavit, but she said, “no, f*** this, I’ve been voting for nine years, I want to vote the regular way.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo and Daniel Cho, director of candidate services at the CFB, then brought up online voter registration, and the potential of online and automatic voter registration to increase the number of registered voters and reduce the number of clerical errors made with the current mostly pen-and-paper system.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Every time you do reform, there’s going to be problems,” Farley responded. “I don’t know how much doing another reform actually is going to change the problem, with people not doing their jobs right at the Board of Elections.” Farley added that electronic voter registration has its problems as well, citing the potential for hacking or voter fraud.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m a tech guy, I love technology,” Farley said, gesturing un-ironically to the decade old desktop computers in his office, one of which was displaying bubbles bouncing around the screen. “But tech in and of itself can create more problems.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Resigned, the group brought up New York’s closed primaries and early party change deadlines (New York is the only state where the deadline to change one’s party does not even fall within the same calendar year as the primary). Farley also didn’t believe open primaries or a later party change date would benefit New Yorkers, citing concerns of voters switching parties to game an election by voting against a candidate they didn’t like.</p> <p dir="ltr">When early voting was brought up, Farley said “We do have early voting, we have absentee voting,” and dismissed assertions that absentee voting in New York requires an excuse. “The BOE never checks,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Somewhat dismayed by Farley’s lack of receptiveness to any of the voting reforms Vote Better NY was there to promote, the group headed to meet with Jacob Wilkinson, counsel to Senator David Valesky, a Syracuse-area Democrat. Wilkinson was more open to hearing what members of CFB and DYCD NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers had to say, taking a photo with the group and expressing support for early voting, though he shared some of Farley’s reservations about open primaries. “The restrictions on voting are a little silly and backwards, except open primaries, that’s a different story,” Wilkinson said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Before heading out, the Vote Better NY coalition delivered a<a href="https://www.change.org/p/andrew-cuomo-new-york-state-senate-new-york-state-assembly-vote-better-new-york?recruiter=394849197&amp;utm_source=share_petition&amp;utm_medium=copylink"> petition</a> for reform signed by more than 6,500 New Yorkers to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo says Vote Better NY branched out in terms of the legislators they sought to meet with this year, including more upstate representatives like Valesky.</p> <p dir="ltr">Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs at the CFB, was part of the group that met with staff to Flanagan, Cuomo, and Heastie. He said that Flanagan’s staff had expressed reservations similar to those Farley had about passing voting reform - namely, concerns about the cost, whether they would be unfunded mandates, and questions about potential for voter fraud.</p> <p dir="ltr">After meeting with lawmakers, those who had come along with the Vote Better NY coalition boarded their respective buses back to New York City around 4:30 in the afternoon, though the buses didn’t take off till about twenty minutes later, when a man carrying several pizza boxes across West Capitol Park handed the food to Melillo and other NYC Votes members.</p> <p dir="ltr">The voting reform advocates who went to Albany on Tuesday included members of good government groups like NYPIRG and the League of Women Voters, civic engagement groups like Dominicanos USA and Generation Citizen, students, fraternity and sorority chapters, engaged citizens, and other groups like the NAACP and the New York Immigration Coalition.</p> <p dir="ltr">“At the end of the day,” Friedman said on the bus ride back, “you want there to be the same concern for folks who are shut out of the process” as there is for the cost of funding and implementing voting reform bills. “Making sure the election system works for everyone shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The system that we have in place works for the people in power,” Friedman continued, adding that sustained momentum is needed to make more modernized election laws a reality for New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s not enough for lawmakers who say they support voting reform to pass “a one house bill,” Friedman said, the question is, “are you going to make it a priority in that room, are you going to put it on the table?” referring to negotiating rooms.</p> <p dir="ltr">The early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a8582">bill</a> active in the Assembly is sponsored by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, and has seven Democratic co-sponsors. Early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s3813/amendment/b">in the Senate</a> is sponsored by Stewart-Cousins and co-sponsored by 16 other Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Empowerment Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a5972">active</a> in the Assembly is sponsored by Kavanagh and co-sponsored by 17 other Democrats and one Independence Party member, Fred Thiele. The Voter Empowerment Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s2538/amendment/b" target="_blank">active</a>&nbsp;in the Senate is sponsored by Gianaris and co-sponsored by 17 other Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Friendly Ballot Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a3389">active</a> in the Assembly is sponsored by Kavanagh and co-sponsored by 20 Democrats. The Voter Friendly Ballot Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/S7086">active</a> in the Senate is sponsored by Tony Avella, a member of the IDC, and co-sponsored by three mainline Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p>With the most recent budget negotiated, lawmakers are now in the legislative session that runs until the middle of June. The entire state Legislature - 63 Senate and 150 Assembly seats - is up for election in the fall.</p> <p>“The individual legislators need to stand up and support these bills as much as possible,” Friedman concluded as the bus came to a stop outside the CFB’s building on Church Street around 7 p.m.</p> <p>

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to list the accurate sponsorship numbers of the early voting, voter empowerment, and voter friendly ballot acts.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/vote_better_ny_dalton_political_nyc_votes.jpg" width="600" height="339" alt="vote better ny dalton political nyc votes" /></p> <p>Students in Albany to lobby for voting and registration reform (#VoteBetterNY)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Before dawn on a cold and rainy May morning, about 175 New Yorkers gathered outside a building on Church Street, waiting to board a bus to Albany. Some had left their Staten Island and Queens homes as early as 4 a.m. to make departure on time, others had taken the day off work or school, all were there for the same reason: to meet with state lawmakers and convince them to modernize New York’s antiquated election laws.</p> <p dir="ltr">Four buses pulled into the state capital a few hours later and members of the<a href="http://www.votebetterny.org/"> Vote Better NY coalition</a> lined up on the stairs of West Capitol Park, behind the New York State Capitol Building, for a rally calling for passage of legislation to enact early voting, automatic voter registration, and better ballot design. These reforms, advocates say, would help to increase New York’s dismal voter turnout by making it far easier for New Yorkers to register to vote and to cast their ballots. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The May 3 trip to Albany, the rally, and the 74 meetings with legislators and the governor’s office scheduled for the day were organized by NYC Votes, the non-partisan voter engagement campaign of the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Tuesday marked the third annual NYC Votes lobby day, wherein New York City residents head north to Albany by the busload to push for voting reform, and the delegation has nearly doubled in size since last year when about 100 people attended, up from about 50 the first year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We still vote like it’s the 19th century and voters are sick and tired of election laws designed to benefit elected officials, rather than the voters,” said Onida Coward Mayers, director of voter assistance at NYC Votes.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You know how they say, ‘there’s an app for that’? Well, there’s an act for that,” Mayers said, referring to the<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass"> Voter Empowerment Act</a>, a voting reform bill package that would expand online registration, allow certain government agencies to automatically register citizens to vote, extend party change and registration deadlines, and permit pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. “Voters in 37 other states have early voting,” Mayers added, “Why not New York?”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Vote Better NY coalition was joined for its rally by two state Assembly members and four state Senators, all of whom have either introduced or sponsored voting reform bills supported by the coalition, some of which have passed in the Democratic-controlled Assembly for years, only to die every time in the Republican-led Senate. The exclusively Democratic group of lawmakers present at the rally made their support for voting reform clear as ever, and repeatedly expressed exasperation at the lack of support for such reforms from their colleagues “across the aisle,” creating a situation where those who profess their support for voting reform offload all of the blame for the lack of movement on the reforms onto those who do not support the legislation.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We get it, we are sponsoring these bills, we have been trying to get [reform] through for years,” said Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “The last time we were able to do something significant [on voting reform] was when Democrats had the [Senate] majority.”</p> <p dir="ltr">There has been record turnout in nearly every state that has voted in primary elections so far in the presidential race, Senator Michael Gianaris said, except New York. The Empire State has the<a href="http://www.electproject.org/2016P"> second lowest turnout rate</a> of any state so far this year, with just 19.7 percent of the voting eligible population casting a ballot. “All these other states, where they’ve enacted these reforms, have record turnout. The answers are simple, they’re staring us in the face,” Gianaris said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Why is it so hard to do something that should be so easy?” Gianaris asked, referring to getting these “common-sense” voting reforms passed. “Because there’s a lot of people in that building who want fewer people to vote because it benefits them winning,” Gianaris said, gesturing toward the collection of government buildings in the Empire State Plaza.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it’s true that many Senate Republicans either don’t support or outright oppose many of the voting reform bills that have been introduced time and again in Albany, as Democratic Senator Brad Hoylman said when pressed to specify who was “standing in the way” of these reforms becoming law, “It’s important that everyone here get the Senators and Assembly members on the record as to whether they oppose or support extending the franchise…We can go to each Senator, Republican and Democrat, and ask them to cosponsor these bills.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kavanagh_voter_better_ny.jpg" width="300" height="264" alt="kavanagh voter better ny" style="margin: 8px; float: left;" />After the rally, members of the Vote Better NY coalition set out to change the minds of those not on board themselves, breaking off into groups of six or seven and heading into the labyrinth of the Legislative Office Building to meet with lawmakers. They were armed with messages of enfranchisement and efficiency, and checklists of legislators who have said they support early voting, the Voter Empowerment Act, and the Voter Friendly Ballot Act.</p> <p dir="ltr">One group, made up of three members of the New York City Campaign Finance Board and three representatives from DYCD NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers, had their first meeting of the day with Senator Jeff Klein’s office. The meeting apparently went well, though Gotham Gazette can’t say for sure, as Dan Levin, assistant counsel to Klein, said their office “doesn’t do meetings with reporters,” and asked this reporter to wait outside, despite offers not to take any notes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Members of the voting reform group expressed frustration with the fact that, though Klein’s counsel said the Senator is supportive of the voting reform bills, as leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, Klein could do more to get Senate Republicans to support such reforms. The IDC and Senate Republicans have a power-sharing agreement that gives the five-member IDC more sway than mainline Democrats, who are led by Stewart-Cousins. Klein has not signed on as a sponsor of any Vote Better NY bills.</p> <p dir="ltr">After the meeting with Levin, the group left Klein’s office, heading toward a newly-booked meeting with Senator Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican.</p> <p dir="ltr">“They call this ‘the million dollar staircase,’” one aide from Klein’s office quipped as she walked past the group, “because they say it cost a million dollars.” The inside of the connected government buildings that spanned the Empire State Plaza are more ornate than their gray exteriors with dark, thin windows, let on - white marble spans the majority of the interior, the "million dollar staircase" that actually<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/10/nyregion/a-tour-of-the-new-york-state-capitol.html?_r=0"> ran over</a> its million dollar budget, a part of a wall in the central hall with water cascading down it, a McDonald’s, and a Dunkin Donuts all inside the building’s winding halls.</p> <p dir="ltr">After waiting just long enough for members of the group to become bored enough to flip through a copy of the New York Post lying on Lanza’s waiting room table in search of the tabloid’s Met Gala photos, the group’s captain and the CFB’s public affairs officer, Amanda Melillo, was told that Lanza would be free later on, and to come back any time. (When the group returned about an hour later, Melillo was told that the senator was busy and instructed to leave some material for Lanza to read).</p> <p dir="ltr">The group wound back through the halls, stairs, elevators, and escalators of the disorienting Legislative Office Building and its connecting tunnels to their next meeting, with Senator Simcha Felder. The Brooklyn senator is perhaps the most important person determining the upper house’s balance of power - he’s elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans, and has recently created a 32-member majority in the 63-seat chamber.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Oh, I’m sorry, I was teaching him how to tap dance,” said an aide who stopped striking the floor with her foot and moved to stand behind the main desk in Felder’s waiting room upon the group’s arrival.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though the group was scheduled to meet with Felder himself in about ten minutes, with his tap dancing lesson cut short, Robert Farley, senior counsel in the New York State Senate, offered to meet with the group right away instead.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gotham Gazette remained for this meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes. Throughout the discussion, Farley expressed skepticism, disapproval, or outright rejection of every voting reform put forth by the group.</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo and others spoke about the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections">many issues New York City voters</a> encountered during the April 19 primary, including the fact that some 126,000 Democratic voters in Brooklyn had been removed from the voter rolls, and that many New Yorkers had showed up to the polls on election day, only to be told that they were not registered to vote and must sign an affidavit ballot instead.</p> <p dir="ltr">“A lot of people think they’re registered and they’re not,” Farley said, generally dismissing the group’s assertion that many of these people were registered to vote and were unable to cast a regular ballot. The bills at hand would, in part, make it easier to register to vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">One member of the group, Rosa Velez, told Farley that she had worked as a poll worker on several occasions, including during New York’s most recent primary, said she “had so many people cursing me out at the primary - it was so stressful, people would walk in and I would just hope their name was on the list.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“One woman who showed up to vote showed me on her phone that she was registered, but her name wasn’t on the list,” Velez added. “I told her she could fill out an affidavit, but she said, “no, f*** this, I’ve been voting for nine years, I want to vote the regular way.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo and Daniel Cho, director of candidate services at the CFB, then brought up online voter registration, and the potential of online and automatic voter registration to increase the number of registered voters and reduce the number of clerical errors made with the current mostly pen-and-paper system.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Every time you do reform, there’s going to be problems,” Farley responded. “I don’t know how much doing another reform actually is going to change the problem, with people not doing their jobs right at the Board of Elections.” Farley added that electronic voter registration has its problems as well, citing the potential for hacking or voter fraud.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m a tech guy, I love technology,” Farley said, gesturing un-ironically to the decade old desktop computers in his office, one of which was displaying bubbles bouncing around the screen. “But tech in and of itself can create more problems.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Resigned, the group brought up New York’s closed primaries and early party change deadlines (New York is the only state where the deadline to change one’s party does not even fall within the same calendar year as the primary). Farley also didn’t believe open primaries or a later party change date would benefit New Yorkers, citing concerns of voters switching parties to game an election by voting against a candidate they didn’t like.</p> <p dir="ltr">When early voting was brought up, Farley said “We do have early voting, we have absentee voting,” and dismissed assertions that absentee voting in New York requires an excuse. “The BOE never checks,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Somewhat dismayed by Farley’s lack of receptiveness to any of the voting reforms Vote Better NY was there to promote, the group headed to meet with Jacob Wilkinson, counsel to Senator David Valesky, a Syracuse-area Democrat. Wilkinson was more open to hearing what members of CFB and DYCD NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers had to say, taking a photo with the group and expressing support for early voting, though he shared some of Farley’s reservations about open primaries. “The restrictions on voting are a little silly and backwards, except open primaries, that’s a different story,” Wilkinson said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Before heading out, the Vote Better NY coalition delivered a<a href="https://www.change.org/p/andrew-cuomo-new-york-state-senate-new-york-state-assembly-vote-better-new-york?recruiter=394849197&amp;utm_source=share_petition&amp;utm_medium=copylink"> petition</a> for reform signed by more than 6,500 New Yorkers to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo says Vote Better NY branched out in terms of the legislators they sought to meet with this year, including more upstate representatives like Valesky.</p> <p dir="ltr">Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs at the CFB, was part of the group that met with staff to Flanagan, Cuomo, and Heastie. He said that Flanagan’s staff had expressed reservations similar to those Farley had about passing voting reform - namely, concerns about the cost, whether they would be unfunded mandates, and questions about potential for voter fraud.</p> <p dir="ltr">After meeting with lawmakers, those who had come along with the Vote Better NY coalition boarded their respective buses back to New York City around 4:30 in the afternoon, though the buses didn’t take off till about twenty minutes later, when a man carrying several pizza boxes across West Capitol Park handed the food to Melillo and other NYC Votes members.</p> <p dir="ltr">The voting reform advocates who went to Albany on Tuesday included members of good government groups like NYPIRG and the League of Women Voters, civic engagement groups like Dominicanos USA and Generation Citizen, students, fraternity and sorority chapters, engaged citizens, and other groups like the NAACP and the New York Immigration Coalition.</p> <p dir="ltr">“At the end of the day,” Friedman said on the bus ride back, “you want there to be the same concern for folks who are shut out of the process” as there is for the cost of funding and implementing voting reform bills. “Making sure the election system works for everyone shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The system that we have in place works for the people in power,” Friedman continued, adding that sustained momentum is needed to make more modernized election laws a reality for New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s not enough for lawmakers who say they support voting reform to pass “a one house bill,” Friedman said, the question is, “are you going to make it a priority in that room, are you going to put it on the table?” referring to negotiating rooms.</p> <p dir="ltr">The early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a8582">bill</a> active in the Assembly is sponsored by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, and has seven Democratic co-sponsors. Early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s3813/amendment/b">in the Senate</a> is sponsored by Stewart-Cousins and co-sponsored by 16 other Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Empowerment Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a5972">active</a> in the Assembly is sponsored by Kavanagh and co-sponsored by 17 other Democrats and one Independence Party member, Fred Thiele. The Voter Empowerment Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s2538/amendment/b" target="_blank">active</a>&nbsp;in the Senate is sponsored by Gianaris and co-sponsored by 17 other Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Friendly Ballot Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a3389">active</a> in the Assembly is sponsored by Kavanagh and co-sponsored by 20 Democrats. The Voter Friendly Ballot Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/S7086">active</a> in the Senate is sponsored by Tony Avella, a member of the IDC, and co-sponsored by three mainline Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p>With the most recent budget negotiated, lawmakers are now in the legislative session that runs until the middle of June. The entire state Legislature - 63 Senate and 150 Assembly seats - is up for election in the fall.</p> <p>“The individual legislators need to stand up and support these bills as much as possible,” Friedman concluded as the bus came to a stop outside the CFB’s building on Church Street around 7 p.m.</p> <p>

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to list the accurate sponsorship numbers of the early voting, voter empowerment, and voter friendly ballot acts.</p>
Hearing Advances Reforms to City Campaign Finance System 2016-05-02T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-02T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6315:hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24299679141_892bf82d7e_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="kallos computer" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">As Mayor Bill de Blasio is mired in controversy over his fundraising activities and proximity to lobbyists, the City Council is moving on bills to reduce the possibility of ‘pay-to-play’ campaign financing and make significant tweaks to strengthen an already-robust public-matching system.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations held a hearing on Monday to examine <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6282-campaign-finance-reform-bills-to-be-heard" target="_blank">a package of eight bills</a> that would reform campaign finance rules and improve the city’s public matching funds program, which, though it has some critics, is often held up as a national model.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=481585&amp;GUID=83DF4002-3B45-4F8C-92CA-119A05128314&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">The bills</a>, introduced in November, aim to implement recommendations made by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (NYCCFB) after the 2013 city election cycle. Perhaps most notably, the bills would eliminate public matching funds for contributions bundled by people who do business with the city, provide earlier public matching funds to candidates, and improve disclosure requirements for companies or people that own entities that do business with the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee and prime sponsor of three of the bills, was particularly concerned about Intro. 985-A, his proposal to limit the influence of bundlers.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think it’s a matter of the public who want their voices to be louder than those of special interests to let their elected officials know that they need to sign on to this bill and they need to bring it to the floor of the Council,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette after the hearing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kallos got a boost during the hearing when Council Member David Greenfield asked to be added as a sponsor to the bill. The next step will be to drum up support from other Council members and, most importantly, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito before the bills can be voted through committee and head to the full Council. The process is still in its initial stages as the committee took expert testimony Monday, Greenfield would become just the fourth Council member, of 51, to sponsor <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2513778&amp;GUID=36CA4EF6-E001-428C-9344-AD6C9A5FE3F2&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">985-A</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Almost everyone who testified seemed to acknowledge that 985-A and Intro. 986, the early matching funds bill, were the more significant proposals. A number of good government groups also came out in support of the entire legislative package.</p> <p dir="ltr">Prudence Katze, research and policy manager for Common Cause New York, commended the city and the campaign finance board for progress administering “accessible” and “clean” local elections. “But, we still have many ways to improve and the bills before the Council today all go towards plugging the holes that still exist,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, also backed all the bills, but said 985-A was possibly the most “meaningful” and should be the Council’s number one priority. “It’s a common sense, much-needed piece of legislation, even more so given the rising scandals, the growing crime wave of corruption we see here in Albany that now seems to have reached down into New York City,” Dadey said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Campaign Finance Board reps strongly praised all the bills, albeit calling for the early matching funds bill to only go into effect after the 2017 elections so that all involved in the program can be properly prepared. Kallos said he was willing to make this change. “City lawmakers have regularly refreshed and updated the [campaign finance] program,” said Amy Loprest, executive director, NYCCFB, “ensuring it stays relevant as city campaigns and elections evolve.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Loprest also listed a number of measures the board has recently initiated to improve the system, including the implementation of an online contribution platform to help donors comply with campaign finance regulations, improved disclosure software, increased candidate trainings, and timely enforcement.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The bills before the committee today will help modernize the program,” Loprest said. “They will remove outdated or unnecessary requirements the law imposes on campaigns, help candidates better plan their campaigns, and importantly, they will strengthen the law’s protections against the influence of pay-to-play.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In a sign that the legislative package is likely to move forward, Henry Berger, special counsel to Mayor de Blasio, expressed the administration’s support for the eight bills “with a few technical corrections.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Berger noted, however, that the proposals do not address the CFB’s reliance on post-election auditing and enforcement procedures “which threaten the proper administration of public matching fund payments.” Noting that the CFB only started issuing audit reports for 2013 public fund recipients in May of 2015, he stated the administration’s interest in working with the Council on legislation to ensure that the CFB completes enforcement and payment determinations sooner in the election cycle. “Rather than piecemeal adjustments, the city needs a comprehensive overhaul to give every candidate a full and fair opportunity to respond to and resolve specific allegations in a timely manner before the election,” Berger said. “No candidate should be deprived of any public matching funds he or she has earned on the basis of unresolved allegations.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The hearing also saw consideration of two resolutions, sponsored by Kallos, calling on the state Legislature to pass the Voter Empowerment Act (VEA) and a constitutional amendment that would establish no-excuse absentee voting in the state. The VEA is a joint effort by State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, who was at the hearing. The omnibus bill would provide automatic voter registration and online registration, and change the state’s deadlines for people to register and choose their party enrollment. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">When Kallos asked what the city could do to help push these bills in Albany, Kavanagh appealed to Council members to drum up public support and to urge their Assembly member to join his effort before the end of the legislative session in Albany on June 16. The CFB’s voter outreach arm, NYC Votes, is helping to lead a lobbying coalition to Albany on Tuesday in support of the VEA.</p> <p>“Hope springs eternal,” said Kavanagh, pointing out the extra attention these issues have received because of the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank">primary election day debacle</a>. “What we need candidly is public pressure,” he added.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24299679141_892bf82d7e_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="kallos computer" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">As Mayor Bill de Blasio is mired in controversy over his fundraising activities and proximity to lobbyists, the City Council is moving on bills to reduce the possibility of ‘pay-to-play’ campaign financing and make significant tweaks to strengthen an already-robust public-matching system.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations held a hearing on Monday to examine <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6282-campaign-finance-reform-bills-to-be-heard" target="_blank">a package of eight bills</a> that would reform campaign finance rules and improve the city’s public matching funds program, which, though it has some critics, is often held up as a national model.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=481585&amp;GUID=83DF4002-3B45-4F8C-92CA-119A05128314&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">The bills</a>, introduced in November, aim to implement recommendations made by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (NYCCFB) after the 2013 city election cycle. Perhaps most notably, the bills would eliminate public matching funds for contributions bundled by people who do business with the city, provide earlier public matching funds to candidates, and improve disclosure requirements for companies or people that own entities that do business with the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee and prime sponsor of three of the bills, was particularly concerned about Intro. 985-A, his proposal to limit the influence of bundlers.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think it’s a matter of the public who want their voices to be louder than those of special interests to let their elected officials know that they need to sign on to this bill and they need to bring it to the floor of the Council,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette after the hearing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kallos got a boost during the hearing when Council Member David Greenfield asked to be added as a sponsor to the bill. The next step will be to drum up support from other Council members and, most importantly, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito before the bills can be voted through committee and head to the full Council. The process is still in its initial stages as the committee took expert testimony Monday, Greenfield would become just the fourth Council member, of 51, to sponsor <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2513778&amp;GUID=36CA4EF6-E001-428C-9344-AD6C9A5FE3F2&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">985-A</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Almost everyone who testified seemed to acknowledge that 985-A and Intro. 986, the early matching funds bill, were the more significant proposals. A number of good government groups also came out in support of the entire legislative package.</p> <p dir="ltr">Prudence Katze, research and policy manager for Common Cause New York, commended the city and the campaign finance board for progress administering “accessible” and “clean” local elections. “But, we still have many ways to improve and the bills before the Council today all go towards plugging the holes that still exist,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, also backed all the bills, but said 985-A was possibly the most “meaningful” and should be the Council’s number one priority. “It’s a common sense, much-needed piece of legislation, even more so given the rising scandals, the growing crime wave of corruption we see here in Albany that now seems to have reached down into New York City,” Dadey said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Campaign Finance Board reps strongly praised all the bills, albeit calling for the early matching funds bill to only go into effect after the 2017 elections so that all involved in the program can be properly prepared. Kallos said he was willing to make this change. “City lawmakers have regularly refreshed and updated the [campaign finance] program,” said Amy Loprest, executive director, NYCCFB, “ensuring it stays relevant as city campaigns and elections evolve.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Loprest also listed a number of measures the board has recently initiated to improve the system, including the implementation of an online contribution platform to help donors comply with campaign finance regulations, improved disclosure software, increased candidate trainings, and timely enforcement.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The bills before the committee today will help modernize the program,” Loprest said. “They will remove outdated or unnecessary requirements the law imposes on campaigns, help candidates better plan their campaigns, and importantly, they will strengthen the law’s protections against the influence of pay-to-play.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In a sign that the legislative package is likely to move forward, Henry Berger, special counsel to Mayor de Blasio, expressed the administration’s support for the eight bills “with a few technical corrections.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Berger noted, however, that the proposals do not address the CFB’s reliance on post-election auditing and enforcement procedures “which threaten the proper administration of public matching fund payments.” Noting that the CFB only started issuing audit reports for 2013 public fund recipients in May of 2015, he stated the administration’s interest in working with the Council on legislation to ensure that the CFB completes enforcement and payment determinations sooner in the election cycle. “Rather than piecemeal adjustments, the city needs a comprehensive overhaul to give every candidate a full and fair opportunity to respond to and resolve specific allegations in a timely manner before the election,” Berger said. “No candidate should be deprived of any public matching funds he or she has earned on the basis of unresolved allegations.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The hearing also saw consideration of two resolutions, sponsored by Kallos, calling on the state Legislature to pass the Voter Empowerment Act (VEA) and a constitutional amendment that would establish no-excuse absentee voting in the state. The VEA is a joint effort by State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, who was at the hearing. The omnibus bill would provide automatic voter registration and online registration, and change the state’s deadlines for people to register and choose their party enrollment. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">When Kallos asked what the city could do to help push these bills in Albany, Kavanagh appealed to Council members to drum up public support and to urge their Assembly member to join his effort before the end of the legislative session in Albany on June 16. The CFB’s voter outreach arm, NYC Votes, is helping to lead a lobbying coalition to Albany on Tuesday in support of the VEA.</p> <p>“Hope springs eternal,” said Kavanagh, pointing out the extra attention these issues have received because of the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank">primary election day debacle</a>. “What we need candidly is public pressure,” he added.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
Decision Opens New York to Widespread Online Voter Registration 2016-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 2016-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6305:decision-opens-new-york-to-widespread-online-voter-registration Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18360927221_88b5f07873_z.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="schneiderman rally" /></p> <p dir="ltr">AG Schneiderman (photo via AG's office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">The office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued an opinion on Tuesday concluding that online voter registration is permitted by state law.</p> <p dir="ltr">The opinion comes as a response to a request sent from Suffolk County to the Attorney General’s office in February for advice on whether implementing online registration, including the use of electronically handwritten signatures, would be allowed under state election law.</p> <p dir="ltr">Schneiderman’s go-ahead to Suffolk means the county is free to expand online registration. “Thanks to this opinion from Attorney General Schneiderman,” said Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone, “we can explore avenues to make voter registration more modern and help increase participation in our democracy.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Currently,<a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/electronic-or-online-voter-registration.aspx" target="_blank"> 31 states and Washington, D.C.</a> offer online registration. New York is one of those states, however, voters can only register online through the Department of Motor Vehicles and must have a driver’s license, learner’s permit, or a non-driver ID card to register that way. The opinion from Schneiderman’s office allows counties to offer widespread online registration.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, the DMV’s voter registration system is<a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/electronic-or-online-voter-registration.aspx#c" target="_blank"> not entirely paperless</a>, as paper forms are still exchanged between the DMV and the State Board of Elections, meaning the administrative process is still paper-based, which<a href="http://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/vrm-states-new-york" target="_blank"> runs the risk</a> of losing forms or data entry errors from processing hand-written applications.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We ought to modernize the election laws so that both registering initially and maintaining and updating the registration can be done online and automatically,” Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsors several voting reform bills, told Gotham Gazette during an interview earlier this month. “Both to give voters more control over the process and to minimize the extent to which there are errors in the rolls resulting from clerical errors from paper applications.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The conclusion from Schneiderman’s office won’t do much to eliminate clerical errors from paper applications, however, as the<a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-opinion-advising-legality-online-voter-registration" target="_blank"> opinion</a> stipulates that, while voters may electronically sign their registration form, the registration form must still be “mailed to the board of elections by the applicant or a third-party.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Schneiderman hailed the opinion as one that opens the door to electronic signatures and expanded online voter registration drives. “At a time in New York where our citizens experience too many barriers to participation, I am gratified that this opinion invites a new era of truly online voter registration, an incredibly exciting step that will help make the state election process more accessible and simpler for all,” Schneiderman said in a statement announcing the opinion.</p> <p dir="ltr">The announcement was applauded by Citizens Union, a government reform group. Its executive director, Dick Dadey, said in a statement that accompanied the attorney general’s notice, “We are thrilled that Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has issued an advisory opinion stating what Citizens Union has long held – that current state law permits the use of an electronic handwritten signature for the purposes of registering to vote.”</p> <p dir="ltr">According to Dadey, “The consequence of this opinion will hopefully increase ease of access to casting a vote and encourage many New Yorkers not only to register, which has been an outdated and cumbersome process for many, but also exercise their civic duty to vote. After many years of being able to pay their income taxes online, New Yorkers will be pleased to know that they now can register to vote online.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember Kavanagh and state Senate Deputy Minority Leader Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, have pushed for years for the passage of the<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank"> Voter Empowerment Act</a>, which would expand online registration, among other reforms, yet the political will to reform New York’s outdated registration system has not been present in Albany.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Empowerment Act would expand online registration and require the state Board of Elections to make certain registration information available to voters online so they may update their information over the internet, which could improve the accuracy of New York voter rolls by reducing the number of outdated or duplicate registration records. It would also save the state and counties money by reducing<a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/in-the-news/michael-gianaris/voter-empowerment-act-introduced" target="_blank"> costs</a> involved with processing voter registration and maintaining an accurate list with the current error prone, paper-based registration system.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kavanagh is hopeful that with the renewed focus on New York City’s<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank"> dysfunctional Board of Elections</a> and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s inclusion of proposals for early voting and automatic voter registration in his State of the State address, progress on the<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank"> long list of voting reform bills</a> in Albany may happen this year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I do think that<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank"> what has happened</a> leading up to the presidential [election] may be a spur for many real changes,” Kavanagh said, “A lot of people heard these concerns - legislators, the administration, the Board, and the press - so I do hope that this will be the start of some changes.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The opinion from Schneiderman’s office comes one week after his his office's voter complaint hotline received a<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank"> record number of complaints</a> due to numerous errors made by the city Board of Elections during and leading up to the presidential primaries.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to Schneiderman, his office ”received more than one thousand complaints" on election day, meaning about six and a half times more complaints were received that day alone than during the 2012 general election (150 complaints total in 2012).</p> <p dir="ltr">Persistent problems with the BOE has led both City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Schneiderman to<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank"> open investigations</a> into an agency that Stringer has called “consistently disorganized, chaotic, and ineffective.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has also<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/de-blasio-makes-20-million-available-boe-implement-reforms-hes-proposing/" target="_blank"> offered the BOE an additional $20 million in “incentive funding</a>,” which the BOE may only accept on the condition that the agency signs a binding agreement to work with an outside consultant and elections experts to “identify and rectify systemic challenges within the organization.”</p> <p>

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18360927221_88b5f07873_z.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="schneiderman rally" /></p> <p dir="ltr">AG Schneiderman (photo via AG's office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">The office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued an opinion on Tuesday concluding that online voter registration is permitted by state law.</p> <p dir="ltr">The opinion comes as a response to a request sent from Suffolk County to the Attorney General’s office in February for advice on whether implementing online registration, including the use of electronically handwritten signatures, would be allowed under state election law.</p> <p dir="ltr">Schneiderman’s go-ahead to Suffolk means the county is free to expand online registration. “Thanks to this opinion from Attorney General Schneiderman,” said Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone, “we can explore avenues to make voter registration more modern and help increase participation in our democracy.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Currently,<a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/electronic-or-online-voter-registration.aspx" target="_blank"> 31 states and Washington, D.C.</a> offer online registration. New York is one of those states, however, voters can only register online through the Department of Motor Vehicles and must have a driver’s license, learner’s permit, or a non-driver ID card to register that way. The opinion from Schneiderman’s office allows counties to offer widespread online registration.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, the DMV’s voter registration system is<a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/electronic-or-online-voter-registration.aspx#c" target="_blank"> not entirely paperless</a>, as paper forms are still exchanged between the DMV and the State Board of Elections, meaning the administrative process is still paper-based, which<a href="http://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/vrm-states-new-york" target="_blank"> runs the risk</a> of losing forms or data entry errors from processing hand-written applications.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We ought to modernize the election laws so that both registering initially and maintaining and updating the registration can be done online and automatically,” Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsors several voting reform bills, told Gotham Gazette during an interview earlier this month. “Both to give voters more control over the process and to minimize the extent to which there are errors in the rolls resulting from clerical errors from paper applications.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The conclusion from Schneiderman’s office won’t do much to eliminate clerical errors from paper applications, however, as the<a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-opinion-advising-legality-online-voter-registration" target="_blank"> opinion</a> stipulates that, while voters may electronically sign their registration form, the registration form must still be “mailed to the board of elections by the applicant or a third-party.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Schneiderman hailed the opinion as one that opens the door to electronic signatures and expanded online voter registration drives. “At a time in New York where our citizens experience too many barriers to participation, I am gratified that this opinion invites a new era of truly online voter registration, an incredibly exciting step that will help make the state election process more accessible and simpler for all,” Schneiderman said in a statement announcing the opinion.</p> <p dir="ltr">The announcement was applauded by Citizens Union, a government reform group. Its executive director, Dick Dadey, said in a statement that accompanied the attorney general’s notice, “We are thrilled that Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has issued an advisory opinion stating what Citizens Union has long held – that current state law permits the use of an electronic handwritten signature for the purposes of registering to vote.”</p> <p dir="ltr">According to Dadey, “The consequence of this opinion will hopefully increase ease of access to casting a vote and encourage many New Yorkers not only to register, which has been an outdated and cumbersome process for many, but also exercise their civic duty to vote. After many years of being able to pay their income taxes online, New Yorkers will be pleased to know that they now can register to vote online.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Assemblymember Kavanagh and state Senate Deputy Minority Leader Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, have pushed for years for the passage of the<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank"> Voter Empowerment Act</a>, which would expand online registration, among other reforms, yet the political will to reform New York’s outdated registration system has not been present in Albany.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Empowerment Act would expand online registration and require the state Board of Elections to make certain registration information available to voters online so they may update their information over the internet, which could improve the accuracy of New York voter rolls by reducing the number of outdated or duplicate registration records. It would also save the state and counties money by reducing<a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/in-the-news/michael-gianaris/voter-empowerment-act-introduced" target="_blank"> costs</a> involved with processing voter registration and maintaining an accurate list with the current error prone, paper-based registration system.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kavanagh is hopeful that with the renewed focus on New York City’s<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank"> dysfunctional Board of Elections</a> and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s inclusion of proposals for early voting and automatic voter registration in his State of the State address, progress on the<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank"> long list of voting reform bills</a> in Albany may happen this year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I do think that<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank"> what has happened</a> leading up to the presidential [election] may be a spur for many real changes,” Kavanagh said, “A lot of people heard these concerns - legislators, the administration, the Board, and the press - so I do hope that this will be the start of some changes.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The opinion from Schneiderman’s office comes one week after his his office's voter complaint hotline received a<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank"> record number of complaints</a> due to numerous errors made by the city Board of Elections during and leading up to the presidential primaries.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to Schneiderman, his office ”received more than one thousand complaints" on election day, meaning about six and a half times more complaints were received that day alone than during the 2012 general election (150 complaints total in 2012).</p> <p dir="ltr">Persistent problems with the BOE has led both City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Schneiderman to<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank"> open investigations</a> into an agency that Stringer has called “consistently disorganized, chaotic, and ineffective.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has also<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/de-blasio-makes-20-million-available-boe-implement-reforms-hes-proposing/" target="_blank"> offered the BOE an additional $20 million in “incentive funding</a>,” which the BOE may only accept on the condition that the agency signs a binding agreement to work with an outside consultant and elections experts to “identify and rectify systemic challenges within the organization.”</p> <p>

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>