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/early-voting 2017-10-17T11:10:21+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com As Session Nears End, Electoral Reforms Mostly Stalled & Cuomo Quiet 2017-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6972:as-session-nears-end-electoral-reforms-mostly-stalled-cuomo-quiet Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/22127912963_5f30becd97_z_3.jpg" alt="Cuomo voting 2015" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/04/cuomo-says-goodbye-to-albany-and-any-ethics-push-for-the-year-111271" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">prediction</a> that there is insufficient political will at the New York State Legislature to pass any significant voting reform measures this year may be coming to fruition.</p> <p>During the final weeks before the end of the legislative session, this year June 21 -- when lawmakers leave the Capitol and return to their districts for the remainder of the year -- there is typically a final thrust for policy measures that did not make it into the budget, which this year was passed in early April.</p> <p>On the electoral front, there has been a growing push from voting reform activists, civil rights organizations, and some Democratic elected officials to modernize New York’s arcane system, but, given the reluctance of Senate Republicans and, at least in part, Cuomo’s lack of prioritization of electoral reform despite saying in January he backs an ambitious agenda, major reforms appear to be elusive.</p> <p>Citing numerous barriers faced by voters during the 2016 elections, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Bill de Blasio have joined the call for Albany to pass meaningful electoral reform, a cause that has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6908-activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">championed</a> by other Democrats in the state Assembly majority and Senate minority.</p> <p>Democrats in both legislative houses have introduced a slew of voting reform bills -- including legislation on early voting, automatic voter registration, electronic poll books, and “no excuse” absentee ballots, among other measures -- as they do each year. While most <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/Press/20170515/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">passed</a> the Democrat-controlled Assembly, as usual, the efforts are stalled in the Senate, where Republicans control the chamber by a slim majority given the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who conferences with Republicans, and bolstered by the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) in a coalition agreement.</p> <p>The Senate has passed a significantly slimmer electoral package, most of which would do little to increase voter access or enhance voter registration.</p> <p>So far, the only electoral legislation passed in both houses would allow polling place inspectors to work eight-hour half-shifts, when previously they were made to work 16-hour days. It is a move intended to help Boards of Elections recruit staff and improve efficiency on election days.</p> <p>Another piece of legislation, sponsored by IDC Senator Diane Savino and Assemblymember Amy Paulin in their respective chambers, would require special ballots to be mailed to domestic violence victims and has passed each house’s election committee and is calendared for floor votes.</p> <p>The Assembly election committee <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?sh=agen2&amp;agenda=2017-06-02-20.51.46.129889&amp;ver=2017-06-02-20.51.46.188449&amp;ano=18&amp;com=Election%20Law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">is meeting</a> on Tuesday, June 6, to consider a dozen more electoral law changes.</p> <p>Other relatively minor pieces of electoral <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S1567/amendment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislation</a> close to being passed in both houses relate to the way candidates are listed on the ballot, the creation of an inventory of official campaign websites, and protecting the ballot information of domestic violence victims.</p> <p>One sign of the lack of agreement on major electoral reforms, though, relates to consolidating New York’s repetitive primary election days, a cause that has bipartisan support -- in theory. Both the Senate and Assembly have passed bills to consolidate federal and state primary elections -- a move projected to save the state $25 million and help increase voter turnout -- however the houses cannot disagree on which month to hold the joint election.</p> <p>The congressional primaries were split from state level primaries in 2012, when the federal MOVE Act mandated that federal elections allow sufficient time for absentee ballots from those in the army and overseas to be collected. The Assembly bill requires the joint primary to happen in June, in order to allow more absentee ballots to trickle in, while the Senate suggests an August date, which would still meet federal regulations. Democrats argue that the August date would suppress voter turnout given peoples’ summer vacations.</p> <p>The only bill designed to expand voter access that has advanced in the Senate is an early voting bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, which would allow eligible New Yorkers an additional seven-day window prior to election day to cast their ballots, but it too appears unlikely to reach the Senate floor.</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins’ bill, which mirrors legislation by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh that has passed the Assembly, would open poll sites for seven days ahead of election day, allowing one day in between the early voting period and elections. Each county, depending on its size, would be required to make at least one and up to seven polling sites available during that period.</p> <p>In March, when Stewart-Cousins forced the Senate election committee to vote on the measure, Democratic members of the committee voted to advance the bill to the Senate floor, only to have it diverted to the local government committee by GOP members. <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/05/01/senate-committee-advances-early-voting-bill-111684" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">As Politico wrote</a>, the majority conference is able to kill legislation without explicitly voting against it by pawning it off to another committee, which is unlikely to meet more than once or twice before the end of session and does not have to calendar a vote.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S3304" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A bill</a> for automatic voter registration, sponsored by Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens, was defeated after a vote was compelled in the same manner.</p> <p>While Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, unveiled a sweeping electoral reform agenda during his 2017 State of the State, by April, following the passage of the budget, he appeared to have lost any can-do, <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">telling reporters</a>, “There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget."</p> <p>This lack of enthusiasm on voting reform is echoed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Republican of Long Island, who, when asked recently by a reporter, noted the fiscal component of early voting. “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day?” he asked rhetorically. “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>While there is still time left in the legislative session, without Cuomo using his influence, movement on the issue in unlikely, according the Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group, one of the advocacy organizations lobbying for electoral reform.</p> <p>“Lawmakers don't have to face voters until next year so they are more likely to do popular things on even number years than odd number years. The governor has not shown a lot of leadership on this, so they haven't felt a lot of pressure,” Horner said.</p> <p>De Blasio, no ally of Cuomo, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> last week that he and unnamed partners intend “to launch a major effort” to see voting and election reforms passed in Albany by the end of the session.<br /><br />Cuomo’s office <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> that the governor continues to support modernizing the state’s electoral laws and will keep pushing for measures to do so despite their lack of movement through the Legislature. A spokesperson did not answer whether the governor would make any public push to see his desired electoral reforms passed.</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/22127912963_5f30becd97_z_3.jpg" alt="Cuomo voting 2015" width="600" height="390" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo’s <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/04/cuomo-says-goodbye-to-albany-and-any-ethics-push-for-the-year-111271" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">prediction</a> that there is insufficient political will at the New York State Legislature to pass any significant voting reform measures this year may be coming to fruition.</p> <p>During the final weeks before the end of the legislative session, this year June 21 -- when lawmakers leave the Capitol and return to their districts for the remainder of the year -- there is typically a final thrust for policy measures that did not make it into the budget, which this year was passed in early April.</p> <p>On the electoral front, there has been a growing push from voting reform activists, civil rights organizations, and some Democratic elected officials to modernize New York’s arcane system, but, given the reluctance of Senate Republicans and, at least in part, Cuomo’s lack of prioritization of electoral reform despite saying in January he backs an ambitious agenda, major reforms appear to be elusive.</p> <p>Citing numerous barriers faced by voters during the 2016 elections, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Bill de Blasio have joined the call for Albany to pass meaningful electoral reform, a cause that has been <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6908-activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">championed</a> by other Democrats in the state Assembly majority and Senate minority.</p> <p>Democrats in both legislative houses have introduced a slew of voting reform bills -- including legislation on early voting, automatic voter registration, electronic poll books, and “no excuse” absentee ballots, among other measures -- as they do each year. While most <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/Press/20170515/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">passed</a> the Democrat-controlled Assembly, as usual, the efforts are stalled in the Senate, where Republicans control the chamber by a slim majority given the help of Senator Simcha Felder, a nominal Democrat who conferences with Republicans, and bolstered by the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) in a coalition agreement.</p> <p>The Senate has passed a significantly slimmer electoral package, most of which would do little to increase voter access or enhance voter registration.</p> <p>So far, the only electoral legislation passed in both houses would allow polling place inspectors to work eight-hour half-shifts, when previously they were made to work 16-hour days. It is a move intended to help Boards of Elections recruit staff and improve efficiency on election days.</p> <p>Another piece of legislation, sponsored by IDC Senator Diane Savino and Assemblymember Amy Paulin in their respective chambers, would require special ballots to be mailed to domestic violence victims and has passed each house’s election committee and is calendared for floor votes.</p> <p>The Assembly election committee <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?sh=agen2&amp;agenda=2017-06-02-20.51.46.129889&amp;ver=2017-06-02-20.51.46.188449&amp;ano=18&amp;com=Election%20Law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">is meeting</a> on Tuesday, June 6, to consider a dozen more electoral law changes.</p> <p>Other relatively minor pieces of electoral <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S1567/amendment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislation</a> close to being passed in both houses relate to the way candidates are listed on the ballot, the creation of an inventory of official campaign websites, and protecting the ballot information of domestic violence victims.</p> <p>One sign of the lack of agreement on major electoral reforms, though, relates to consolidating New York’s repetitive primary election days, a cause that has bipartisan support -- in theory. Both the Senate and Assembly have passed bills to consolidate federal and state primary elections -- a move projected to save the state $25 million and help increase voter turnout -- however the houses cannot disagree on which month to hold the joint election.</p> <p>The congressional primaries were split from state level primaries in 2012, when the federal MOVE Act mandated that federal elections allow sufficient time for absentee ballots from those in the army and overseas to be collected. The Assembly bill requires the joint primary to happen in June, in order to allow more absentee ballots to trickle in, while the Senate suggests an August date, which would still meet federal regulations. Democrats argue that the August date would suppress voter turnout given peoples’ summer vacations.</p> <p>The only bill designed to expand voter access that has advanced in the Senate is an early voting bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, which would allow eligible New Yorkers an additional seven-day window prior to election day to cast their ballots, but it too appears unlikely to reach the Senate floor.</p> <p>Stewart-Cousins’ bill, which mirrors legislation by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh that has passed the Assembly, would open poll sites for seven days ahead of election day, allowing one day in between the early voting period and elections. Each county, depending on its size, would be required to make at least one and up to seven polling sites available during that period.</p> <p>In March, when Stewart-Cousins forced the Senate election committee to vote on the measure, Democratic members of the committee voted to advance the bill to the Senate floor, only to have it diverted to the local government committee by GOP members. <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2017/05/01/senate-committee-advances-early-voting-bill-111684" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">As Politico wrote</a>, the majority conference is able to kill legislation without explicitly voting against it by pawning it off to another committee, which is unlikely to meet more than once or twice before the end of session and does not have to calendar a vote.</p> <p><a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/S3304" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A bill</a> for automatic voter registration, sponsored by Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens, was defeated after a vote was compelled in the same manner.</p> <p>While Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, unveiled a sweeping electoral reform agenda during his 2017 State of the State, by April, following the passage of the budget, he appeared to have lost any can-do, <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">telling reporters</a>, “There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget."</p> <p>This lack of enthusiasm on voting reform is echoed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Republican of Long Island, who, when asked recently by a reporter, noted the fiscal component of early voting. “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day?” he asked rhetorically. “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>While there is still time left in the legislative session, without Cuomo using his influence, movement on the issue in unlikely, according the Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group, one of the advocacy organizations lobbying for electoral reform.</p> <p>“Lawmakers don't have to face voters until next year so they are more likely to do popular things on even number years than odd number years. The governor has not shown a lot of leadership on this, so they haven't felt a lot of pressure,” Horner said.</p> <p>De Blasio, no ally of Cuomo, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> last week that he and unnamed partners intend “to launch a major effort” to see voting and election reforms passed in Albany by the end of the session.<br /><br />Cuomo’s office <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6964-de-blasio-announces-plan-to-push-electoral-reform-in-albany" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told Gotham Gazette</a> that the governor continues to support modernizing the state’s electoral laws and will keep pushing for measures to do so despite their lack of movement through the Legislature. A spokesperson did not answer whether the governor would make any public push to see his desired electoral reforms passed.</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
On the Bus to Albany for Better New York Voting Laws 2017-05-07T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-07T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6916:on-the-bus-to-albany-for-better-new-york-voting-laws Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/vote_better_ny_lobbyist_via_nyc_votes.jpg" alt="vote better ny lobbyist via nyc votes" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>One Vote Better NY lobbyist (photo: <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCVotes/status/859480712361148416" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NYCVotes</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>Two charter buses idling in downtown Manhattan in the early hours of the morning on a weekday would usually be full of mismatched tourists from far-flung states and countries, waiting to gape at the Wall Street bull and his recently-placed female antagonist.</p> <p>That was not the case for the buses that departed Church Street this past Tuesday morning, which, like their counterpart departing from the Bronx, were full of New Yorkers headed to Albany with a very specific mission: pushing legislators to adopt voting reforms that would make it easier for people to cast their ballots.</p> <p>The group of about 150 activists, students, and assorted concerned citizens from Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Syracuse had risen at an hour when most fellow city-dwellers were still sound asleep, steeled themselves with coffee and muffins, and traveled to the state capital as part of the “Vote Better NY” campaign. The effort -- now an annual lobbying day -- was organized by the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s “NYC Votes” initiative, which partnered with schools and civic organizations like Dominicanos USA, CUNY, and the recently founded high school progressive group Coalition Z.</p> <p>Chloe Baker, 21, a junior studying history at Queens College and interning at the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), felt that the trip’s intent was to “get the legislators thinking about [voting reform], and remind them that they work for us,” a sentiment echoed by many of her fellow volunteers.</p> <p>It’s the fourth year of the annual pilgrimage (Gotham Gazette was also along for the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5695-for-a-better-new-york-activists-lobby-albany-for-election-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">last</a> <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6323-lobbying-in-albany-for-better-voting-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">two</a>). To the chagrin of organizers, the objectives this year are the same as they were the first: to change the laws around voting so that citizens can more easily register and stay registered, and find it more feasible to actually vote once registered.</p> <p>Those goals are put forward in proposals included in four bills introduced to the Democratically-controlled State Assembly -- they would need passage there, then in the state Senate, and to be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A05312&amp;term=&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Text=Y&amp;utm_source=NYC+Campaign+Finance+Board+List&amp;utm_campaign=e33bfb860a-CY2016_SVRD_Media_Advisory_20160429&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_35d7325629-e33bfb860a-290602913" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Votes</a> and <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A02278&amp;term=&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Text=Y&amp;utm_source=NYC+Campaign+Finance+Board+List&amp;utm_campaign=e33bfb860a-CY2016_SVRD_Media_Advisory_20160429&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_35d7325629-e33bfb860a-290602913" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Voter Empowerment Acts</a>, sponsored by Democrats Michael Cusick of Staten Island and Brian Kavanagh of Manhattan, have some similar language; both would permit pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds and allow government agencies like housing authorities to automatically forward voter information for registration.</p> <p>New York Votes would additionally establish same-day registration with a constitutional amendment (it isn’t permitted under the current state constitution), open polls two weeks before elections for what is known as “early voting,” expand absentee voting, and boost polling place resources and training. Voter Empowerment would establish online voter registration through the Board of Elections and automatically update registration information.</p> <p>A separate early voting bill, also sponsored by Kavanagh, would, in its current version, establish an early-voting window beginning eight days before an election.</p> <p>Finally, the so-called preclearance bill, sponsored by Brooklyn Democrat Latrice Walker, would seek to replicate some of the controls previously contained in the Voting Rights Act before it was gutted by the Supreme Court. Counties where 10 percent of the population are racial or language minorities or which have been found to have denied voting rights to protected populations would need to submit any changes in voting-related practical or policy changes to the Attorney General’s office for approval.</p> <p>The early voting and voter empowerment bills both have versions in the Republican-controlled Senate. The former, sponsored by Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, was passed through the election committee and has been sent over to the local government committee. The latter, sponsored by Queens Democrat Michael Gianaris, was voted down, 6-3, in the elections committee less than 24 hours before the activists boarded their buses, including a “nay” vote by one of its own sponsors, Queens Democrat and Independent Democratic Conference member Tony Avella.</p> <p>Yet what would seem like a deflating defeat was received with cautious optimism by activists, who are happy that the leadership in the Senate -- “where these bills go to die,” was how one NYC Votes staffer put it -- were even publicly acknowledging the ideas.</p> <p>“Having [Senate Majority Leader John] Flanagan even talking about wanting to know the cost of it is a change in the right direction. Last year it would have been a flat ‘no,’” said Onida Coward Mayers, the NYCCFB director of voter assistance, referring to the Suffolk County Republican’s recent <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/05/flanagan-questions-cost-of-early-voting/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">comments</a> citing the potential cost of early voting, while leaving the door open to continued conversations on reform.</p> <p>The day’s activities began with a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6908-activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rally</a> held by legislators and advocates on the steps of the Capitol building’s famed “Million Dollar Staircase,” where it was moved after rain scuttled plans to hold it in Lafayette Park. After that, the group splintered into 11 teams, each with its own schedule of meetings; the idea was to try to have each legislator who had been open to a meeting hear from at least one of his or her own constituents. “They’re much more interested if it’s someone from their community, because they know that person represents many more at home,” explained Coward Mayers.</p> <p>The group Gotham Gazette trailed soon found itself in the imposingly bright and bustling Legislative Office Building, where hordes of staffers, lobbyists, and activists tried hard not to run into each other as they shuffled between meetings. First on the group’s schedule was Senator Roxanne Persaud, who had to run out but left an aide, who asked not to be identified, to speak with the six-person delegation. The Brooklyn legislator is one of a handful of Senate mainline Democrats who have not sponsored both of the Senate bills. No Republicans have signed on.</p> <p>As Amanda Melillo, public affairs officer at NYCCFB, explained that multi-hour lines dissuaded voters from participating in elections, the staffer nodded and spoke of her own experience during last year’s presidential election, saying, “I was out there, I saw the last-minute rush. I understand.” While she couldn’t quite commit to the senator sponsoring the bill, she promised to discuss it with her boss, and ended with the hope that “when we meet next year, it’ll be better.”</p> <p>A cramped elevator ride and brisk walk through halogen-lit hallways deposited the group at the office of Brooklyn Senator Jesse Hamilton, who greeted Coward Mayers with a hug and spent a few minutes posing for photographs with the activists. Hamilton and his seven colleagues in the IDC, a group that forms a governing coalition with Senate Republicans, are crucial to pushing through the bills that still have a chance in this legislative session, which runs through mid-June.</p> <p>The group quickly scored their first clear success: Melillo explained the intent of the preclearance measure and had not quite finished asking Hamilton to introduce it in the Senate before he piped up with, “I can do that, that’s not a problem.”</p> <p>He was a bit less receptive when the volunteers raised the issue of early voting. When Bella Wang, a 26-year-old PhD student at Princeton and former poll worker, brought up voters waiting “one to three hours” to get their ballot, Hamilton said that “that’s only in presidential elections that you get three hours.”</p> <p>Wendy Odle-Harvey, a volunteer in her fifties whose family moved to Brooklyn from Barbados in the 1970s, chimed in to say that if people vote in any election to find long lines and voting machine problems, they “don’t want to come out to vote for senator, for local races.”</p> <p>Hamilton promised to look a the bill, but told the group that they’d be best served by “talking to the Republicans, because you’re preaching to the choir.”</p> <p>Case in point, the group’s next scheduled meeting was with Republican Senator Marty Golden, of Brooklyn, who quickly got into a back-and-forth with Wang when she stated that people with oddly-spelled and hyphenated names often find themselves left off the voter rolls due to human error.</p> <p>“We have people with names, hyphenated or not hyphenated, voting in several elections” he said, and asserted that there were “people bused in from the Bronx and Westchester to vote in Brooklyn races.” Wang shot back that you were more likely to be “crushed by furniture” than to commit voter fraud, a claim that Golden vigorously disputed. While there have been sporadic claims of voter fraud in New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6770-schneiderman-not-one-single-substantiated-claim-of-voter-fraud-in-new-york-last-year" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">declared earlier this year</a> that there was not one substantiated incident of voter fraud in New York in 2016.</p> <p>As Melillo ticked off reasons why New York’s voter turnout is so low - <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/273112/report-new-york-ranks-41st-in-voter-turnout-in-2016/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">41st</a> out of the 50 states in the 2016 general election, with 57 percent turnout - Golden asked if it couldn’t be that “people don’t care,” and argued that high immigrant populations and cultural differences led to low turnout in some districts, pointing to “Palestinian and Arab communities” in his own constituency. “Do they vote? No,” he said.</p> <p>Despite the disagreements, Golden conceded that improvements could be made to the state’s voting procedures, saying “there are a couple of things we can do to help people register and vote, and I’m open to that,” and agreeing to consider the bills. He threw out some of his own ideas, such as making poll workers’ pay non-taxable and getting the MTA to provide expanded service on election days.</p> <p>Asked about the probability that he would support any of the bills were they to come to a vote, he said “our leader is having conversations about the bill,” but declined to definitively take a position.</p> <p>Downstairs in the building’s cafeteria, past a group of Army personnel manning a series of small tables covered in military equipment as part of something called Fort Drum Day, the activists took a breather.</p> <p>“I didn’t really know what to expect…Say ‘I’m a constituent’ and maybe they’ll listen more, but there are a lot of groups here, so sometimes it feels like lip service,” said Natasha Padilla, 38, a Brooklynite who had taken a vacation day to go on the trip, as a group of people in bright green shirts emblazoned with the Airbnb logo chatted quietly 10 feet away.</p> <p>The final meeting of the day for the group Gotham Gazette followed took its members back through the packed elevators with the electronic voice and to the office of Brooklyn Assembly Member Peter Abbate Jr., who was not available. Aide Joe Brady took his place for a quick discussion that largely consisted of Brady agreeing that there were issues with voting and pledging to discuss the proposals with the Assembly member.</p> <p>The issue of voting reform is a particularly sensitive one for legislators, Coward Mayers said, because it “taps into their livelihoods. They want to be safeguarded.” If successful, the reforms would shift their voter base, empowering a whole slate of people previously not involved in politics. That prospect can be frightening to elected officials that can pretty much predict the comfortable margin they’ll be reelected with under the current system. Incumbents in New York, where there are no term limits for state legislators, do very well election after election, often running unopposed or with nominal opposition.</p> <p>For the activists who gave up their weekday to show up at their doorstep, the legislators’ reticence is understandable but misplaced. With “a few million dollars in a multibillion dollar budget,” as Melillo put it, they could bring hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers into the political process. (The state budget that was recently passed totals $153.1 billion in operating funds.)</p> <p>In a telling exchange with Senator Hamilton, Wang, the PhD student, brought up Minnesota, a state with same-day registration and early voting that also happens to have had the <a href="http://www.twincities.com/2016/11/29/minnesotas-no-1-in-voting-again/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">highest</a> percentage turnout in 2016 elections. As Hamilton began to speculate about the reasons Minnesotans may simply have a greater interest in voting, Padilla cut him off.</p> <p>“They got their people to vote. And it’s really cold there,” she said.</p> <p>

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/vote_better_ny_lobbyist_via_nyc_votes.jpg" alt="vote better ny lobbyist via nyc votes" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>One Vote Better NY lobbyist (photo: <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCVotes/status/859480712361148416" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@NYCVotes</a>)</p> <hr /> <p>Two charter buses idling in downtown Manhattan in the early hours of the morning on a weekday would usually be full of mismatched tourists from far-flung states and countries, waiting to gape at the Wall Street bull and his recently-placed female antagonist.</p> <p>That was not the case for the buses that departed Church Street this past Tuesday morning, which, like their counterpart departing from the Bronx, were full of New Yorkers headed to Albany with a very specific mission: pushing legislators to adopt voting reforms that would make it easier for people to cast their ballots.</p> <p>The group of about 150 activists, students, and assorted concerned citizens from Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Syracuse had risen at an hour when most fellow city-dwellers were still sound asleep, steeled themselves with coffee and muffins, and traveled to the state capital as part of the “Vote Better NY” campaign. The effort -- now an annual lobbying day -- was organized by the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s “NYC Votes” initiative, which partnered with schools and civic organizations like Dominicanos USA, CUNY, and the recently founded high school progressive group Coalition Z.</p> <p>Chloe Baker, 21, a junior studying history at Queens College and interning at the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), felt that the trip’s intent was to “get the legislators thinking about [voting reform], and remind them that they work for us,” a sentiment echoed by many of her fellow volunteers.</p> <p>It’s the fourth year of the annual pilgrimage (Gotham Gazette was also along for the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5695-for-a-better-new-york-activists-lobby-albany-for-election-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">last</a> <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6323-lobbying-in-albany-for-better-voting-laws" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">two</a>). To the chagrin of organizers, the objectives this year are the same as they were the first: to change the laws around voting so that citizens can more easily register and stay registered, and find it more feasible to actually vote once registered.</p> <p>Those goals are put forward in proposals included in four bills introduced to the Democratically-controlled State Assembly -- they would need passage there, then in the state Senate, and to be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A05312&amp;term=&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Text=Y&amp;utm_source=NYC+Campaign+Finance+Board+List&amp;utm_campaign=e33bfb860a-CY2016_SVRD_Media_Advisory_20160429&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_35d7325629-e33bfb860a-290602913" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Votes</a> and <a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?default_fld=&amp;leg_video=&amp;bn=A02278&amp;term=&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Text=Y&amp;utm_source=NYC+Campaign+Finance+Board+List&amp;utm_campaign=e33bfb860a-CY2016_SVRD_Media_Advisory_20160429&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_35d7325629-e33bfb860a-290602913" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Voter Empowerment Acts</a>, sponsored by Democrats Michael Cusick of Staten Island and Brian Kavanagh of Manhattan, have some similar language; both would permit pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds and allow government agencies like housing authorities to automatically forward voter information for registration.</p> <p>New York Votes would additionally establish same-day registration with a constitutional amendment (it isn’t permitted under the current state constitution), open polls two weeks before elections for what is known as “early voting,” expand absentee voting, and boost polling place resources and training. Voter Empowerment would establish online voter registration through the Board of Elections and automatically update registration information.</p> <p>A separate early voting bill, also sponsored by Kavanagh, would, in its current version, establish an early-voting window beginning eight days before an election.</p> <p>Finally, the so-called preclearance bill, sponsored by Brooklyn Democrat Latrice Walker, would seek to replicate some of the controls previously contained in the Voting Rights Act before it was gutted by the Supreme Court. Counties where 10 percent of the population are racial or language minorities or which have been found to have denied voting rights to protected populations would need to submit any changes in voting-related practical or policy changes to the Attorney General’s office for approval.</p> <p>The early voting and voter empowerment bills both have versions in the Republican-controlled Senate. The former, sponsored by Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, was passed through the election committee and has been sent over to the local government committee. The latter, sponsored by Queens Democrat Michael Gianaris, was voted down, 6-3, in the elections committee less than 24 hours before the activists boarded their buses, including a “nay” vote by one of its own sponsors, Queens Democrat and Independent Democratic Conference member Tony Avella.</p> <p>Yet what would seem like a deflating defeat was received with cautious optimism by activists, who are happy that the leadership in the Senate -- “where these bills go to die,” was how one NYC Votes staffer put it -- were even publicly acknowledging the ideas.</p> <p>“Having [Senate Majority Leader John] Flanagan even talking about wanting to know the cost of it is a change in the right direction. Last year it would have been a flat ‘no,’” said Onida Coward Mayers, the NYCCFB director of voter assistance, referring to the Suffolk County Republican’s recent <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2017/05/flanagan-questions-cost-of-early-voting/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">comments</a> citing the potential cost of early voting, while leaving the door open to continued conversations on reform.</p> <p>The day’s activities began with a <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6908-activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rally</a> held by legislators and advocates on the steps of the Capitol building’s famed “Million Dollar Staircase,” where it was moved after rain scuttled plans to hold it in Lafayette Park. After that, the group splintered into 11 teams, each with its own schedule of meetings; the idea was to try to have each legislator who had been open to a meeting hear from at least one of his or her own constituents. “They’re much more interested if it’s someone from their community, because they know that person represents many more at home,” explained Coward Mayers.</p> <p>The group Gotham Gazette trailed soon found itself in the imposingly bright and bustling Legislative Office Building, where hordes of staffers, lobbyists, and activists tried hard not to run into each other as they shuffled between meetings. First on the group’s schedule was Senator Roxanne Persaud, who had to run out but left an aide, who asked not to be identified, to speak with the six-person delegation. The Brooklyn legislator is one of a handful of Senate mainline Democrats who have not sponsored both of the Senate bills. No Republicans have signed on.</p> <p>As Amanda Melillo, public affairs officer at NYCCFB, explained that multi-hour lines dissuaded voters from participating in elections, the staffer nodded and spoke of her own experience during last year’s presidential election, saying, “I was out there, I saw the last-minute rush. I understand.” While she couldn’t quite commit to the senator sponsoring the bill, she promised to discuss it with her boss, and ended with the hope that “when we meet next year, it’ll be better.”</p> <p>A cramped elevator ride and brisk walk through halogen-lit hallways deposited the group at the office of Brooklyn Senator Jesse Hamilton, who greeted Coward Mayers with a hug and spent a few minutes posing for photographs with the activists. Hamilton and his seven colleagues in the IDC, a group that forms a governing coalition with Senate Republicans, are crucial to pushing through the bills that still have a chance in this legislative session, which runs through mid-June.</p> <p>The group quickly scored their first clear success: Melillo explained the intent of the preclearance measure and had not quite finished asking Hamilton to introduce it in the Senate before he piped up with, “I can do that, that’s not a problem.”</p> <p>He was a bit less receptive when the volunteers raised the issue of early voting. When Bella Wang, a 26-year-old PhD student at Princeton and former poll worker, brought up voters waiting “one to three hours” to get their ballot, Hamilton said that “that’s only in presidential elections that you get three hours.”</p> <p>Wendy Odle-Harvey, a volunteer in her fifties whose family moved to Brooklyn from Barbados in the 1970s, chimed in to say that if people vote in any election to find long lines and voting machine problems, they “don’t want to come out to vote for senator, for local races.”</p> <p>Hamilton promised to look a the bill, but told the group that they’d be best served by “talking to the Republicans, because you’re preaching to the choir.”</p> <p>Case in point, the group’s next scheduled meeting was with Republican Senator Marty Golden, of Brooklyn, who quickly got into a back-and-forth with Wang when she stated that people with oddly-spelled and hyphenated names often find themselves left off the voter rolls due to human error.</p> <p>“We have people with names, hyphenated or not hyphenated, voting in several elections” he said, and asserted that there were “people bused in from the Bronx and Westchester to vote in Brooklyn races.” Wang shot back that you were more likely to be “crushed by furniture” than to commit voter fraud, a claim that Golden vigorously disputed. While there have been sporadic claims of voter fraud in New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6770-schneiderman-not-one-single-substantiated-claim-of-voter-fraud-in-new-york-last-year" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">declared earlier this year</a> that there was not one substantiated incident of voter fraud in New York in 2016.</p> <p>As Melillo ticked off reasons why New York’s voter turnout is so low - <a href="http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/273112/report-new-york-ranks-41st-in-voter-turnout-in-2016/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">41st</a> out of the 50 states in the 2016 general election, with 57 percent turnout - Golden asked if it couldn’t be that “people don’t care,” and argued that high immigrant populations and cultural differences led to low turnout in some districts, pointing to “Palestinian and Arab communities” in his own constituency. “Do they vote? No,” he said.</p> <p>Despite the disagreements, Golden conceded that improvements could be made to the state’s voting procedures, saying “there are a couple of things we can do to help people register and vote, and I’m open to that,” and agreeing to consider the bills. He threw out some of his own ideas, such as making poll workers’ pay non-taxable and getting the MTA to provide expanded service on election days.</p> <p>Asked about the probability that he would support any of the bills were they to come to a vote, he said “our leader is having conversations about the bill,” but declined to definitively take a position.</p> <p>Downstairs in the building’s cafeteria, past a group of Army personnel manning a series of small tables covered in military equipment as part of something called Fort Drum Day, the activists took a breather.</p> <p>“I didn’t really know what to expect…Say ‘I’m a constituent’ and maybe they’ll listen more, but there are a lot of groups here, so sometimes it feels like lip service,” said Natasha Padilla, 38, a Brooklynite who had taken a vacation day to go on the trip, as a group of people in bright green shirts emblazoned with the Airbnb logo chatted quietly 10 feet away.</p> <p>The final meeting of the day for the group Gotham Gazette followed took its members back through the packed elevators with the electronic voice and to the office of Brooklyn Assembly Member Peter Abbate Jr., who was not available. Aide Joe Brady took his place for a quick discussion that largely consisted of Brady agreeing that there were issues with voting and pledging to discuss the proposals with the Assembly member.</p> <p>The issue of voting reform is a particularly sensitive one for legislators, Coward Mayers said, because it “taps into their livelihoods. They want to be safeguarded.” If successful, the reforms would shift their voter base, empowering a whole slate of people previously not involved in politics. That prospect can be frightening to elected officials that can pretty much predict the comfortable margin they’ll be reelected with under the current system. Incumbents in New York, where there are no term limits for state legislators, do very well election after election, often running unopposed or with nominal opposition.</p> <p>For the activists who gave up their weekday to show up at their doorstep, the legislators’ reticence is understandable but misplaced. With “a few million dollars in a multibillion dollar budget,” as Melillo put it, they could bring hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers into the political process. (The state budget that was recently passed totals $153.1 billion in operating funds.)</p> <p>In a telling exchange with Senator Hamilton, Wang, the PhD student, brought up Minnesota, a state with same-day registration and early voting that also happens to have had the <a href="http://www.twincities.com/2016/11/29/minnesotas-no-1-in-voting-again/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">highest</a> percentage turnout in 2016 elections. As Hamilton began to speculate about the reasons Minnesotans may simply have a greater interest in voting, Padilla cut him off.</p> <p>“They got their people to vote. And it’s really cold there,” she said.</p> <p>

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Cuomo Punts Voting Reform to ‘After the Budget’ 2017-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6823:cuomo-punts-voting-reform-to-after-the-budget Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32759812383_521a498159_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo press conference NYC" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo all but confirmed Tuesday that major voting reforms he’s proposed would not be part of the new state budget, which is due by April 1.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo outlined the “Democracy Project” as part of his 2017 State of the State agenda, and included its widely prized measures like early voting, same-day voter registration, and an enhanced form of automatic voter registration in one of his budget bills. But, on Tuesday Cuomo indicated that the push to modernize New York’s antiquated voting laws would be left for the April through June legislative session that follows budget adoption.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has proposed sweeping voting reforms before, and New York has watched as they have been implemented with successful results in dozens of other states, while paltry voter turnout continues here.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Cuomo appeared at a press conference in New York City, which the governor had called to criticize two Republican congressional representatives from New York for authoring amendments to the federal health plan that would shift certain Medicaid burdens in New York from the counties to the state. During the question-and-answer session, a WNYC reporter asked Cuomo how he would be able to persuade Senate Republicans to adopt his voting reform agenda during budget negotiations.</p> <p>“We are going to try like heck,” he said, but added, “It’s not necessarily a budget discussion,” conceding a point Cuomo is typically hesitant to make.</p> <p>“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo continued. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about we are going to take up after the budget.”</p> <p>Between now and April 1, Cuomo and legislative leaders will negotiate the details of the new state budget. The Governor sets the stage for budget season with his Executive Budget in January, which is then followed by legislative hearings, one-house budget resolutions that respond to the Governor’s proposals, and closed-door negotiations. The spending and policy pieces that make it into the budget often depend upon how much priority agenda items are given by the Governor, the Senate Majority, and the Assembly Majority.</p> <p>Cuomo, as the most powerful of the “three men in the room,” can often push through his top priorities, as he did last year with $15 minimum wage and paid family leave programs.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo announced the Democracy Project in a press release amid his six-stop State of the State tour. The goal, Cuomo's announcement stated, was “modernizing voting in New York to increase participation in the democratic system.” The Democracy Project “will remove barriers to voter registration" and "make voting easier for New Yorkers.”</p> <p>“Early voting will shorten lines at the polls,” the announcement stated, “allow New Yorkers to cast ballots up to 12 days before Election Day.” It also promised that automatic and same-day voter registration “will increase voter participation.”</p> <p>While Democrats who control the Assembly appear <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">open to the three voting reforms</a>, among others, they do not appear to be placing it especially high on their list of priorities. Republicans who control the state Senate are <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">opposed</a> to voting reform, worrying that greater turnout could spell the end of their paper-thin majority margin.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Two of the three reforms</a>, early voting and automatic registration, are widely implemented throughout the country, and would be easy to implement legislatively, but have stalled in the Senate. Along with the Assembly majority, the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats who have a ruling coalition with Republicans, also support the measures. However, the IDC’s power to move the GOP conference in this case may be especially limited.</p> <p>Same-day voter registration, which would allow unregistered voters to register and vote on Election Day, would likely have to be implemented through a state constitutional amendment, which requires the approval of both legislative houses for two consecutive legislative cycles and then approval by the public through a ballot vote.</p> <p>Last week, representatives from advocacy groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Working Families Party, and Common Cause NY joined with female state lawmakers at the state Capitol to push for early voting and automatic registration to be included in the budget. The press conference, which coincided with Women’s History Month and framed voter inclusion as a women’s issue, was followed by a rally on Sunday in New York City’s Battery Park.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, who helped organized the press conference and the rally, criticized the governor’s Tuesday revelation.</p> <p>“It's not enough to ‘try like heck,’” Lerner said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve the same rights as voters in Alaska and Vermont. We need voting reform now, and that means including funding in the 2017 budget to ensure that the next election cycle is an example for the nation, not a national embarrassment."</p> <p>Lerner noted that New York ranked 41st in the nation for voter turnout (based on the 2016 presidential election), with less than a third of eligible voters participating. “Far from the progressive symbol the Governor likes to tout, we are out of step with 34 other states that have some form of early voting, and nowhere near California which also has Automatic Voter Registration,” Lerner said.</p> <p>On Tuesday Cuomo did not cast blame on anyone for what he was foreshadowing as a failure to move voting reform through the budget. At the press conference, however, he did tout how well he has been able to work with Republicans over the past six years. He did not indicate that he planned to try to convince Senate Republicans to back his voting reform agenda.</p> <p>A few days ago, Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/advocates-urge-state-lawmakers-budget-voting-reforms/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told WNYC radio</a>, "There are many bills out there which seek to boost voter participation. We'll take a look at all of them."</p> <p>***<br />by Ben Max and Rachel Silberstein</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32759812383_521a498159_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo press conference NYC" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo all but confirmed Tuesday that major voting reforms he’s proposed would not be part of the new state budget, which is due by April 1.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo outlined the “Democracy Project” as part of his 2017 State of the State agenda, and included its widely prized measures like early voting, same-day voter registration, and an enhanced form of automatic voter registration in one of his budget bills. But, on Tuesday Cuomo indicated that the push to modernize New York’s antiquated voting laws would be left for the April through June legislative session that follows budget adoption.</p> <p>Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, has proposed sweeping voting reforms before, and New York has watched as they have been implemented with successful results in dozens of other states, while paltry voter turnout continues here.</p> <p>On Tuesday, Cuomo appeared at a press conference in New York City, which the governor had called to criticize two Republican congressional representatives from New York for authoring amendments to the federal health plan that would shift certain Medicaid burdens in New York from the counties to the state. During the question-and-answer session, a WNYC reporter asked Cuomo how he would be able to persuade Senate Republicans to adopt his voting reform agenda during budget negotiations.</p> <p>“We are going to try like heck,” he said, but added, “It’s not necessarily a budget discussion,” conceding a point Cuomo is typically hesitant to make.</p> <p>“The budget is primarily about finances,” Cuomo continued. “If there’s a policy matter that is related to the finances then I try to include it, because the budget is a good vehicle to reconcile as much as you can. Many of the democracy issues that you talk about we are going to take up after the budget.”</p> <p>Between now and April 1, Cuomo and legislative leaders will negotiate the details of the new state budget. The Governor sets the stage for budget season with his Executive Budget in January, which is then followed by legislative hearings, one-house budget resolutions that respond to the Governor’s proposals, and closed-door negotiations. The spending and policy pieces that make it into the budget often depend upon how much priority agenda items are given by the Governor, the Senate Majority, and the Assembly Majority.</p> <p>Cuomo, as the most powerful of the “three men in the room,” can often push through his top priorities, as he did last year with $15 minimum wage and paid family leave programs.</p> <p>In January, Cuomo announced the Democracy Project in a press release amid his six-stop State of the State tour. The goal, Cuomo's announcement stated, was “modernizing voting in New York to increase participation in the democratic system.” The Democracy Project “will remove barriers to voter registration" and "make voting easier for New Yorkers.”</p> <p>“Early voting will shorten lines at the polls,” the announcement stated, “allow New Yorkers to cast ballots up to 12 days before Election Day.” It also promised that automatic and same-day voter registration “will increase voter participation.”</p> <p>While Democrats who control the Assembly appear <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">open to the three voting reforms</a>, among others, they do not appear to be placing it especially high on their list of priorities. Republicans who control the state Senate are <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">opposed</a> to voting reform, worrying that greater turnout could spell the end of their paper-thin majority margin.</p> <p><a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6724-cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Two of the three reforms</a>, early voting and automatic registration, are widely implemented throughout the country, and would be easy to implement legislatively, but have stalled in the Senate. Along with the Assembly majority, the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Senate Democrats who have a ruling coalition with Republicans, also support the measures. However, the IDC’s power to move the GOP conference in this case may be especially limited.</p> <p>Same-day voter registration, which would allow unregistered voters to register and vote on Election Day, would likely have to be implemented through a state constitutional amendment, which requires the approval of both legislative houses for two consecutive legislative cycles and then approval by the public through a ballot vote.</p> <p>Last week, representatives from advocacy groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Working Families Party, and Common Cause NY joined with female state lawmakers at the state Capitol to push for early voting and automatic registration to be included in the budget. The press conference, which coincided with Women’s History Month and framed voter inclusion as a women’s issue, was followed by a rally on Sunday in New York City’s Battery Park.</p> <p>Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY, who helped organized the press conference and the rally, criticized the governor’s Tuesday revelation.</p> <p>“It's not enough to ‘try like heck,’” Lerner said in a statement. “New Yorkers deserve the same rights as voters in Alaska and Vermont. We need voting reform now, and that means including funding in the 2017 budget to ensure that the next election cycle is an example for the nation, not a national embarrassment."</p> <p>Lerner noted that New York ranked 41st in the nation for voter turnout (based on the 2016 presidential election), with less than a third of eligible voters participating. “Far from the progressive symbol the Governor likes to tout, we are out of step with 34 other states that have some form of early voting, and nowhere near California which also has Automatic Voter Registration,” Lerner said.</p> <p>On Tuesday Cuomo did not cast blame on anyone for what he was foreshadowing as a failure to move voting reform through the budget. At the press conference, however, he did tout how well he has been able to work with Republicans over the past six years. He did not indicate that he planned to try to convince Senate Republicans to back his voting reform agenda.</p> <p>A few days ago, Scott Reif, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/advocates-urge-state-lawmakers-budget-voting-reforms/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told WNYC radio</a>, "There are many bills out there which seek to boost voter participation. We'll take a look at all of them."</p> <p>***<br />by Ben Max and Rachel Silberstein</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>

***
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>

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

Read more by this writer.

</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>