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/nyc-votes 2017-10-21T08:31:43+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com 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>
Activists, Lawmakers Rally for Voting Reform at Capitol 2017-05-02T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-02T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6908:activists-lawmakers-rally-for-voting-reform-at-capitol Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/vote_better_ny_capitol_.jpg" alt="vote better ny capitol " width="600" height="467" /></p> <p>Tuesday's rally (photo: @NYCVotes)</p> <hr /> <p>A coalition of electoral reform activists were joined by Democratic state lawmakers during their annual pilgrimage to the New York State Capitol Tuesday to call for legislation that would remove barriers to the ballot and ensure that eligible New Yorkers are provided more opportunity to vote.</p> <p>“Vote Better NY” seeks common sense changes to New York's voting laws to ensure that more eligible New Yorkers make it to the polls. This year, the organization is advocating for a slew of bills, including early voting, the Voter Empowerment Act, which would streamline the registration process, the New York Votes Act, which refers to automatic registration, as well as new preclearance measures before any additional requirements are added to the current voter registration process.</p> <p>Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Latrice Walker, and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh attended the rally, which was organized in large part by NYC Votes, the voter engagement arm of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, and key member of the Vote Better NY coalition. More than 100 organizers and activists boarded three coach buses from the city early Tuesday morning to rally at the Capitol and then meet in small groups with individual legislators to lobby them toward supporting the voting reform agenda. There has been little movement on such reform in Albany despite a good deal of support and New York’s decidedly antiquated laws.</p> <p>“Elections have consequences. New York has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation and that should embarrass us,” said Stewart-Cousins, in a statement put out by Vote Better NY. “We should be making it easier to vote and not be putting up roadblocks. That is why I have advanced legislation to enable early voting, and why the Senate Democratic Conference has rolled out multiple pro-voter bills.”</p> <p>New York has some of the most arcane voter access guidelines in the nation. In 2014, the state ranked 49 of the country’s 50 states in terms of voter turnout. While other states have improved their voting laws to increase ballot access, New York’s abysmal turnout has grown worse for presidential, gubernatorial, and New York City mayoral elections.</p> <p>Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), who participated the rally, said, “New York ranks consistently as one of the nation's worst states in terms of voter participation, driven by our archaic voter registration and election administration systems. Still, young people want to participate in democracy. NYPIRG sees that every day on college campuses across the state.”</p> <p>In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, a new movement to overhaul New York’s voting laws gained support from several high-profile city and state officials, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6752-attorney-general-unveils-sweeping-voting-reforms-package" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">including Attorney General Eric Schneiderman</a> and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p>During his 2017 State of the State speaking tour and in his executive budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of significant reforms: automatic registration, same-day registration, and early voting. Though the governor vowed to “try like heck” to have the reforms included in the state budget, they did not make it into the final policy and spending plan that was announced last month. In an April appearance at the governor’s mansion, Cuomo blamed the Legislature, which he said lacked the appetite for such reforms.</p> <p>"My point is: There is more to do; there is no political will to do it. Otherwise we would have done it in the budget," Cuomo <a href="http://www.twcnews.com/nys/capital-region/politics/2017/04/28/new-york-democrats-still-trying-to-overhaul-state-voting-laws.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told reporters</a> during an annual Easter open house.</p> <p>While increasing voter access should be a bipartisan issue, Republicans in the State Senate have historically blocked electoral reform measures, for fear that the conference would lose its razor-thin majority. After appearing at a rally for the corrections officers’ union Monday, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, suggested he may be open to discussing the idea, but couple that sentiment with skepticism about the cost and implementation of any real voting reform.</p> <p>“It depends how you define voter access; it’s a conversation we should be having regardless,” Flanagan told reporters, citing enlarging the font on the ballot as a sensible reform measure.</p> <p>When asked about early voting, he told reporters, “Early voting is defined so many ways, is it just one day? I was just joking around that I’m supportive of early voting, just start 5 o’clock instead of 6. It is a serious subject and something we should be talking about, but how do you do that without costing astronomical amounts of money? Our county boards of election are strapped right now.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

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

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
‘Voters of New York’ Adds Human Touch to Civic Outreach Efforts 2016-10-20T04:00:00+00:00 2016-10-20T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6581:voters-of-new-york-adds-human-touch-to-civic-outreach-efforts Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/voters_of_new_york.png" alt="voters of new york" width="600" height="439" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo: Voters of New York on Instagram)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">On October 14, the deadline for online voter registration in New York, NYC Votes announced the launch of a new project, “Voters of New York,” “which highlights stories from everyday New Yorkers sharing their personal thoughts about voting and why they plan to vote in this election.” An ongoing series of portraits of New Yorkers with their first-person explanations, Voters of New York is meant to spur civic engagement and boost voter turnout.</p> <p dir="ltr">NYC Votes is the voter engagement arm of the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB). Its work includes helping people to register to vote, educating New Yorkers about elections, candidates, and civic life; and encouraging them to get to the polls.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We were inspired by the “Humans of New York” portrait series to provide a platform where New Yorkers can share their feelings and stories about voting. We hope that their words will inspire more New Yorkers to take part in the election on November 8,” said CFB’s Public Relations Officer Katrina Shakarian.</p> <p dir="ltr">With Election Day less than three weeks away, efforts to increase New York’s dismal voting rates are in full swing, with political parties, advocacy groups, and others trying to encourage their members to cast a ballot. The recent state legislative primaries, held September 13, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6557-another-shockingly-low-turnout-election" target="_blank">saw very low voter turnout</a>, though it was fairly typical for New York in such party primaries. General elections, especially for President, typically bring out more voters, and that is certain to be the case again this year. How many voters is to be seen, but NYC Votes hopes that Voters of New York will contribute to an uptick.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/downloads/pdf/documents/boe/AnnualReports/BOEAnnualReport12.pdf">Board of Elections Annual Report 2012</a>, in that year’s presidential election, 58% of registered New York City voters cast ballots. In the 2013 New York City mayoral election, turnout was just 26%. Voter turnout is typically higher for presidential elections than any others.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Asking a voter on the streets of New York the simple question, ‘Why is voting important to you?’ opens up so many different stories and opinions,” said Jessica Su, a high school student who interned at CFB and collected the interviews, writing in the program’s <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/blog/new-yorkers-share-their-thoughts-democracy-new-cfb-project">blog</a>. “My favorite moment from the Voters of New York project was attending a naturalization ceremony and seeing so many joy-filled new citizens celebrating their citizenship. Getting to talk to them and see the enthusiasm they have for their new life as citizens is something I will never forget,” Su added.</p> <p dir="ltr">The testimonies of the interviewees, which are anonymous, are posted on different social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/votersofnewyork/">Instagram</a>, all using the hashtag <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23votersofnewyork&amp;src=typd" target="_blank">#votersofnewyork</a>. The interviewee’s picture is featured each time, all wearing a sticker that says “I Registered to Vote.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The testimonies showcase people who appear to see voting as not only a right, but a responsibility: “I believe in electing people that are going to fight for our communities. If we don’t vote then we can’t complain. We can’t complain, we have to step up,” says one.</p> <p dir="ltr">A missing sense of responsibility is among a variety of reasons that many New Yorkers do not vote. New York is also known to have antiquated voter registration and voting laws, something some public officials have been fighting to change, but thus far without luck in Albany, the state capital. Right before this year’s deadline to register to vote in the November elections, Mayor Bill de Blasio helped register a few voters in Brooklyn and then held a press conference calling on state lawmakers to pass a series of reforms like same-day voter registration and a period of early voting.</p> <p dir="ltr">Just nine days before the registration deadline Public Advocate Letitia James and a variety of other officials and organizations held a rally at City Hall to push for emergency action by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to help clear a massive citizenship application backlog. Nearly 60,000 applications were still pending in the New York City area before the voter registration deadline.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This year especially we have a presidential election that will change the course of history. So many of these immigrants are soon-to-be citizens, some of them most impacted by this election,” James said during the rally. Extended voter registration at the Board of Elections is available until October 29 for those who became naturalized citizens after the initial deadline on October 14.</p> <p>In efforts to raise awareness on the importance of voting, another program has also sought to gain more voters. Student Voter Registration Day (SVRD), a one-day program, visited 125 New York City high schools on October 6, with the goal of registering 10,000 eligible students as new voters. To make sure these newly registered voters actually use their voice, NYC Votes recruits volunteers for their Get Out The Vote campaign to call new registered voters before Election Day encouraging them to to vote.</p> <p>***<br />by Milka Nissinen for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/voters_of_new_york.png" alt="voters of new york" width="600" height="439" /></p> <p dir="ltr">(photo: Voters of New York on Instagram)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">On October 14, the deadline for online voter registration in New York, NYC Votes announced the launch of a new project, “Voters of New York,” “which highlights stories from everyday New Yorkers sharing their personal thoughts about voting and why they plan to vote in this election.” An ongoing series of portraits of New Yorkers with their first-person explanations, Voters of New York is meant to spur civic engagement and boost voter turnout.</p> <p dir="ltr">NYC Votes is the voter engagement arm of the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB). Its work includes helping people to register to vote, educating New Yorkers about elections, candidates, and civic life; and encouraging them to get to the polls.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We were inspired by the “Humans of New York” portrait series to provide a platform where New Yorkers can share their feelings and stories about voting. We hope that their words will inspire more New Yorkers to take part in the election on November 8,” said CFB’s Public Relations Officer Katrina Shakarian.</p> <p dir="ltr">With Election Day less than three weeks away, efforts to increase New York’s dismal voting rates are in full swing, with political parties, advocacy groups, and others trying to encourage their members to cast a ballot. The recent state legislative primaries, held September 13, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6557-another-shockingly-low-turnout-election" target="_blank">saw very low voter turnout</a>, though it was fairly typical for New York in such party primaries. General elections, especially for President, typically bring out more voters, and that is certain to be the case again this year. How many voters is to be seen, but NYC Votes hopes that Voters of New York will contribute to an uptick.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the <a href="http://vote.nyc.ny.us/downloads/pdf/documents/boe/AnnualReports/BOEAnnualReport12.pdf">Board of Elections Annual Report 2012</a>, in that year’s presidential election, 58% of registered New York City voters cast ballots. In the 2013 New York City mayoral election, turnout was just 26%. Voter turnout is typically higher for presidential elections than any others.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Asking a voter on the streets of New York the simple question, ‘Why is voting important to you?’ opens up so many different stories and opinions,” said Jessica Su, a high school student who interned at CFB and collected the interviews, writing in the program’s <a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/blog/new-yorkers-share-their-thoughts-democracy-new-cfb-project">blog</a>. “My favorite moment from the Voters of New York project was attending a naturalization ceremony and seeing so many joy-filled new citizens celebrating their citizenship. Getting to talk to them and see the enthusiasm they have for their new life as citizens is something I will never forget,” Su added.</p> <p dir="ltr">The testimonies of the interviewees, which are anonymous, are posted on different social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/votersofnewyork/">Instagram</a>, all using the hashtag <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23votersofnewyork&amp;src=typd" target="_blank">#votersofnewyork</a>. The interviewee’s picture is featured each time, all wearing a sticker that says “I Registered to Vote.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The testimonies showcase people who appear to see voting as not only a right, but a responsibility: “I believe in electing people that are going to fight for our communities. If we don’t vote then we can’t complain. We can’t complain, we have to step up,” says one.</p> <p dir="ltr">A missing sense of responsibility is among a variety of reasons that many New Yorkers do not vote. New York is also known to have antiquated voter registration and voting laws, something some public officials have been fighting to change, but thus far without luck in Albany, the state capital. Right before this year’s deadline to register to vote in the November elections, Mayor Bill de Blasio helped register a few voters in Brooklyn and then held a press conference calling on state lawmakers to pass a series of reforms like same-day voter registration and a period of early voting.</p> <p dir="ltr">Just nine days before the registration deadline Public Advocate Letitia James and a variety of other officials and organizations held a rally at City Hall to push for emergency action by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to help clear a massive citizenship application backlog. Nearly 60,000 applications were still pending in the New York City area before the voter registration deadline.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This year especially we have a presidential election that will change the course of history. So many of these immigrants are soon-to-be citizens, some of them most impacted by this election,” James said during the rally. Extended voter registration at the Board of Elections is available until October 29 for those who became naturalized citizens after the initial deadline on October 14.</p> <p>In efforts to raise awareness on the importance of voting, another program has also sought to gain more voters. Student Voter Registration Day (SVRD), a one-day program, visited 125 New York City high schools on October 6, with the goal of registering 10,000 eligible students as new voters. To make sure these newly registered voters actually use their voice, NYC Votes recruits volunteers for their Get Out The Vote campaign to call new registered voters before Election Day encouraging them to to vote.</p> <p>***<br />by Milka Nissinen for Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> Lobbying, in Albany, for Better Voting Laws 2016-05-08T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-08T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6323:lobbying-in-albany-for-better-voting-laws Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/vote_better_ny_dalton_political_nyc_votes.jpg" width="600" height="339" alt="vote better ny dalton political nyc votes" /></p> <p>Students in Albany to lobby for voting and registration reform (#VoteBetterNY)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Before dawn on a cold and rainy May morning, about 175 New Yorkers gathered outside a building on Church Street, waiting to board a bus to Albany. Some had left their Staten Island and Queens homes as early as 4 a.m. to make departure on time, others had taken the day off work or school, all were there for the same reason: to meet with state lawmakers and convince them to modernize New York’s antiquated election laws.</p> <p dir="ltr">Four buses pulled into the state capital a few hours later and members of the<a href="http://www.votebetterny.org/"> Vote Better NY coalition</a> lined up on the stairs of West Capitol Park, behind the New York State Capitol Building, for a rally calling for passage of legislation to enact early voting, automatic voter registration, and better ballot design. These reforms, advocates say, would help to increase New York’s dismal voter turnout by making it far easier for New Yorkers to register to vote and to cast their ballots. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The May 3 trip to Albany, the rally, and the 74 meetings with legislators and the governor’s office scheduled for the day were organized by NYC Votes, the non-partisan voter engagement campaign of the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Tuesday marked the third annual NYC Votes lobby day, wherein New York City residents head north to Albany by the busload to push for voting reform, and the delegation has nearly doubled in size since last year when about 100 people attended, up from about 50 the first year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We still vote like it’s the 19th century and voters are sick and tired of election laws designed to benefit elected officials, rather than the voters,” said Onida Coward Mayers, director of voter assistance at NYC Votes.</p> <p dir="ltr">“You know how they say, ‘there’s an app for that’? Well, there’s an act for that,” Mayers said, referring to the<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass"> Voter Empowerment Act</a>, a voting reform bill package that would expand online registration, allow certain government agencies to automatically register citizens to vote, extend party change and registration deadlines, and permit pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. “Voters in 37 other states have early voting,” Mayers added, “Why not New York?”</p> <p dir="ltr">The Vote Better NY coalition was joined for its rally by two state Assembly members and four state Senators, all of whom have either introduced or sponsored voting reform bills supported by the coalition, some of which have passed in the Democratic-controlled Assembly for years, only to die every time in the Republican-led Senate. The exclusively Democratic group of lawmakers present at the rally made their support for voting reform clear as ever, and repeatedly expressed exasperation at the lack of support for such reforms from their colleagues “across the aisle,” creating a situation where those who profess their support for voting reform offload all of the blame for the lack of movement on the reforms onto those who do not support the legislation.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We get it, we are sponsoring these bills, we have been trying to get [reform] through for years,” said Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “The last time we were able to do something significant [on voting reform] was when Democrats had the [Senate] majority.”</p> <p dir="ltr">There has been record turnout in nearly every state that has voted in primary elections so far in the presidential race, Senator Michael Gianaris said, except New York. The Empire State has the<a href="http://www.electproject.org/2016P"> second lowest turnout rate</a> of any state so far this year, with just 19.7 percent of the voting eligible population casting a ballot. “All these other states, where they’ve enacted these reforms, have record turnout. The answers are simple, they’re staring us in the face,” Gianaris said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Why is it so hard to do something that should be so easy?” Gianaris asked, referring to getting these “common-sense” voting reforms passed. “Because there’s a lot of people in that building who want fewer people to vote because it benefits them winning,” Gianaris said, gesturing toward the collection of government buildings in the Empire State Plaza.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it’s true that many Senate Republicans either don’t support or outright oppose many of the voting reform bills that have been introduced time and again in Albany, as Democratic Senator Brad Hoylman said when pressed to specify who was “standing in the way” of these reforms becoming law, “It’s important that everyone here get the Senators and Assembly members on the record as to whether they oppose or support extending the franchise…We can go to each Senator, Republican and Democrat, and ask them to cosponsor these bills.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/kavanagh_voter_better_ny.jpg" width="300" height="264" alt="kavanagh voter better ny" style="margin: 8px; float: left;" />After the rally, members of the Vote Better NY coalition set out to change the minds of those not on board themselves, breaking off into groups of six or seven and heading into the labyrinth of the Legislative Office Building to meet with lawmakers. They were armed with messages of enfranchisement and efficiency, and checklists of legislators who have said they support early voting, the Voter Empowerment Act, and the Voter Friendly Ballot Act.</p> <p dir="ltr">One group, made up of three members of the New York City Campaign Finance Board and three representatives from DYCD NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers, had their first meeting of the day with Senator Jeff Klein’s office. The meeting apparently went well, though Gotham Gazette can’t say for sure, as Dan Levin, assistant counsel to Klein, said their office “doesn’t do meetings with reporters,” and asked this reporter to wait outside, despite offers not to take any notes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Members of the voting reform group expressed frustration with the fact that, though Klein’s counsel said the Senator is supportive of the voting reform bills, as leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, Klein could do more to get Senate Republicans to support such reforms. The IDC and Senate Republicans have a power-sharing agreement that gives the five-member IDC more sway than mainline Democrats, who are led by Stewart-Cousins. Klein has not signed on as a sponsor of any Vote Better NY bills.</p> <p dir="ltr">After the meeting with Levin, the group left Klein’s office, heading toward a newly-booked meeting with Senator Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican.</p> <p dir="ltr">“They call this ‘the million dollar staircase,’” one aide from Klein’s office quipped as she walked past the group, “because they say it cost a million dollars.” The inside of the connected government buildings that spanned the Empire State Plaza are more ornate than their gray exteriors with dark, thin windows, let on - white marble spans the majority of the interior, the "million dollar staircase" that actually<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/10/nyregion/a-tour-of-the-new-york-state-capitol.html?_r=0"> ran over</a> its million dollar budget, a part of a wall in the central hall with water cascading down it, a McDonald’s, and a Dunkin Donuts all inside the building’s winding halls.</p> <p dir="ltr">After waiting just long enough for members of the group to become bored enough to flip through a copy of the New York Post lying on Lanza’s waiting room table in search of the tabloid’s Met Gala photos, the group’s captain and the CFB’s public affairs officer, Amanda Melillo, was told that Lanza would be free later on, and to come back any time. (When the group returned about an hour later, Melillo was told that the senator was busy and instructed to leave some material for Lanza to read).</p> <p dir="ltr">The group wound back through the halls, stairs, elevators, and escalators of the disorienting Legislative Office Building and its connecting tunnels to their next meeting, with Senator Simcha Felder. The Brooklyn senator is perhaps the most important person determining the upper house’s balance of power - he’s elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans, and has recently created a 32-member majority in the 63-seat chamber.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Oh, I’m sorry, I was teaching him how to tap dance,” said an aide who stopped striking the floor with her foot and moved to stand behind the main desk in Felder’s waiting room upon the group’s arrival.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though the group was scheduled to meet with Felder himself in about ten minutes, with his tap dancing lesson cut short, Robert Farley, senior counsel in the New York State Senate, offered to meet with the group right away instead.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gotham Gazette remained for this meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes. Throughout the discussion, Farley expressed skepticism, disapproval, or outright rejection of every voting reform put forth by the group.</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo and others spoke about the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections">many issues New York City voters</a> encountered during the April 19 primary, including the fact that some 126,000 Democratic voters in Brooklyn had been removed from the voter rolls, and that many New Yorkers had showed up to the polls on election day, only to be told that they were not registered to vote and must sign an affidavit ballot instead.</p> <p dir="ltr">“A lot of people think they’re registered and they’re not,” Farley said, generally dismissing the group’s assertion that many of these people were registered to vote and were unable to cast a regular ballot. The bills at hand would, in part, make it easier to register to vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">One member of the group, Rosa Velez, told Farley that she had worked as a poll worker on several occasions, including during New York’s most recent primary, said she “had so many people cursing me out at the primary - it was so stressful, people would walk in and I would just hope their name was on the list.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“One woman who showed up to vote showed me on her phone that she was registered, but her name wasn’t on the list,” Velez added. “I told her she could fill out an affidavit, but she said, “no, f*** this, I’ve been voting for nine years, I want to vote the regular way.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo and Daniel Cho, director of candidate services at the CFB, then brought up online voter registration, and the potential of online and automatic voter registration to increase the number of registered voters and reduce the number of clerical errors made with the current mostly pen-and-paper system.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Every time you do reform, there’s going to be problems,” Farley responded. “I don’t know how much doing another reform actually is going to change the problem, with people not doing their jobs right at the Board of Elections.” Farley added that electronic voter registration has its problems as well, citing the potential for hacking or voter fraud.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m a tech guy, I love technology,” Farley said, gesturing un-ironically to the decade old desktop computers in his office, one of which was displaying bubbles bouncing around the screen. “But tech in and of itself can create more problems.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Resigned, the group brought up New York’s closed primaries and early party change deadlines (New York is the only state where the deadline to change one’s party does not even fall within the same calendar year as the primary). Farley also didn’t believe open primaries or a later party change date would benefit New Yorkers, citing concerns of voters switching parties to game an election by voting against a candidate they didn’t like.</p> <p dir="ltr">When early voting was brought up, Farley said “We do have early voting, we have absentee voting,” and dismissed assertions that absentee voting in New York requires an excuse. “The BOE never checks,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Somewhat dismayed by Farley’s lack of receptiveness to any of the voting reforms Vote Better NY was there to promote, the group headed to meet with Jacob Wilkinson, counsel to Senator David Valesky, a Syracuse-area Democrat. Wilkinson was more open to hearing what members of CFB and DYCD NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers had to say, taking a photo with the group and expressing support for early voting, though he shared some of Farley’s reservations about open primaries. “The restrictions on voting are a little silly and backwards, except open primaries, that’s a different story,” Wilkinson said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Before heading out, the Vote Better NY coalition delivered a<a href="https://www.change.org/p/andrew-cuomo-new-york-state-senate-new-york-state-assembly-vote-better-new-york?recruiter=394849197&amp;utm_source=share_petition&amp;utm_medium=copylink"> petition</a> for reform signed by more than 6,500 New Yorkers to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.</p> <p dir="ltr">Melillo says Vote Better NY branched out in terms of the legislators they sought to meet with this year, including more upstate representatives like Valesky.</p> <p dir="ltr">Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs at the CFB, was part of the group that met with staff to Flanagan, Cuomo, and Heastie. He said that Flanagan’s staff had expressed reservations similar to those Farley had about passing voting reform - namely, concerns about the cost, whether they would be unfunded mandates, and questions about potential for voter fraud.</p> <p dir="ltr">After meeting with lawmakers, those who had come along with the Vote Better NY coalition boarded their respective buses back to New York City around 4:30 in the afternoon, though the buses didn’t take off till about twenty minutes later, when a man carrying several pizza boxes across West Capitol Park handed the food to Melillo and other NYC Votes members.</p> <p dir="ltr">The voting reform advocates who went to Albany on Tuesday included members of good government groups like NYPIRG and the League of Women Voters, civic engagement groups like Dominicanos USA and Generation Citizen, students, fraternity and sorority chapters, engaged citizens, and other groups like the NAACP and the New York Immigration Coalition.</p> <p dir="ltr">“At the end of the day,” Friedman said on the bus ride back, “you want there to be the same concern for folks who are shut out of the process” as there is for the cost of funding and implementing voting reform bills. “Making sure the election system works for everyone shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The system that we have in place works for the people in power,” Friedman continued, adding that sustained momentum is needed to make more modernized election laws a reality for New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s not enough for lawmakers who say they support voting reform to pass “a one house bill,” Friedman said, the question is, “are you going to make it a priority in that room, are you going to put it on the table?” referring to negotiating rooms.</p> <p dir="ltr">The early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a8582">bill</a> active in the Assembly is sponsored by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, and has seven Democratic co-sponsors. Early voting <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s3813/amendment/b">in the Senate</a> is sponsored by Stewart-Cousins and co-sponsored by 16 other Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Empowerment Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a5972">active</a> in the Assembly is sponsored by Kavanagh and co-sponsored by 17 other Democrats and one Independence Party member, Fred Thiele. The Voter Empowerment Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s2538/amendment/b" target="_blank">active</a>&nbsp;in the Senate is sponsored by Gianaris and co-sponsored by 17 other Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Friendly Ballot Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/a3389">active</a> in the Assembly is sponsored by Kavanagh and co-sponsored by 20 Democrats. The Voter Friendly Ballot Act <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/S7086">active</a> in the Senate is sponsored by Tony Avella, a member of the IDC, and co-sponsored by three mainline Democrats. No Republicans have signed on to either bill.</p> <p>With the most recent budget negotiated, lawmakers are now in the legislative session that runs until the middle of June. The entire state Legislature - 63 Senate and 150 Assembly seats - is up for election in the fall.</p> <p>“The individual legislators need to stand up and support these bills as much as possible,” Friedman concluded as the bus came to a stop outside the CFB’s building on Church Street around 7 p.m.</p> <p>

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to list the accurate sponsorship numbers of the early voting, voter empowerment, and voter friendly ballot acts.</p>
For 'A Better New York,' Activists Lobby Albany for Election Reform 2015-04-23T05:00:00+00:00 2015-04-23T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5695:for-a-better-new-york-activists-lobby-albany-for-election-reform Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/nyc_votes_Albany.jpg" alt="nyc votes Albany" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Activists in Albany (photo: @NYCVotes)</span></p> <hr /> <p>On a crisp Wednesday morning, two buses pulled up outside the New York State Capitol in Albany. Their cargo: a delegation of about 100 students, volunteers, and good government activists who travelled from New York City to advocate for voting reform.</p> <p>It was the second annual "Vote Better NY" Advocacy Day for Election Reform organized by NYC Votes, a non-partisan voter engagement initiative run by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) and its Voter Assistance Advisory Committee.</p> <p>The delegation left the city at 6 a.m. with the carefully defined objective of pushing state Senators and Assembly members on three voting issues: online voter registration, better ballot design, and early voting.</p> <p>Splitting into groups of five or six, activists worked the halls of the Capitol and the legislative office building, participating in back-to-back pre-arranged meetings with legislative staff or legislators themselves.</p> <p>Preparing for its first meeting, one group circled around their leader Onida Coward Mayers, the director of voter assistance at the CFB. "We're not lobbyists," Mayers said in her short pep talk. "You are an individual, a member of the public, and we all want the same thing. We're thanking [our representatives] for their work, but they need to do more. We're holding their feet to the fire."</p> <p>NYC Votes' advocacy day comes at a time when the Legislature is just getting back to work, filling the vacuum after the budget session. "Everything is budget here till April 1. The budget kinda sucked the oxygen out of the air," said Bryan Clenahan, counsel to Senator Diane Savino, as he addressed the Mayer-led group of activists, which included members of Dominicanos USA, the League of Women Voters, and the NAACP.</p> <p>The Legislature is in session through mid-June, with lawmakers in Albany a few days most weeks until then. There are many issues on the table that were left out of the budget, including minimum wage, criminal justice reform, and mayoral control of schools, but advocates wanted to make sure that election reform is also part of the discussion.</p> <p>Advocacy day was an opportunity for many of the advocates to meet their representatives and express <a href="http://fulldisclosure.nyccfb.info/blog/nyc-votes-coalition-asks-albany-adopt-votebetterny-agenda" target="_blank">their priorities</a> directly. Rob Reynolds, 28, works in tax preparation in Brooklyn. He was one of many independent members of the public, not affiliated with any organization, who joined NYC Votes for Wednesday's trip. "The day was very productive," he said. "We met with a lot of legislators. We shared with them our thoughts and ideas for improving the electoral process in New York. A lot of them seemed very receptive and seemed supportive of our ideas."</p> <p>Reynolds believes wholeheartedly that New York needs to improve its voter turnout, especially by taking lessons from other states that have a better record. For him, the day was an exciting opportunity to be heard. But it was not without its disappointments, particularly an Assembly member who Reynolds did not want to name publicly, but said was more interested in his own election efforts than expanding the democratic process. "There is an inherent problem when the people who we elect get to choose who elects them and its not right," said Reynolds. "Its not morally fair - in a democracy that's not how it should work."</p> <p>The numbers in yesterday's delegation are an indicator of an increasing consciousness among New Yorkers that reforming the voting process is necessary, particularly considering that New York hit the historically low point of 28.8 percent voter turnout in the 2014 gubernatorial election.</p> <p>"Last year we brought 50 people, everyday average New Yorkers to talk about [voting reform]," said Matt Sollars, press secretary at CFB. "This year we brought 100 people and next year we'll bring 200 people, and we're gonna keep bringing more people up here to talk about this until we see real change and we see real modern elections in New York state."</p> <p>The groups navigated the cavernous halls of the Capitol, even attending meetings with representatives of legislative leaders Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Senator Jeff Klein.</p> <p>Through the day, the activists tried to get legislators on board with specific bills. <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=A05564&amp;term=2015&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank">One bill</a> provides for online voter registration through the Board of Elections. Currently, New Yorkers can only register online through the Department of Motor Vehicles. The advocates also asked legislators to support the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, sponsored by Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, which improves ballot design.</p> <p>Although there was no specific bill on the agenda for early voting, some of the activists were surprised to learn in a meeting with Senator Tony Avella that he had introduced <a href="http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S1044-2015" target="_blank">a proposal</a> for weekend voting.</p> <p>"There was almost unanimous agreement among all the legislators that we met that voting was a top priority and that they were in favor of greater transparency and access to the voting process in principle, but they wanted to read the bills that were at issue," said Bridgette Ahn, president-elect of the Korean American Lawyers Association. "I think an important component of this is establishing a relationship, raising awareness, bringing the information to key decision-makers, following up with them, and continuing on the advocacy front."</p> <p>At the end of the day, NYC Votes had made its mark. The delegation was recognized both in the Assembly and Senate sessions for its work in promoting voting reform. "We do know the politics still plays after we leave their four walls," Onida Coward Mayers said with cautious optimism. "I'm very proud of the message that we sent that we will be heard," she said. "There needs to be election reform, citizens matter and citizens want change. [New Yorkers] want an easier, friendly, 21st century democracy."&nbsp;</p> <p>***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/nyc_votes_Albany.jpg" alt="nyc votes Albany" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Activists in Albany (photo: @NYCVotes)</span></p> <hr /> <p>On a crisp Wednesday morning, two buses pulled up outside the New York State Capitol in Albany. Their cargo: a delegation of about 100 students, volunteers, and good government activists who travelled from New York City to advocate for voting reform.</p> <p>It was the second annual "Vote Better NY" Advocacy Day for Election Reform organized by NYC Votes, a non-partisan voter engagement initiative run by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) and its Voter Assistance Advisory Committee.</p> <p>The delegation left the city at 6 a.m. with the carefully defined objective of pushing state Senators and Assembly members on three voting issues: online voter registration, better ballot design, and early voting.</p> <p>Splitting into groups of five or six, activists worked the halls of the Capitol and the legislative office building, participating in back-to-back pre-arranged meetings with legislative staff or legislators themselves.</p> <p>Preparing for its first meeting, one group circled around their leader Onida Coward Mayers, the director of voter assistance at the CFB. "We're not lobbyists," Mayers said in her short pep talk. "You are an individual, a member of the public, and we all want the same thing. We're thanking [our representatives] for their work, but they need to do more. We're holding their feet to the fire."</p> <p>NYC Votes' advocacy day comes at a time when the Legislature is just getting back to work, filling the vacuum after the budget session. "Everything is budget here till April 1. The budget kinda sucked the oxygen out of the air," said Bryan Clenahan, counsel to Senator Diane Savino, as he addressed the Mayer-led group of activists, which included members of Dominicanos USA, the League of Women Voters, and the NAACP.</p> <p>The Legislature is in session through mid-June, with lawmakers in Albany a few days most weeks until then. There are many issues on the table that were left out of the budget, including minimum wage, criminal justice reform, and mayoral control of schools, but advocates wanted to make sure that election reform is also part of the discussion.</p> <p>Advocacy day was an opportunity for many of the advocates to meet their representatives and express <a href="http://fulldisclosure.nyccfb.info/blog/nyc-votes-coalition-asks-albany-adopt-votebetterny-agenda" target="_blank">their priorities</a> directly. Rob Reynolds, 28, works in tax preparation in Brooklyn. He was one of many independent members of the public, not affiliated with any organization, who joined NYC Votes for Wednesday's trip. "The day was very productive," he said. "We met with a lot of legislators. We shared with them our thoughts and ideas for improving the electoral process in New York. A lot of them seemed very receptive and seemed supportive of our ideas."</p> <p>Reynolds believes wholeheartedly that New York needs to improve its voter turnout, especially by taking lessons from other states that have a better record. For him, the day was an exciting opportunity to be heard. But it was not without its disappointments, particularly an Assembly member who Reynolds did not want to name publicly, but said was more interested in his own election efforts than expanding the democratic process. "There is an inherent problem when the people who we elect get to choose who elects them and its not right," said Reynolds. "Its not morally fair - in a democracy that's not how it should work."</p> <p>The numbers in yesterday's delegation are an indicator of an increasing consciousness among New Yorkers that reforming the voting process is necessary, particularly considering that New York hit the historically low point of 28.8 percent voter turnout in the 2014 gubernatorial election.</p> <p>"Last year we brought 50 people, everyday average New Yorkers to talk about [voting reform]," said Matt Sollars, press secretary at CFB. "This year we brought 100 people and next year we'll bring 200 people, and we're gonna keep bringing more people up here to talk about this until we see real change and we see real modern elections in New York state."</p> <p>The groups navigated the cavernous halls of the Capitol, even attending meetings with representatives of legislative leaders Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Senator Jeff Klein.</p> <p>Through the day, the activists tried to get legislators on board with specific bills. <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=A05564&amp;term=2015&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank">One bill</a> provides for online voter registration through the Board of Elections. Currently, New Yorkers can only register online through the Department of Motor Vehicles. The advocates also asked legislators to support the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, sponsored by Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, which improves ballot design.</p> <p>Although there was no specific bill on the agenda for early voting, some of the activists were surprised to learn in a meeting with Senator Tony Avella that he had introduced <a href="http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S1044-2015" target="_blank">a proposal</a> for weekend voting.</p> <p>"There was almost unanimous agreement among all the legislators that we met that voting was a top priority and that they were in favor of greater transparency and access to the voting process in principle, but they wanted to read the bills that were at issue," said Bridgette Ahn, president-elect of the Korean American Lawyers Association. "I think an important component of this is establishing a relationship, raising awareness, bringing the information to key decision-makers, following up with them, and continuing on the advocacy front."</p> <p>At the end of the day, NYC Votes had made its mark. The delegation was recognized both in the Assembly and Senate sessions for its work in promoting voting reform. "We do know the politics still plays after we leave their four walls," Onida Coward Mayers said with cautious optimism. "I'm very proud of the message that we sent that we will be heard," she said. "There needs to be election reform, citizens matter and citizens want change. [New Yorkers] want an easier, friendly, 21st century democracy."&nbsp;</p> <p>***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a></p> Inaugural Student Voter Registration Day Kicks Off at 25 City Schools 2015-03-23T04:23:32+00:00 2015-03-23T04:23:32+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5646:inaugural-student-voter-registration-day-kicks-off-at-25-city-schools Super User <p><img alt="CM Rosenthal SVRD" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/SVRD-600.jpg" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>CM Rosenthal addresses students (photo: Cici Chen)</p> <hr /> <p>NEW YORK - The 2013 New York City mayoral election’s<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/news/election-2013/2013/11/06/new-york-turnout-appears-headed-for-record-low/" target="_blank"> record low</a> 24 percent voter turnout rate is largely reflective of and dragged down by 11 percent youth voter participation. This especially paltry turnout among voters 18- to 29-years-old has spurred advocates and policy-makers to act. Friday saw the city’s first Student Voter Registration Day (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5642-student-voter-registration-push-targets-new-yorks-turnout-crisis" target="_blank">SVRD</a>), during which programming occurred in 25 schools across the five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council members; representatives from NYC Votes, the voter engagement arm of the city’s Campaign Finance Board; and advocates led workshops at the schools during which they sought to connect students to local government and encourage them to register to vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who initiated SVRD, led the session at Frank McCourt High School in her Upper West Side district. Rosenthal half-jokingly told the students in attendance, “If I suck, I want you to vote me out of office, but you have to register and vote [to do so].”</p> <p dir="ltr">Rosenthal said that <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5642-student-voter-registration-push-targets-new-yorks-turnout-crisis" target="_blank">the first SVRD</a> day was received with unbelievable enthusiasm. “I'm getting tweets from other council members who were at [schools], and also those who really wanted to participate but couldn’t. When you're at the school you can really see that it is so important to the students to have their voices heard.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Rosenthal and those with her at Frank McCourt, which is one school located in the Brandeis High School Campus building, spoke to about 40 juniors during one class period and then about 100 seniors in another. She also spoke with students from two of the other schools in the Brandeis complex.</p> <p dir="ltr">When Rosenthal learned that 80,000 voter registration cards go out to high schools each year and very few get sent back, she says she started thinking about how more could be done to ensure that 18-year-olds know their rights and the value of voting.</p> <p dir="ltr">Rosenthal said that the Department of Education (DOE) would be the entity to really make SVRD a successful annual event in all high schools, but she is happy to lead the initiative and implement the pilot program. For the first SVRD, participants utilized <a href="http://fulldisclosure.nyccfb.info/blog/initiate-operation-youth-voter-svrdnyc" target="_blank">a curriculum</a> created by NYC Votes, which already leads other civic engagement workshops in city schools. If SVRD is to expand from the initial 25 schools to all of the hundreds of city high schools, NYC Votes will likely be integrally involved along with the DOE.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://fulldisclosure.nyccfb.info/blog/initiate-operation-youth-voter-svrdnyc"></a></p> <p dir="ltr">It is not immediately clear how many registration forms were collected at Friday’s workshops, but Rosenthal said that she cannot wait to find out.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kaylah Bilal, a junior at one of the schools in Brandeis, had naturally never heard of the new SVRD, and she did not see a banner or poster in her school. Her enthusiasm was limited when she learned about it. “I’m just not into politics, the whole system,” said Bilal, who lives in Bronx.</p> <p dir="ltr">SVRD is aimed at helping students like Bilal connect their everyday lives to issues and to voting. During a 45-minute workshop, volunteer facilitators at each school gave presentations and asked questions following the<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/public/VRC/2015-SVRD-Curriculum.pdf" target="_blank"> standard curriculum</a> specifically designed for SVRD. The brain behind the programming is Chyann Sapp of NYC Votes and the Campaign Finance Board. Her full-time job for the past four years has been increasing youth voter engagement and turnout in New York City, a post that exists in few other cities in the country.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sapp says that lack of education probably ranks higher than apathy as the top reason young voters are particularly inactive voters. Statistics show that eligible voters who do not cast ballots are mostly not registered to vote at all, and that being registered makes potential voters much more likely to go to the polls.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are, of course, other barriers people point to in explaining low voter turnout, and efforts are underway to improve access to absentee ballots, among other changes.</p> <p dir="ltr">The seminar style of SVRD is especially effective to educate students in comparison to simply handing out fliers and forms because students ask real-life questions face-to-face, Sapp says. She added that students “need to know why” voting matters, not just be given a piece of paper that allows them to register.</p> <p dir="ltr">Beth Newcomer from Rosenthal’s office assisted Murad Awawdeh and Betsy Plum from the New York Immigration Coalition in facilitating the two workshops with McCourt students. Awawdeh and Plum started by asking students to rate how much power they perceive having in their circles of family, friends, school, community, and government. Students largely explained that they perceived themselves to have much more power in their family and friends circles than in their government circle, in which some cited zero percent influence.</p> <p dir="ltr">As the workshop progressed, questions became more concrete; “Do you know what a community board is?” and “Do you know which elected official oversees the MTA?” among them. Few students raised their hands to indicate they did; one student wondered out loud about the meaning of the word “controller” when facilitators said, “Do you know who your city controller is?” (The answer, of course, is Scott Stringer, one of just three popularly-elected city-wide elected officials along with the mayor and public advocate.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Students responded with an overwhelming “no” when asked if they had studied the Constitution and its amendments at school, but when Plum asked what was going on around 1976, a few students said the Vietnam War. She then explained the context of 1976’s 26th Amendment, which granted 18-year-olds the right to vote. “Young people were drafted, and they thought, ‘well if I can go fight and maybe die for my country, shouldn’t I be able to vote for my country?’”</p> <p dir="ltr">Almost none of the students had heard of DACA, President Barack Obama’s immigration program that gives students who came to the U.S. as children protection from deportation and permission to work, though not the right to vote. Promoting awareness of DACA was a secondary aspect of the SVRD initiative. “If you have friends who are immigrants please spread the word and let them know” about DACA and access to the right to work, Plum told the students.</p> <p dir="ltr">Near the end of the presentation voter registration forms were passed out to students, along with stickers, bracelets, and candies. One student told her friend, “I’m a voter” after turning in her completed registration form.</p> <p dir="ltr">Micah Dicker, Drilona Bajrami, and Chelsea Solis, all graduating seniors at Frank McCourt High School, were among the few students in the workshop who knew of Rosenthal, the local city council member. The three teens were involved with participatory budgeting in the council district; Dicker and Bajrami interned for Rosenthal.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dicker and Solis mentioned that their families’ financial situations make them want to do more to change the political system. “I think a lot of people don’t vote because they just think of what happens now rather than what would happen in the future if you can’t pay for something or you can’t find a job,” said Solis.</p> <p dir="ltr">All three registered to vote during Friday’s workshop. “It’s our future that we need to take into account,” said Bajrami, adding that for those that don’t vote, “we shouldn’t be complaining if something doesn’t go our way.”</p> <p>***<br />by Cici Chen, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img alt="CM Rosenthal SVRD" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/SVRD-600.jpg" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>CM Rosenthal addresses students (photo: Cici Chen)</p> <hr /> <p>NEW YORK - The 2013 New York City mayoral election’s<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/news/election-2013/2013/11/06/new-york-turnout-appears-headed-for-record-low/" target="_blank"> record low</a> 24 percent voter turnout rate is largely reflective of and dragged down by 11 percent youth voter participation. This especially paltry turnout among voters 18- to 29-years-old has spurred advocates and policy-makers to act. Friday saw the city’s first Student Voter Registration Day (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5642-student-voter-registration-push-targets-new-yorks-turnout-crisis" target="_blank">SVRD</a>), during which programming occurred in 25 schools across the five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council members; representatives from NYC Votes, the voter engagement arm of the city’s Campaign Finance Board; and advocates led workshops at the schools during which they sought to connect students to local government and encourage them to register to vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who initiated SVRD, led the session at Frank McCourt High School in her Upper West Side district. Rosenthal half-jokingly told the students in attendance, “If I suck, I want you to vote me out of office, but you have to register and vote [to do so].”</p> <p dir="ltr">Rosenthal said that <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5642-student-voter-registration-push-targets-new-yorks-turnout-crisis" target="_blank">the first SVRD</a> day was received with unbelievable enthusiasm. “I'm getting tweets from other council members who were at [schools], and also those who really wanted to participate but couldn’t. When you're at the school you can really see that it is so important to the students to have their voices heard.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Rosenthal and those with her at Frank McCourt, which is one school located in the Brandeis High School Campus building, spoke to about 40 juniors during one class period and then about 100 seniors in another. She also spoke with students from two of the other schools in the Brandeis complex.</p> <p dir="ltr">When Rosenthal learned that 80,000 voter registration cards go out to high schools each year and very few get sent back, she says she started thinking about how more could be done to ensure that 18-year-olds know their rights and the value of voting.</p> <p dir="ltr">Rosenthal said that the Department of Education (DOE) would be the entity to really make SVRD a successful annual event in all high schools, but she is happy to lead the initiative and implement the pilot program. For the first SVRD, participants utilized <a href="http://fulldisclosure.nyccfb.info/blog/initiate-operation-youth-voter-svrdnyc" target="_blank">a curriculum</a> created by NYC Votes, which already leads other civic engagement workshops in city schools. If SVRD is to expand from the initial 25 schools to all of the hundreds of city high schools, NYC Votes will likely be integrally involved along with the DOE.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://fulldisclosure.nyccfb.info/blog/initiate-operation-youth-voter-svrdnyc"></a></p> <p dir="ltr">It is not immediately clear how many registration forms were collected at Friday’s workshops, but Rosenthal said that she cannot wait to find out.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kaylah Bilal, a junior at one of the schools in Brandeis, had naturally never heard of the new SVRD, and she did not see a banner or poster in her school. Her enthusiasm was limited when she learned about it. “I’m just not into politics, the whole system,” said Bilal, who lives in Bronx.</p> <p dir="ltr">SVRD is aimed at helping students like Bilal connect their everyday lives to issues and to voting. During a 45-minute workshop, volunteer facilitators at each school gave presentations and asked questions following the<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/public/VRC/2015-SVRD-Curriculum.pdf" target="_blank"> standard curriculum</a> specifically designed for SVRD. The brain behind the programming is Chyann Sapp of NYC Votes and the Campaign Finance Board. Her full-time job for the past four years has been increasing youth voter engagement and turnout in New York City, a post that exists in few other cities in the country.</p> <p dir="ltr">Sapp says that lack of education probably ranks higher than apathy as the top reason young voters are particularly inactive voters. Statistics show that eligible voters who do not cast ballots are mostly not registered to vote at all, and that being registered makes potential voters much more likely to go to the polls.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are, of course, other barriers people point to in explaining low voter turnout, and efforts are underway to improve access to absentee ballots, among other changes.</p> <p dir="ltr">The seminar style of SVRD is especially effective to educate students in comparison to simply handing out fliers and forms because students ask real-life questions face-to-face, Sapp says. She added that students “need to know why” voting matters, not just be given a piece of paper that allows them to register.</p> <p dir="ltr">Beth Newcomer from Rosenthal’s office assisted Murad Awawdeh and Betsy Plum from the New York Immigration Coalition in facilitating the two workshops with McCourt students. Awawdeh and Plum started by asking students to rate how much power they perceive having in their circles of family, friends, school, community, and government. Students largely explained that they perceived themselves to have much more power in their family and friends circles than in their government circle, in which some cited zero percent influence.</p> <p dir="ltr">As the workshop progressed, questions became more concrete; “Do you know what a community board is?” and “Do you know which elected official oversees the MTA?” among them. Few students raised their hands to indicate they did; one student wondered out loud about the meaning of the word “controller” when facilitators said, “Do you know who your city controller is?” (The answer, of course, is Scott Stringer, one of just three popularly-elected city-wide elected officials along with the mayor and public advocate.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Students responded with an overwhelming “no” when asked if they had studied the Constitution and its amendments at school, but when Plum asked what was going on around 1976, a few students said the Vietnam War. She then explained the context of 1976’s 26th Amendment, which granted 18-year-olds the right to vote. “Young people were drafted, and they thought, ‘well if I can go fight and maybe die for my country, shouldn’t I be able to vote for my country?’”</p> <p dir="ltr">Almost none of the students had heard of DACA, President Barack Obama’s immigration program that gives students who came to the U.S. as children protection from deportation and permission to work, though not the right to vote. Promoting awareness of DACA was a secondary aspect of the SVRD initiative. “If you have friends who are immigrants please spread the word and let them know” about DACA and access to the right to work, Plum told the students.</p> <p dir="ltr">Near the end of the presentation voter registration forms were passed out to students, along with stickers, bracelets, and candies. One student told her friend, “I’m a voter” after turning in her completed registration form.</p> <p dir="ltr">Micah Dicker, Drilona Bajrami, and Chelsea Solis, all graduating seniors at Frank McCourt High School, were among the few students in the workshop who knew of Rosenthal, the local city council member. The three teens were involved with participatory budgeting in the council district; Dicker and Bajrami interned for Rosenthal.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dicker and Solis mentioned that their families’ financial situations make them want to do more to change the political system. “I think a lot of people don’t vote because they just think of what happens now rather than what would happen in the future if you can’t pay for something or you can’t find a job,” said Solis.</p> <p dir="ltr">All three registered to vote during Friday’s workshop. “It’s our future that we need to take into account,” said Bajrami, adding that for those that don’t vote, “we shouldn’t be complaining if something doesn’t go our way.”</p> <p>***<br />by Cici Chen, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p>