Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1019 Thu, 14 Dec 2017 00:31:52 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Cuomo Refuses to Comply with Trump Election Commission Request http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7044:new-york-weighs-response-to-president-s-election-integrity-commission http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7044:new-york-weighs-response-to-president-s-election-integrity-commission new yorkers cast their votes for president

New Yorkers cast their votes for President (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)


New York has joined the ranks of states refusing to comply with a request for voter information sent yesterday by Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State and vice chair of the newly-created federal Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

“We will not be complying with this request and I encourage the Election Commission to work on issues of vital importance to voters, including ballot access, rather than focus on debunked theories of voter fraud,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo in a statement on Friday afternoon.

The letter, which asks that each state provide the administration with available data including the names, addresses, social security numbers, voter registrations, and voting histories of every voter in the state, immediately prompted concern over voter suppression and privacy.

N.Y.U. School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice put out a statement calling on states to carefully review their legal obligations before turning over the data. While voter data is technically public, accessing it generally requires adhering to special protocols and making payments, such as submitting requests in writing for specific data. In New York, accessing public voter data requires mailing a completed form to the state’s Board of Elections, leaving a record of who is requesting the information.

In the statement, Mryna Pérez, the center’s deputy director, recommended that secretaries of state have “frank conversations with their lawyers about the privacy and other implications of complying with Kobach’s extensive request.”

Several voting rights organizations have also condemned the request, including the League of Women Voters, whose president, Chris Carson, called it a “fishing expedition” and a “distraction from the real issue of voter suppression” in a statement.

Activists worry that the data will be used to target voters based on their political affiliations as opposed to the stated purpose of investigating voter fraud. The commission was created by President Donald Trump to investigate non-citizens casting ballots following his widely discredited claim that three to five million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election.

As Kansas Secretary of State, Kobach ran a multi-year campaign and developed new computer systems to crack down on illegal voting, which ultimately resulted in only nine convictions, mostly of older Americans who had voted in two states or otherwise violated procedural laws. Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project once referred to Kobach as the “king of voter suppression” because of his efforts to limit voter registration in Kansas.

New York joins California, Kentucky, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in turning away Kobach’s request, which is not legally binding.

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Refuses to Comply with Trump Election Commission Request Fri, 30 Jun 2017 00:00:00 +0000
Board of Elections to Consider Emergency Regulations for Independent Expenditures http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6527:board-of-elections-set-to-consider-emergency-regulations-for-independent-expenditures http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6527:board-of-elections-set-to-consider-emergency-regulations-for-independent-expenditures cuomo podium state of the state

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office on Flickr)


The State Board of Elections is set to consider a set of emergency regulations governing independent expenditure campaigns at its board meeting on Thursday morning in Albany. The regulations will come just two days after state legislative primary elections and two months before the general election. Political action committees (PACs) and Super Pacs, or independent expenditure committees, have already had a significant presence in this year’s primary contests.

The BOE is responding to new legislation championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed his controversial reform bill on August 24 after passing it through the Legislature by message of necessity in late June. The bill goes into effect 30 days after Cuomo signs it, thus putting pressure on the BOE to respond.

The law enacts restrictions on how independent expenditure campaigns operate; expands what constitutes illegal coordination with a candidate and limits who can work for Super PACs. The legislation also sets new disclosure requirements for nonprofit lobbying groups and issue advocacy groups - for this piece, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics moved on emergency regulations earlier this year.

On Thursday, the BOE will consider emergency regulations in the middle of an election season that has already seen major spending by Super PACs, especially in New York City where New Yorkers For Independent Action, a pro-charter school group, pumped millions of dollars into Democratic primary contests.

Board members have expressed concern at previous meetings that the law could be disruptive and counterintuitive given that election season is already well underway.

Democratic BOE Chair Douglas Kellner told Gotham Gazette that he isn’t convinced the board needs to act on emergency regulations. “From my point of view I’m not exactly sure why we need emergency regulations that just track the bill, but we will discuss that on Thursday,” Kellner said.

Republican BOE Chair Peter Kosinski said that the emergency regulations are necessary to keep interested parties informed of the changes to the laws relating to independent expenditures and to put the information in one place.

Once the emergency regulations are adopted the public will have 45 days to comment on them.

”The reality is that the emergency regulation idea is related to the fact that we are headed into the November election and people need information about the changes,” said Kosinski. “This does not preclude the normal regulation process or any future changes. We will go through the normal process in a couple of months.” In other words, any emergency regulations will be temporary and then re-evaluated after the election cycle.

Kellner said he also shares concerns about the timing of the bill’s enactment given that election season is already in full swing.

“The board is really between a rock and a hard place,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “If the Governor wanted the law to be in effect for the election he should have signed it in June.” It is unclear why Cuomo waited until August to sign the bill. After unveiling the plan for the legislation during a speech in New York City toward the end of the legislative session, the governor held no public ceremony to sign and promote the bill.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, said the BOE is being “responsible in providing necessary guidance on the law even if it is poorly written and flawed.” Dadey added that “we shouldn’t be changing the rules in the fourth quarter of the game.”

Speaking with reporters in August, Cuomo touted the new regulations. Of not getting everything he wants done on government ethics reform, he also said, “Ethics in many ways is like other activities in life. It's an ongoing pursuit.”

Kosinski, the Republican BOE chair, said that the time for fretting over the implementation timeline is over. “People have to deal with that best they can. These emergency regulations are our effort to inform people of the law so that when people look for guidance on the new laws we give them accurate information,” he said.

Advocates had decried the process by which the bill was passed. Cuomo introduced the measure late in session claiming that it was designed to beat back the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for outside money in candidate campaigns. But the bill also included a section forcing non-profit advocacy groups to disclose more of their donors, and to report to the state, through JCOPE, their various communications about legislation, government officials, regulations, and government-related matters.

Like other times he has used them, Cuomo was criticized for his issuance of a message of necessity that preempts the required three-day aging process designed to encourage public review. Legislators received the bill after midnight and voted on it only a few hours later.

Cuomo, who generally controls when passed bills come to his desk for signature or veto, didn’t call the bill up from the Legislature until mid-August after facing public pressure.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which is headed by former Cuomo staffer Seth Agata and is controlled by appointees of Cuomo and legislative leaders, moved on emergency regulations in early August. The part of the bill that deals with sources of funding for nonprofits goes into effect 30 days after the bill is signed.

The new law sets a definition of what is coordination between independent expenditure campaigns and candidates, and according to Kosinski the law could catch some off guard. “There were significant changes going where the state hasn’t gone before in detailing coordination, it was really fleshed out and I think people need to be aware of that going forward.”

Dadey said that he hopes there will be time for the kind of careful and nuanced discussion of the implementation of the law that was denied to the public before the bill was passed.

“I hope whatever is adopted on Thursday does not lead to greater confusion or conflict with existing law,” said Dadey. “We had no time to talk about this piece of legislation as a public, I hope more time is taken to discuss it now that it is law.”

Brandon Muir, executive director of Reclaim New York, an organization focused on government transparency, said that Albany lawmakers waited until the last minute to formulate the bill and then wasted more time signing it. “Because they dodged having a timely, open process, we’re in for another last-second “emergency” push that serves political interests and an agenda that New Yorkers didn’t ask for,” Muir said.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

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Board of Elections to Consider Emergency Regulations for Independent Expenditures Wed, 14 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Appears to Give Up on Legislature Closing LLC Loophole http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6409:cuomo-appears-to-give-up-on-legislature-closing-llc-loophole http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6409:cuomo-appears-to-give-up-on-legislature-closing-llc-loophole cuomo budget mujica

Gov. Cuomo & his budget director, Robert Mujica (photo: The Governor's Office)


Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to have given up on the state Legislature taking action to close the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy donors to subvert campaign finance laws by creating multiple limited liability corporations that can each give more than $60,000 to a candidate’s campaign.

According to The New York Times, Cuomo said this weekend that it would be up to the public to close the loophole through a constitutional convention.

In January, the governor made closing the LLC loophole a key plank of his government ethics reform package. He and his representatives have said repeatedly that Cuomo wants the loophole closed. In late May, after months without mentioning the loophole unless prompted by reporters, the governor unveiled “a menu” of eight bills that would partially close the loophole for various combinations of campaigns for elected positions -- all of the bills would have impacted gubernatorial candidates, including the incumbent governor, who has been the biggest beneficiary of LLC giving.

“The people of New York are demanding change and it’s time we took action to restore the public trust by closing the LLC loophole and bringing fairness to our campaign finance system,” Cuomo said in the May 24 statement announcing his bill menu aimed at closing the loophole that has allowed tens of millions of dollars into campaign accounts. “For years, I have proposed closing the LLC loophole – one of the most egregious flaws in our campaign finance system – and every year the bill has stalled.”

According to Cuomo, Senate Republicans are unwilling to act on the loophole because they rely on corporate money. The legislative session ended with what many reform advocates see as minimal ethics reforms, highlighted by a move toward stripping pensions from officials convicted of corruption. In his first post-session remarks, the governor told The Times that there is no path to closing the LLC loophole through the Legislature and that it must be done through a constitutional convention.

“There has to be a dose of reality in the assessment,” Cuomo told The Times. “It is tantamount to political suicide for the Republican Party in this state because they believe it ends corporate money, and only union money would come into the system, which would help the Democrats.”

He added: “The people are going to have to do it,” referring, according to The Times, to a constitutional convention.

A number of reform advocates and legislators who support closing the loophole were taken aback by Cuomo’s comments and their meaning in terms of his pursuit of reform. Cuomo made little public effort to move the multi-faceted reform agenda he proposed in January and instead appeared to move the goalposts for reform toward the end of session when he announced he wanted to tackle independent expenditure campaigns, something Senate Republicans found much more appealing than restricting legislators’ outside income or closing the LLC loophole.

“It sounds like the governor is saying he can't get it done,” said Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan, who is party to a lawsuit brought by reform groups and current and former legislators against the State Board of Elections to close the loophole. “It sounds like the governor is saying ‘I'm incapable of reforming Albany and we have to leave it up to a constitutional convention,’ and I don't know that he is wrong.”

Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, said he is unwilling to wait for a convention to address the loophole. “His comments personify his frustration not being able close the loophole and point to a goal too far in the future to accept,” said Dadey. “We can’t rely on a convention that we don’t know will be called.”

Voters have the ability to approve a constitutional convention every 20 years. The next vote is scheduled for November 2017. If voters were to approve it, they would vote again the following November to select delegates to represent them at the convention, which would actually get underway in April 2019. Delegates would meet to debate reforms to the constitution that could focus on anything from money in politics to the state’s civil rights mandates. Voters wouldn’t get to vote on proposed changes from the convention until November 2019.

There is no guarantee that closing the LLC loophole would come up during a constitutional convention or make it to a final vote.

“The Board of Elections created this loophole and they can fix it,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, referring to the state BOE’s 1996 ruling that opened the loophole. “These LLCs have been at the center of major corruption scandals so it isn't like this is an academic problem,” said Horner. “It’s a real problem.”

Not only does Cuomo’s suggestion that a constitutional convention is the only way to close the loophole discount the lawsuit Krueger is involved in and mean that change couldn’t possibly occur until November of 2019, but it also appears to fail to factor in the possibility of Democrats winning the Senate majority from Republicans this fall. Democrats in the Senate and Assembly both claim to support closing the LLC loophole. The Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, has voted a number of times to close the loophole while some Senate Democrats have tried to force a vote on closing the loophole in their chamber to no avail.

“I guess seeing the Senate Democrats take control of the Senate isn't a way he sees to get things done,” said Krueger. Cuomo, a Democrat, has been criticized over several years for not doing enough to help Democrats take the chamber and for being too close to Republicans. Cuomo has touted his ability to productively work across the aisle.

Mike Murphy, spokesperson for Senate Democrats, said closing the LLC loophole is at the top of their agenda. “Senate Democrats have been fighting to close this loophole for years only to be rebuffed by our Republican colleagues. When we take the majority this will be one of the first things we pass. The people of New York deserve a government that they can trust.”

John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany said at the most basic levels he sees Cuomo’s comments as the governor giving up on reform, but he also sees it as Cuomo letting Senate Republicans off the hook on an issue that could be used to help Senate Democrats win control of the chamber.

“It means the governor is not going to use the LLC loophole as a campaign issue against Senate Republicans. He could beat the Republicans over the head with the LLC loophole because the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate Democrats support closing the loophole, as do all of the watchdog groups and independent experts and editorial boards,” said Kaehny.

Cuomo’s office did not respond to requests for comment around whether Cuomo did indeed mean that closing the LLC loophole would require a constitutional convention and whether he was discounting the possibility of Democratic control of the Senate.

Many believe Cuomo prefers governing, as his father did, with a Democratic Assembly and Republican Senate, allowing him to pass more conservative fiscal measures when necessary.

Dadey agreed that Cuomo’s comments appear to ignore the possibility of change in the Legislature. “The Governor’s position does not take into account Senate control,” said Dadey. “This lets the Legislature off the hook.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

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Cuomo Appears to Give Up on Legislature Closing LLC Loophole Tue, 21 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Concerns of ‘Voter Fatigue’ as New York Schedules Four 2016 Election Days http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6081:concerns-of-voter-fatigue-as-new-york-schedules-four-2016-election-days http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6081:concerns-of-voter-fatigue-as-new-york-schedules-four-2016-election-days bdb voting

Mayor de Blasio votes (photo via @BilldeBlasio) 


As New Yorkers begin a year of many voting opportunities, there are important questions that elections will help answer - like who the next U.S. President will be and which party will control the state Senate - but also concern about voter fatigue and thus, turnout.

There will be at least four chances for New Yorkers to cast votes in 2016, with three different primary election days leading up to November’s general election. There will be a presidential primary vote in April; congressional primaries in June; and state legislative primaries in September. There will also be special elections sprinkled in to fill empty seats in the state Assembly and Senate.

On April 19, New Yorkers will vote in their party primaries for president; on June 28, it will be primaries for all 27 New York members of the House of Representatives, with Senator Chuck Schumer on the ballot, too; and on September 13, primaries for all 63 seats of the State Senate and all 150 seats of the State Assembly.

No date has been set by the governor yet for special elections in the state legislature, including those to replace former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, whose 2015 corruption convictions created vacancies.

In 2015, some New York City voters cast ballots for new district attorneys, judges, and city Council members, among others. By the time New Yorkers vote for president in November, it could be their sixth trip to the polls in 14 months. Or, for residents of District 17 in the South Bronx, their seventh trip, as the resignation of City Council member Maria del Carmen Arroyo means a special election to fill her seat will occur February 23.

Frequent elections can result in voter fatigue, and diminish voter turnout. New York already has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country, with only 29 percent of eligible voters showing up to the polls to cast their votes in the 2014 general elections for state-level positions, including governor.

A recent New York Times editorial called the “extra burden” numerous election dates places on voters a sign of “dysfunction in Albany,” and urged lawmakers to “change the election schedule as soon as they return to Albany on January 6.”

Given how much it costs the state and municipalities to hold these elections, some have also argued that it would make financial sense to consolidate the number of days elections are held on.  (This is at least part of the governor’s rationale for holding special elections on an already-scheduled election day (by law, the city must hold its special City Council election within a shorter time frame).)

“There is no reason the state primary can’t be held on the same day as the congressional primary,” the New York Times editorial board wrote, “thus eliminating the extra election and saving the state $50 million.”

“We do have a bill that we have passed almost every year in the Assembly to combine [the dates],” Assemblymember Michael Cusick said in response to calls from members of the New York State Board of Elections to consolidate the state and federal primaries during a Dec. 10, 2015, New York State Assembly hearing on enhancing the voter experience. “That is the goal of our committees, to get the primaries in one day, so we can save the state and municipalities money.”

Despite the benefits of merging election dates and support from the Assembly, combining the dates has not yet happened, perhaps because, as the New York Times editorial board suggests, “New York State lawmakers created this problem because it’s easier on the politicians, even though it’s costly and harder on the voters.”

The 2016 elections are for local, state, and federal posts, including district leaders, state Senators and Assembly members, members of Congress, and, of course, the president. Some races are special elections, such as those likely to be set for April 19, to fill four vacancies in the state Legislature, including the former seats of Silver and Skelos, who were both forced to leave office in December after being convicted on several counts of federal corruption.

Several special elections have already taken place in the past year to fill seats forfeited due to corruption convictions, spurring growing calls for ethics reform in Albany from good government groups and lawmakers alike.

In 2015, special elections were held to replace former State Assemblymember William Scarborough, who vacated his seat in May after he pleaded guilty to felony charges of wire fraud and theft; former Brooklyn State Senator John Sampson, who was convicted of obstruction of justice and lying to federal agents as part of a corruption investigation in July; and former Deputy Senate Majority Leader Thomas Libous, who was also convicted of lying to the FBI in July.

Governor Cuomo has said time and again he does not see any point in calling a special session to deal with ethics reform, though, as he has promised ethics reform will be at the top of his 2016 agenda. And while consolidating voting days may be a step unlikely to be taken by the state Legislature, some reforms aimed at improving New York’s low voter turnout are currently being considered by state lawmakers.

Reforms like early voting, better ballot design, and an upgraded, online voter registration system would help increase voting accessibility and thus, advocates argue, voter turnout. Other bills have been introduced in the state Senate that would allow same-day voter registration on election day, voting by mail, and holding the congressional and state primaries on a single day, City and State reports. The Voter Friendly Ballot Act, which would create a simpler, easier-to-read ballot, has passed in the Assembly.

According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, New York ranks 46th in voter turnout. Six of the states that rank in the top ten for voter turnout all allow same-day registration. Nine of the states that rank highest in voter turnout allow early voting.

Currently, eleven states and D.C. allow same-day voter registration, and 33 states and D.C allow early voting. New York currently does not allow either.

Reforms such as these, supporters say, would help to modernize election laws in New York, and could - if used in combination with methods to increase voter engagement - help to bring the state’s voter turnout on par with that of states that already have policies to make voting more accessible in place.

As of January 10, the 2016 New York election dates are:

April 19, 2016 — Presidential Primaries and special elections to fill four state Legislature vacancies
The state Legislature has decided on April 19, 2016 as the date for both the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.

Additionally, Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will set a special election date to coincide with the presidential primary on April 19 to fill four vacancies in the state Legislature, including former Assembly Speaker Silver’s seat, and the Staten Island seat of former Assemblymember Joe Borelli, who won a City Council seat. That special election means that a local party organizations will select the candidates who will appear on their ballot lines. Cuomo has not officially declared these special elections for April.

June 28, 2016 — Congressional Primaries
New York voters will decide on their party’s candidates for all Congressional races in the state on June 28, 2016, during the primaries for all 27 of New York’s members in the House of Representatives. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer is also running for reelection on the same day - he is unlikely to face a primary challenge.

September 13, 2016 — State Legislature Primaries
There will be primaries for all 63 members of the New York State Senate and all 150 members of the New York State Assembly on September 13, 2016. Elections will also be held on that day for district leaders in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

November 8, 2016 — General Election
On November 8, 2016, voters across the country will vote for the next President of the United States. New Yorkers will also vote in a number of other critical races, including all State Senate and Senate Assembly seats, 27 races for the House of Representatives, and one US Senate race.

Voter turnout is typically higher for presidential elections than for any other race, and Democrats in New York are hoping increased turnout in a state that almost always votes blue in presidential races can help them to regain control of the State Senate.

After the 2016 elections conclude, the 2017 elections for New York City-level offices, including the mayor, are expected to heat up.

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by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette  @MegOConnor13

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Concerns of ‘Voter Fatigue’ as New York Schedules Four 2016 Election Days Mon, 11 Jan 2016 21:24:15 +0000
Boards to Offer Peek Into New Ways to Access Campaign Finance Data http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5997:boards-to-offer-peek-into-new-ways-to-access-campaign-finance-data http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5997:boards-to-offer-peek-into-new-ways-to-access-campaign-finance-data cfb screenshot site page

(photo via @NYCCFB)


On Friday morning representatives from both the New York State Board of Elections and the New York City Campaign Finance Board will come together to outline updates to their reporting systems and take questions from candidates, journalists, watchdogs, and others.

John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, the good government group hosting the event along with Civic Hall, where it will take place, said he is most excited to have representatives of the State BOE in the New York City and ready to take questions and walk users through their new system that is expected to be ready sometime in 2017.

"They aren't known for doing this kind of thing--speaking directly to the public," said Kaehny of BOE reps. "This kind of dialogue with the public is really important for transparency." The event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs have been requested.

Technically, the "State Board of Elections" won't be at the event as Republican members of the Board decided not to take part. Instead, Democratic members will be representing themselves as employees of the agency (but not speaking for the BOE as a whole). Douglas Kellner, Democratic co-chair of the BOE, told Gotham Gazette that he hoped to have the full agency cosponsor the event but that idea was discarded by Republican chairs.

The absence of the full BOE is just another reminder of how differently the two agencies - the state BOE and the city CFB - are constituted and operate.

"The CFB are state of the art nationally; the two really come from completely different universes," said Kaehny, referring to the fact that the state BOE is not regarded as cutting edge or particularly effective. "The CFB have infinitely greater resources, they hold candidate forums, their compliance is higher - they are the model, people from across the country look to them. They aren't bipartisan, they are nonpartisan, and they get a lot done."

New York City's Campaign Finance Board is indeed seen as a national model for transparency, efficiency, and accountability. It is well funded, nonpartisan, focused, and maintains a fairly constant public relations effort. The same can't be said for the New York State Board of Elections, whose members have long complained of being underfunded. The BOE oversees data from state and local elections, as well as polling places and voting machines. It is a bipartisan organization and as such is hampered by political infighting and often deadlocks on major issues. The BOE is well known for a lack of enforcement, a lack of transparency, and using cantankerous campaign finance reporting software that is decades out of date.

Kellner, of the BOE, said he is excited to talk about the board's new software, which it is currently testing in working groups with journalists and other interested parties. Users of the BOE's current software are accustomed to botched searches, missing pages, and problems with data.

Kellner thinks that is going to change. "I am very hopeful for our new campaign finance system," he told Gotham Gazette. "Our current system was set up 20 years ago and was very much out of date. It was a credit to our staff that they've kept it functional." Kellner noted that California's system was neglected for years and finally went down, leaving the agency to record votes on paper for a year while a new system was developed.

"We had been sending out alarm signals that this could happen here. We had been asking the state for funding to update for years and thankfully Governor Cuomo agreed and we got the funding," said Kellner.

Kaehny said he is also hopeful for the new system but a bit disappointed it couldn't have been prepared in time to test during this year's relatively quiet election cycle and then given a full rollout during the 2016 cycle, when all of the state legislative seats are up for election.

Kellner said that the BOE gets a bad rap, that the agency has put a great deal of effort into reaching out to interested users for input on its new software ,and that the newly created enforcement arm of the BOE, through its compliance unit, has been auditing filings for data inconsistencies and filing errors and has either rejected filings or offered help to treasurers to ensure accuracy and consistency.

While the state BOE is set to show off some of its new tools, the CFB is also expected to outline coming changes at Friday's event, which is called "Following the Money: Opening NY Campaign Finance Data." The event listing says the two agencies will "preview new campaign finance reporting systems and discuss how to make state and city campaign finance data easier to use." The CFB is eyeing the next round of city elections in 2017, but its representatives are also aware that the board's data is always of interest to many.

Kaehny, despite his praise of the CFB, said he has a frustration with both agencies he hopes will be alleviated on Friday. He says that he and other campaign finance aficionados are in the dark about how to report data errors to the agencies and whether they actually get fixed once they are reported. "If we get anything out of it," Kaehny said of Friday's event, "it's to get both agencies to tell us how to report data problems and who is going to fix it."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Boards to Offer Peek Into New Ways to Access Campaign Finance Data Thu, 19 Nov 2015 23:56:02 +0000
Student Voter Registration Push Targets New York's Turnout Crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5642:student-voter-registration-push-targets-new-yorks-turnout-crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5642:student-voter-registration-push-targets-new-yorks-turnout-crisis Robert-Cornegy-Helen-Rosenthal

Council members and advocates rally for SVRD at City Hall (all photos: Cici Chen)


Only 11 percent of young New Yorkers voted in the last citywide elections. City residents between 18- and 30-years-old have the lowest voter turnout of any age or socioeconomic group. They are also least likely to be registered to vote. The Department of Education sends out 80,000 voter registration forms with diplomas each year, but there is no mechanism to monitor resulting registration numbers thereafter.

In response to these discouraging numbers, New York City Council Member Helen Rosenthal; several of her colleagues; NYC Votes, the voter outreach arm of the city's Campaign Finance Board; good government groups; and others have organized the city's first Student Voter Registration Day (SVRD) to be held at 25 schools across the five boroughs tomorrow, Friday, March 20.

The pilot program is being launched Friday to commemorate Democracy Day, when 18-year-olds gained the right to vote on March 23, 1971. Students 17- and 18-years-old will be encouraged to register in their classrooms. "What we're going to do is not only register these kids to vote, but we're going to help them understand the value of voting and so hopefully they'll actually go out and vote," said Council Member Rosenthal at a kickoff rally on the steps of City Hall Thursday.

The program will focus on civic engagement and youth involvement in politics. "Our challenge here is helping young people to connect the act of voting to their lives beyond the school walls," said Chyann Sapp, Youth Voter Coordinator for the Campaign Finance Board. NYC Votes and its Voter Assistance Advisory Committee have partnered with the Board of Elections, the Department of Education, the United Federation of Teachers, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, civic engagement groups, and others to formulate a curriculum that will show young people "how their votes can affect issues like the price of college, student loans, affordable housing and finding a job," said Sapp.

The program is aimed at youth on the verge of becoming eligible voters, which is important in retaining them in the voting process throughout their lives, according to Board of Elections executive director Michael Ryan. "The inception of the voting process is registration," Ryan said, stressing that registration must be modernized to allow young people access to the voting system in a way that they feel comfortable with it.

Michael-J-Ryan-Helen-Rosenthal

BOE head Michael Ryan

An early adopter on the campaign was Brooklyn Council Member Robert Cornegy, who emphasized the importance of the history of protests for voting rights. "Elections are incredibly powerful mechanisms for change, perhaps the most powerful tools we have in a representative democracy," he said. "That's why people risked their lives in Selma," Cornegy said, referring to Civil Rights Movement protests in the South, recently commemorated at fifty years.

Council Member Mark Levine also spoke to history, and said that there is a need to change the current culture around voting in the city and the country. "The generation that came of age long after the Civil Rights Movement has taken this right for granted, this hard-fought right that many people marched for and some even died for. And if we're gonna change the culture, that has to start with young people and young leaders," he said.

Student Voter Registration Day will not only focus on eligible voters. Recognizing the large immigrant population in the city, it will also involve education about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and connecting young immigrant voters with their local representatives. "We need to not forget them," said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

[Related: Solving Our Voter Turnout Crisis]

The initiative also has the support of many good government groups including Common Cause, New York Public Interest Research Group, and Citizens Union.

"Public education was founded mainly to do three things: to teach people how to read, write, and to be active citizens," said Drew Lombardi from Generation Citizen, a civic education non-profit that works in city schools. Lombardi lamented that civic education has become a "secondary part" of school.

Citizens Union's Peggy Farber hopes that SRVD would become a permanent civics education program across city schools: "By registering students, educating them about the importance of becoming active citizens, and helping them understand how to use their political voice, this program establishes healthy civic habits that will last a lifetime."

photos from Thursday's rally (Cici Chen)

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by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid

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Student Voter Registration Push Targets New York's Turnout Crisis Thu, 19 Mar 2015 18:44:05 +0000
8 Government Ops Agencies to Face Council Questions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5641:8-government-ops-agencies-to-face-council-questions http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5641:8-government-ops-agencies-to-face-council-questions ben kallos

CM Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)


As preliminary budget hearings at the City Council approach the end of their third week, the Committee on Governmental Operations will meet Thursday to evaluate the expense plan for a host of city agencies.

Members of the committee, chaired by Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos, will meet representatives of eight city agencies to question them about performances and budgetary needs. The hearing will also look at the city's 59 community boards.

"The Council Member's aim will be to ensure all tax dollars get spent wisely," and that "the operations of the agencies that Governmental Operations has oversight over are open, transparent and work seamlessly for the people," an aide to Kallos said by email.

The hearing, which continues the Council's evaluation of Mayor Bill de Blasio's initial Fiscal Year 2016 spending plan, will look at the nuts and bolts of government function, including how the City runs the voting process, and much more. It will open with testimony from an executive of the Financial Information Services Agency (FISA), the body running the Payroll Management System, which processes over nine million payments and $28 billion worth of payroll annually.

During last year's preliminary budget hearing, FISA's First Deputy Director, Rose Ellen Myers, said the budget allotted to her agency for Fiscal Year 2015 was sufficient to allow it to maintain its current levels of service.

According to the preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2016, FISA will be one of the three agencies under the supervision of the Governmental Operations Committee that will not face budget reductions. The other two are the Tax Commission and the Office of Administrative Trials & Hearings (OATH). These numbers are based on the preliminary fiscal 2016 outline from the mayor versus the adjusted 2015 expense budget.

As outlined in de Blasio's expense plan, which he announced in early February, other agencies supervised by the Committee on Governmental Operations will have to deal with budgetary cuts.

The Law Department will see its budget diminished by nearly $9 million. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which manages some of the city's real estate properties and provides logistic support to city employees, will be provided $44 million less this coming fiscal year, set to begin July 1.

The New York City's Board of Elections will see a drop of over $29 million, which could have to do with the BOE's limited electioneering responsibilities in November of 2015. But, performance of and funding at the BOE are significant issues. During the preliminary budget hearing last year, BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan began his testimony by denouncing a "chronic and sustained budgetary underfunding" that has impacted the office in the last several years.

"This consistent underfunding has placed the Board in financial jeopardy and has negatively impacted the Board's ability to effectively and efficiently conduct elections," Ryan said on that occasion, adding that the agency needed more funds "in order to fulfill its constitutional and statutory mission successfully."

During that same hearing, however, Council Member David Greenfield, a Brooklyn Democrat on the government operations committee, downplayed a "conspiracy to go after the Board of Elections" and ultimately asked Ryan to do more with less.

Called to testify at a hearing of the committee on March 3, Ryan and other representatives from the Board of Election said the agency is working on new software to allow online tracking of absentee ballots and communication with voters about the status of their ballot applications.

The price tag for such reform, however, is still unknown. It is possible the agency will request more funds in order to implement it, and to be sufficiently equipped leading up to coming elections.

At the hearing on Thursday, members of the committee will likely ask Ryan about the need for additional funds, introducing the possibility that more money could be earmarked to sustain the Board of Elections' efforts to expand and defend voters' participation. The Council will give its response to de Blasio's preliminary budget in April, requesting that he include more funding for certain agencies and initiatives in his Executive Budget.

While urging the City Council for more funding, however, representatives of the BOE are expected to be aggressively probed by the committee members on a number of issues. One of these is the capacity of the BOE to ensure its Electronic Voting System will work efficiently.

During the budget hearing in 2014, Greenfield pointed out the electronic machines voters use to cast their ballots have stalled in the past, creating problems at poll sites.

Another object of scrutiny will be the Board of Elections' hiring process. The city Department of Investigation has suggested the agency run a background check on every worker it hires during an election.

Ryan, however, said that while the agency does already perform a criminal background screening of its full-time employees, the same procedure would be difficult to implement in the case of the 36,000 poll workers who are hired temporarily. Ryan took over at the BOE not long before the 2013 city elections took place.

Kallos said long-standing issues at the Board of Elections will ultimately get fixed.

"There has been some forward movement and some stagnation," he told Gotham Gazette in an email. In response, he said, he will push forward the necessary reforms to eradicate "nepotism and patronage" from the agency.

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by Marco Poggio, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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8 Government Ops Agencies to Face Council Questions Wed, 18 Mar 2015 21:28:29 +0000
Mail Your Vote, Then Track It? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5616:mail-your-vote-then-track-it-absentee-ballot-voting-kallos http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5616:mail-your-vote-then-track-it-absentee-ballot-voting-kallos kallos vision zero

CM Kallos at a recent press conference on traffic safety (photo: @BenKallos)


NEW YORK - There is a voter turnout crisis in this country, this state, and this city. Causes abound, including mistrust of politicians and barriers to easy voting. As elected officials, advocates, and experts look for solutions, some argue an inefficient system handling absentee ballots has caused thousands of New Yorkers to miss the opportunity to cast their votes.

"We received numerous calls from frustrated voters who had not received their absentee ballot and had no way of finding out where in the process their application was," said Lauren George, associate director of Common Cause New York, an advocacy organization that promotes civic engagement.

Voter participation has been steadily declining for decades, and continues to find shocking new lows. Last November, New York was the fifth worse state in the country for voter participation, with a staggering 29.5 percent turnout. In New York City, the turnout was just above 21 percent.

"In this age of devastatingly low voter confidence in our elections," said George, "making voting easy and convenient for citizens is of critical importance."

Now, two bills introduced by members of the New York City Council aim to do just that.

Tuesday morning, the Committee on Governmental Operations, chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos, a Democrat from Manhattan, discussed two new pieces of legislation that could help re-engage thousands of voters in the election process.

"We want every eligible voter to register and cast a ballot," Kallos told Gotham Gazette. "Absentee ballots are essential to maximizing turnout."

Currently, a voter who wishes to cast an absentee ballot has to follow a three-step process: register to vote; request an absentee ballot; vote.

Right now, it's impossible for voters to complete the first two steps at the same time.

One of the Council's proposed bills, however, would allow New York City residents to register to vote and apply for an absentee ballot together, eliminating the usual time that slows the voting process.

The second bill, meanwhile, would require the Board of Elections to provide a website through which voters can track their absentee ballots in every step of the process.

By accessing the website, voters would know whether their application for an absentee ballot has been received, and whether it has been approved. Then, it would be possible to check if an absentee ballot has been mailed and delivered. After completing an absentee vote, New Yorkers would be able to check if their completed ballot has made it back to the Board of Election and, finally, if it has been counted.

Amy Loprest, executive director of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, said in her testimony that technology already exists allowing the U.S. Postal Service to track the absentee ballots of members of the military and citizens living overseas.

A handful of states including Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Virginia already have set up a similar technology to track the absentee ballots of domestic voters as well.

"We can all track our packages online, and we should be able to track our votes in the same way," said Loprest, who spoke emphatically in favor of the bill.

"This legislation provides an opportunity for New York City to be a local leader in the use of technology to boost confidence in our elections," she added.

It is still not clear how much the City will have to spend to implement the tracking system.

Seth Flaxman, the founder and executive director of Democracy Works, a nonprofit organization that could be contracted to get the new Board of Election website up and running, said a ballot tracking feature would be easy and quite inexpensive to put in place.

"We wanted to ensure that good election technology would always be affordable for the government," said Flaxman. "It will cost what will be affordable to New York City."

Beside the costs involved in improving the absentee voting system, voters' participation seems to be a concern that goes deeper than partisan distinction.

"The idea that we have a voter turnout crisis transcends parties," said Paul Westrick, legislative aide to Kallos. "This is something that helps people across the city, across the party lines."

The bills may be tweaked and then, possibly, voted on at a governmental operations committee meeting in the near future. Each has just a few sponsors, but that does not necessarily fully measure support. If passed by the committee, they would head to the full Council.

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by Marco Poggio, Gotham Gazette
@mrcpoggio

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Mail Your Vote, Then Track It? Thu, 05 Mar 2015 16:52:23 +0000