Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2171 Sat, 22 Sep 2018 21:00:30 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Voting and Elections http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7733:mayoral-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-and-elections http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7733:mayoral-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-and-elections de blasio voting charter

(photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


The New York City Charter Revision Commission called by Mayor Bill de Blasio convened on Tuesday afternoon to collect expert testimony on ways to foster increased participation in municipal elections.

Eleven of the commission’s 15 members sat at the hearing, which was divided into two parts, one focused generally on voting rights and election administration in the city, and a second centered on the ranked-choice voting system, otherwise known as instant runoff primaries, that may be proposed to voters later this year, among other measures deemed appropriate by the commission.

The charter revision commission was established by de Blasio in April and is charged with collecting public input on recommendations to amend or revise the Charter of the City of New York, a slate of proposals that will be made official in September and placed on the ballot in November. Though any charter revision commission is able to look at any aspect of city governance it chooses, de Blasio said he was forming this commission to look at voting, elections, and campaign finance reform.

After an open hearing in each borough where members of the public were invited to testify, the commission announced its focus areas, which led it to four additional public meetings to hear from invited experts.

Panelists for the first portion of Tuesday’s hearing — Catherine Gray, co-president of the League of Women Voters of the City of New York; Perry Grossman, of the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project; Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York; Jerry Vattamala, of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Andrew Wilkes, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Generation Citizen — spoke at length about specific challenges facing New York City voters and what they identified as problems with the city’s electoral system.

Grossman opened testimony recounting the “archaic voting practices” restricting voting in the city. New York State (and thus the city), he said, does not allow early voting, automatic registration, same-day registration, or online voting registration, and has restrictive access to absentee ballots.

Adopting these measures, as several states and other municipalities have already done, would go far to increase voter turnout here, Grossman said, pointing out that New York State ranked 47th nationally in voter registration and 44th nationally in turnout for the 2016 Presidential Election.

His suggestions to the commission, including instating early voting and strengthening the ability of city agencies to electronically transmit voter registration records to the Board of Elections were echoed by several other panelists.

But they ran up against a question inherent to the commission’s role as a city body attempting structural change with statewide and national implications: How far can it go?

Commission Chair Cesar Perales, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former Secretary of State, told Grossman that it’s “not clear what the city can do on its own without violating state law,” specifically with regard to expanding access to absentee ballots, which is legislated by the state. All of the reforms Grossman called for have been the topic of debate in Albany, where they have failed to pass the Republican-controlled State Senate.

Commissioner Wendy Weiser, Director of the Democracy Program of NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, echoed Perales’ concerns, asking Grossman if New York City’s home rule gives it greater freedom in running its own elections to the extent that it could offer expanded voting rights for municipal elections while retaining restrictive measures for state and federal elections.

Grossman answered affirmatively, and several others who testified, advocating for measures ranging from lowering the voting age to 16 to enfranchising non-citizens to adopting voter pre-registration, proposed similar systems of tiered franchise, by which the city could give new classes of New Yorkers the ability to vote in local elections, but not anywhere else.

Several panelists also pointed out that the city’s lackluster language services restrict voting in what is, by some measures, the world’s most lingually-diverse place.

Vattamala, of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, focused his testimony on this hindrance, recounting the Board of Elections’ repeated failures to provide City Council-mandated translation services. The BOE is a state entity that the city funds and thus has some oversight of.

In 1990, Vattamala explained in providing examples, after the City Council ordered the provision of Chinese-language voting services, the Board of Elections sent Mandarin translators to the mainly Cantonese-speaking Chinatown in Manhattan and Cantonese translators to the mainly Mandarin-speaking Chinatown in Queens.

In 2000, the Board of Elections mistranslated Chinese ballots in the primary election, writing “Democrat” where the English said “Republican” and vice-versa, and, in 2013, the Board simply failed to provide the Bengali-language ballots necessary in Queens.

Horror stories of the Board of Elections were widely-recounted at the hearing. Common Cause’s Lerner spoke of the BOE preventing translators from entering polling stations during the November 2016 election, and failing to implement several initiatives of the City Council and the previous charter revision commission.

Several commissioners seemed keenly aware of the difficulties of enacting whatever they may propose for a new charter.

Commissioner Rachel Godsil responded to Lerner’s specific suggestions to the commission — that the charter should amplify a constitutional right to vote, clarify conflicts of interest law, and consolidate and enhance already-existing city agencies, among other proposals — with a question about the feasibility of effecting change.

With the Board of Elections not following previous recommendations, she said, “can we do anything?”

Later, Commissioner Larian Angelo asked a panelist who’d spoken at length about incompetence among some poll workers how, in that case, she could see “any reforms happen, ever?”

Panelists offered several ideas for accountability mechanisms for the commission’s recommendations, but the question of enforcement remained.

Throughout the three-hour hearing, the commissioners’ faces betrayed little. A few times throughout, a commissioner seemed particularly interested in a suggestion: Commissioner Dale Ho nodded when Andrew Wilkes suggested lowering the municipal voting age to 16; Wendy Weiser nodded at the proposal that the city’s charter offer an express right to vote in local elections.

While the problems and solutions brought up at the first half of the hearing ranged widely in scope and subject, the second half was tightly focused on ranked-choice voting, a reform that has widespread support and appears likely to be included in the commission’s recommendations.

Ranked-choice voting is a system used in 16 American cities and in limited capacity in several states, including Maine and Virginia. It allows voters to specify a first-choice candidate, second-choice candidate, third-choice, and so on, until the legal maximum. If no candidate wins a majority -- or whatever the set threshold -- in the first round of voting, the least-supported candidate (or, in some jurisdictions, all but the top two) is disqualified, and that candidate’s voters have their votes added to the totals of their second choices. Low-performing candidates are winnowed off until a single candidate has amassed enough votes to claim victory.

Four panelists — Rob Ritchie of Fair Vote; Jerry Vattamala; Susan Lerner; Grace Wachlarowicz of the Minneapolis City Clerk’s Office; and David Kallick of the Fiscal Policy Institute — seemed to support New York City adopting ranked-choice voting. (Though Wachlarowicz clarified, for the record, that, as a civil servant, she could not personally advocate for or against a political proposal.)

Panelists explained what they saw as the benefits: incentives for candidates to appeal to voters beyond their base; cost-saving; and retained participation relative to an expensive and poorly-attended runoff election, which is the current next-step if a candidate does not win in the first round of voting; and, based off the results in American jurisdictions that have implemented ranked-choice, seemingly increased election of candidates of color.

The commissioners seemed generally supportive, or, at least, interested in the system.

Commissioner John Siegal told Ritchie that he has “an open mind about this proposal,” and questions to those testifying mainly concerned the commissioners’ own understanding and feasibility concerns, like cost and machine malfunctions.

When the final expert, Hofstra University Professor Craig Burnett, spoke about the system’s flaws, which include “ballot exhaustion,” the prospect that all of an individual’s ranked choices will be eliminated in early rounds of vote-counting, and racial and ethnic minorities being less likely to complete a full ballot and therefore facing a higher risk of exhaustion, he faced a less-friendly commission.

Chair Perales interrupted Burnett during his five minutes of testimony, which he had not done to any other panelist, and asked Ritchie to “retort” immediately following Burnett’s speech.

The final round of questioning was more free-wheeling than previous rounds, which had been directed at a single panelist. In closing the hearing, the commission asked the assembled experts about the risks of strategic voting, dynamics of incumbent power, minority community representation, and effects on campaign finance.

Then, citing “commission exhaustion,” Perales asked for a motion to adjourn. The commission will hold a second of its four expert hearings on Thursday, with a focus on campaign finance.

[Read: Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Announces Focus Areas]

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated to clarify remarks made to the commission by Perry Grossman.

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Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Voting and Elections Tue, 12 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Elected Officials, Advocates Push for Instant Runoff Voting http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7650:elected-officials-advocates-push-for-instant-runoff-voting http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7650:elected-officials-advocates-push-for-instant-runoff-voting fair vote sam

Tuesday's press conference (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


Several prominent Democratic elected officials and voting reform advocates on Tuesday assembled outside City Hall to call for instant runoff voting in citywide primary elections. Specifically, they said that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission, which just began a series of public hearings across the city, should include it among the proposals it puts before voters on the ballot this November.

Instant runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting, allows voters to rank primary candidates in order of preference so that if one candidate does not cross the required threshold for victory, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the votes are redistributed based on the second choice selected by voters who had selected the eliminated candidate first, and so on until a winner emerges. The system prevents what can be costly and labor-intensive runoff elections, such as the one held in the 2013 primary election for public advocate.

Runoffs are currently only required in the three citywide races, for Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller, and occur among the top two vote-getters if no candidate hits 40 percent in the first round of the primary.

Though prior instant runoff proposals originating in the City Council have failed, the group of electeds and advocates sought to seize on an opportunity presented by the mayor’s creation of the Charter Revision Commission. The commission, which is holding hearings across the five boroughs to solicit public input as to what its agenda should be, can consider any proposal presented to it, though de Blasio charged its members with particularly looking at voting access and campaign finance reform. Its recommendations will take the form of ballot referenda to be offered to voters in this year’s general election.

“I am the face of instant runoff, let me remind you,” said Public Advocate Letitia James at Tuesday’s news conference, on the steps of City Hall. The 2013 public advocate runoff -- which James won over then-State Senator Daniel Squadron -- cost an estimated $13 million to taxpayers, surpassing the office’s combined budget for James’ entire first four-year term. James said Tuesday that instant runoffs are the “least expensive and more democratic option” for the city.

“It forces you to appeal to all voters as opposed to one Democratic base,” James added. “And this means more engagement, and less polarization and more democracy. It means listening to people you might not usually listen to and a freer exchange of ideas and is consistent with our principle of democracy and free elections,” James added. She later also suggested that if the mayor’s commission failed to take up the proposal, a separate Charter Revision Commission being created by the City Council, through a bill co-sponsored by James, could step in.  

Also in attendance Tuesday were Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and City Council Members Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso, and Ben Kallos, all Democrats. James, Stringer, and Adams are all widely considered to be contenders for the 2021 mayoral race and share overlapping bases of supporters. It’s unclear, though, whether a runoff, instant or otherwise, will come into play in that race and who might benefit from which format. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a fourth likely Democratic mayoral candidate, and several others may also jump into the race, creating a crowded field more apt to produce a runoff.

The 2013 Democratic mayoral primary narrowly avoided a runoff, with eventual winner Bill de Blasio earning just above the 40 percent threshold. There was a Democratic runoff in the 2009 primary for public advocate, which de Blasio won. The 2001 Democratic mayoral primary was also settled through a runoff.

“Cities that have adopted instant runoff voting to eliminate runoffs have not only saved millions of dollars but have also improved their democracies by making sure that we are electing our leaders in an election where the most voters, the most diverse voters, are at the polls at one time,” said Grace Ramsey, deputy outreach director for FairVote, a nonpartisan advocacy group, at the news conference. Ramsey noted that 15 cities across the country have already implemented instant runoffs. A FairVote analysis of the 2013 public advocate runoff also showed that the Democratic primary runoff electorate was older, whiter, and wealthier than Democrats overall, and only reflected a 7 percent turnout. It occured on Tuesday, October 1, 2013.

Critiquing the state’s arcane election laws, Stringer said instant runoffs are a “progressive leap” that would allow elections to be decided quickly and efficiently, and he said the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission affords the city a prime opportunity to pursue the policy. “We don’t have to go to Albany and deal with that political dysfunction in order to get this electoral reform,” he said, an apparent reference to that fact that many other voting and election laws are dictated by the state.

In December, Douglas Kellner, the Democratic co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, testified before the City Council on the 2017 elections and warned them that they had “dodged a bullet” by narrowly avoiding a runoff in the mayoral primary for the Reform Party line. Kellner said at the news conference Tuesday that the state already has the technology and capability to implement instant runoff voting, and reiterated the cost savings associated with implementing the system.  

“We cannot continue to have an 8-track method in an iPhone age,” said Adams, the Brooklyn borough president. “It is time to ensure that the process encourages people to come out. We live in real time, we live in instant time...Let’s make sure runoff elections are a thing of the past and let’s do it in the right way.”

The proposal put forward on Tuesday was not the first attempt at eliminating runoff elections. In 2014, Council Member Lander sponsored a bill to call a referendum on the issue. Mayor de Blasio didn’t support it at the time and has since been lukewarm on the proposal. Asked Tuesday by a reporter if there was any opposition to the proposal, Lander said, “I think it’s just an issue that it’s change and change is not always easy. This is a change to our electoral processes and that’s not something we’re always ready to do.”

As the group was gathered at City Hall, a parallel voting reform effort was being advanced in the state capital as well. The state Senate Democrats, led by Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, unveiled a new report highlighting the shortcomings of the state’s election system that led to an abysmally low voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election. They also released an accompanying package of bills to address voter access and participation. The conference is in the minority, though, and there is limited likelihood that the Republican majority will advance the reforms being sought, such as early voting.

[Read: State Board of Elections Official Says City Must Move to Instant Runoff Voting]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Elected Officials, Advocates Push for Instant Runoff Voting Tue, 01 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Touts Political Ad Transparency Law as Other Reforms Languish http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7623:cuomo-touts-political-ad-transparency-law-as-other-reforms-languish http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7623:cuomo-touts-political-ad-transparency-law-as-other-reforms-languish Cuomo bill signing democracy

Cuomo at Wednesday's bill-signing (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday held a ceremonial bill-signing, one of several since the state budget was approved, to tout the passage of new restrictions and disclosure requirements for political advertisements on social media. But the bill was a component of Cuomo’s larger Democracy Agenda, measures including voting and campaign finance reform that otherwise fell by the wayside during budget negotiations and seem unlikely to pass in the remaining months of the legislative session in Albany.    

“We have a crisis in our election system,” Cuomo told a room full of people at the Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan on Wednesday. “We now know that our election system was influenced and tampered with by foreign entities. And it’s not partisan rhetoric, it’s not a science fiction novel. We know it. Russia was involved.”

Prompted by the widespread Russian influence campaign that targeted nearly two dozen states during the 2016 presidential election and the proliferation of secretive political advertising on social media platforms like Facebook, Cuomo proposed and the state Legislature successfully passed the “Democracy Protection Act,” which prohibits foreign entities from creating independent expenditure committees or buying political ads, requires anyone who purchases an online political ad to register as an independent expenditure committee, and also requires online ads to include information about who paid for them, as is currently required of traditional media platforms.

The state Board of Elections will also now create an public archive of those online ads and retain them for five years.

“We right now have a toxic cocktail that has brewed,” Cuomo said of the “explosion of social media” and the “anonymity” and “targeting ability” of social media platforms. “They know your preferences, they know who you are, what you look like, what you buy, where you shop. They know your shoe size and they can target a message just to you,” he said, “and we then have the access by the foreign entities to these online platforms.”

Cuomo loftily insisted that the legislation will “fundamentally change” elections in the state and predicted, “This law is going to force national change.” Several progressive movements -- for women’s rights, environmental rights, worker safety rules, gay rights, civil rights -- he exclaimed, started in New York and that inaction in Washington, D.C. necessitates that states forge ahead on tackling the issues accompanying elections in the digital age.

But New York leading the way on election and campaign-related reforms appears to be an imperfect message from New York and a messenger like Cuomo. The state has been a laggard on improving voter participation and access, and its outdated laws fall far behind most other states. Cuomo himself has railed against weaknesses in state campaign finance laws while exploiting them for his own campaigns.

In 2017, Cuomo released a 10-point government ethics and voting reform agenda, which included early voting, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and campaign finance changes such as closing the LLC loophole, which allows anonymous donors to flood candidates’ campaign coffers in New York. Cuomo has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of that loophole and has done little to actually push for its closure. None of those reforms passed last year.

This year, Cuomo proposed many of the reforms again, adding $7 million in proposed funding to implement early voting and banning outside income for legislators. But yet again, all but the online ads bill fell through. Cuomo made no mention of the other planks of his Democracy Agenda at Wednesday’s celebratory event, where he positioned New York as a national leader. He also took no questions from reporters at the two events where he made appearances Wednesday.

Most of the reforms are opposed by Republicans in the state Senate who continue to control the chamber with the help of a rogue Democratic Senator, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who caucuses with the GOP to give them a one-vote majority. But Cuomo, when he wants to, has been able to convince Republicans to vote through bills that they might traditionally oppose including marriage equality, gun control measures, and a major hike in the minimum wage.

Cuomo has repeatedly laid the blame for the failure of his proposals on the Republicans, who for seven years were allied with a breakaway group of eight Democratic Senators called the Independent Democratic Conference. In a deal recently brokered by Cuomo, the IDC rejoined the mainline Democratic conference. The Democrats are now counting on victories in special elections for two state Senate races on April 24 to be on par with Republicans in the Senate. Felder’s loyalty in that situation remains an open question. Cuomo has said the goal is to then pick up additional seats in the fall’s regularly-scheduled elections for all seats in the Legislature.

Earlier on Wednesday, Cuomo restored voting rights to individuals on parole through an executive order, arguing that the order was necessary since the measure wouldn’t have passed the Senate. (Cuomo’s primary opponent Cynthia Nixon, and others have said, however, that Cuomo is increasingly pursuing popular progressive measures by any means necessary because of the threat of a strong primary challenge.)

Similarly, Cuomo justified the unification deal by insisting it was necessary to pass progressive reforms that have failed for years. “We finished the budget. We did a lot of good things in the budget, but there are also things that we didn’t pass that we need to pass...The Child Victims Act, more gun safety, bail reform, the DREAM Act, banning outside income, campaign finance reform, early voting,” he said at a news conference announcing the deal at his executive offices in Manhattan.

He went on, “These are all core, essential progressive principles that were not passed in the budget and which we will not pass until we have a Democratic Senate.” It’s unclear, however, if a Democratic Senate itself will come to pass any time soon, or if the appetite would be there for the types of voting, campaign finance, and government ethics reforms that Cuomo has said he supports.

[Read: Cuomo Turns Budget Failures Into Justification for Democratic Unity]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Cuomo Touts Political Ad Transparency Law as Other Reforms Languish Wed, 18 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Three Voting Reforms New York Must Pass This Year http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7474:three-voting-reforms-new-york-must-pass-this-year http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7474:three-voting-reforms-new-york-must-pass-this-year op ed carlucci

State Senator David Carlucci, the author


New York’s voting laws are woefully outdated and lag behind much of the rest of our country. Too many New Yorkers experience unfair and unnecessary restrictions when they wish to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Unsurprisingly, New York consistently ranks near the bottom in voter turnout when compared to other states.

According to 24/7 Wall St., an average of only 59.2% of eligible New York voters voted in the presidential elections from 2000 through 2012. That makes New York 42nd among the 50 states in voter turnout. As disappointing as these figures are, voter turnout has been even lower in midterm and state elections. This is why we need voting reform in our state.

I applaud Governor Cuomo’s 30-day budget amendment that calls for $7 million to fund early voting in counties across the state. New York is one of only 13 states that does not offer early voting, a deficiency we must change now. New Yorkers are busy, having the convenient option to go to the polls up to 12 days before Election Day means people don’t have to choose between going to work or school and voting. It is time we join the other 37 states and the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) and provide New Yorkers with access to early voting. A recent Siena College poll indicates that 65% of New Yorkers support early voting.

Automatic voter registration (AVR) is another proposal that New York should adopt. AVR allows people to be automatically registered to vote when they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles. People would no longer have to worry about registration deadlines or application submissions. After witnessing the success of AVR in Oregon, eight other states have approved it.  No citizen should ever be denied his or her constitutional right to vote, and we should make the registration process easy and convenient. I have fought for legislation to enact AVR since 2015. This is the year to pass it.

Finally, same-day voter registration (SDR) should be enacted so eligible New York voters can register to vote the same day they go to the polls. This eliminates registration deadlines people may miss. Fifteen states and Washington, D.C. have adopted some form of SDR. In their report entitled “America Goes to the Polls 2016,” Nonprofit VOTE and the U.S. Elections Project claim that same-day voter registration “has the most discernible impact on increasing voter turnout.” These organizations estimate that since 1996, states that allow SDR have experienced voter turnout seven to 13 points higher, on average, than states without SDR. 

For too long, New York voting laws have suppressed voter turnout and have discouraged public participation in governance. I stand by the Governor’s plan to reform voting, and I encourage my fellow elected representatives to enact these proposals.

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David Carlucci is the state senator representing the 38th Senate district. On Twitter @DavidCarlucci.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Three Voting Reforms New York Must Pass This Year Tue, 13 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo's 2018 State of the State 'Reform' Agenda Largely Repeats Past Proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7403:cuomo-s-2018-state-of-the-state-reform-agenda-largely-repeats-past-proposals http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7403:cuomo-s-2018-state-of-the-state-reform-agenda-largely-repeats-past-proposals Cuomo State of the State reforms

Gov. Cuomo at his 2018 State of the State (photo: Philip Kamrass/Governor's Office)


During his 2018 State of the State speech on Wednesday in Albany, Governor Andrew Cuomo spent little time on government ethics reform, but did address at somewhat greater length his proposals to increase access to the ballot box and change state campaign finance law.

In sum, the “reform” portion of Cuomo’s remarks were relatively brief, though the governor did expand more on his proposals to change voting, campaign financing, political advertising, and the jobs of legislators in the accompanying 374-page policy book that details his 2018 agenda. Many of these proposals are repeated from prior years. Cuomo has not prioritized things like early voting or a public campaign finance system, so they have not become law in New York.

Known for his ability to bend the Legislature to his will for policy items he puts his weight behind -- like marriage equality or a $15 minimum wage program -- Cuomo has overseen some incremental ethics reforms but little by way of seismic shifts to prevent corruption or increase election participation. He has also been unwilling to go along with contracting reform that is aimed at bringing more oversight and transparency to his own economic development programming.

The governor’s speech came just ahead of a handful of corruption trials that will occur this year, including some of his top aides and donors who are accused of engaging in major bid-rigging and kickback schemes dealing with the governor’s signature economic development programs. Two former legislative leaders will also be retried for public corruption after their recent convictions were overturned due to a new Supreme Court ruling.

In an hour-and-a-half speech on Wednesday, government ethics was sandwiched briefly between Cuomo’s discussion of doing more to help mentally ill homeless people and focusing on “new problems” facing the state, like the “rise in terrorism,” climate change, the opioid epidemic, and more. Cuomo devoted just one brief segment to the topic, and in doing so nodded to legislators’ disinterest in further reform.

“With all we have to do as a government, it is more important than ever that we have the public's trust,” Cuomo said. “I know the Legislature feels that we have done much on ethics reform and they are right. I know they feel that whatever we do, it will never be enough in this political atmosphere and they may be right, but we must do more anyway. The single best ethics reform is to ban outside income, remove any possibility for conflict and let legislators say 'I work for the public. Period. And there are no possible conflicts presented.’”

The Democratic governor, now in the final year of his second term and seeking a third, has proposed banning outside income for legislators before, along with other reforms that he did not name Wednesday but are again in his policy book, like term limits. These and campaign finance reforms have mostly gone nowhere in the Legislature, especially the Republican-controlled state Senate, though lawmakers would like their first salary increase since 1999. Cuomo is in favor of a pay raise for legislators, but in exchange for strict limits on outside income and other reforms.

In moving toward “new” challenges, Cuomo referenced previously announced pieces of his larger “Democracy Agenda,” including more transparency for online political advertisements. Action must be taken, he said, to address “the distortion and manipulation of our elections by big donors, foreign money and social media advertising and the alienation of our citizens.”

Noting that “social media has revolutionized our elections,” Cuomo said that the “freedom of the internet” must be respected, but that laws must be followed. “Foreign countries like Russia and big anonymous donors cannot jeopardize our democracy. Social media must disclose who or what pays for political advertising because sunlight is still the best disinfectant.”

“Disclosure must apply to social media the same way that it applies to a newspaper ad or a TV ad or a radio ad,” Cuomo said. “Anything else is a scam and a perversion of the law and an affront to democracy. Let's stop this abuse, and while Washington talks about it and dithers, let New York lead the way and address this challenge and let's do it this session.”

Cuomo also said that in “this time of citizen alienation and outrage, the best thing we can do is let people know that their voice is heard, that they matter and that they can and they should vote. And we should make voting easier, not harder, with same-day registration, no-fault absentee ballots, and early voting.”

He said that New York could “increase trust” through campaign finance reforms like closing the infamous LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited campaign donations from people and businesses through multiple limited liability companies (which Cuomo has benefited mightily from), and public financing of electoral campaigns. Both are ideas Cuomo has said he supports for years but has not been able to see passed through the Legislature. A 2014 pilot public campaign financing program that was passed but only applied to the comptroller race fizzled almost immediately.

Cuomo, king of the mega-donors, as The New York Times recently pointed out, says in his policy book that “candidates are incentivized to focus on large donations over small ones.” New York does have excessively high individual donation limits, at more than $65,000 for gubernatorial candidates. Cuomo writes that the only way to fix the situation is to offer matching funds for smaller donations, like the New York City system does.

The governor is also calling for laws mandating financial disclosures by local elected officials, which would institute requirements on officials not in state government, but municipal and county offices around the state, where there are not uniform requirements to create more transparency around potential conflicts of interest.

Cuomo is also again calling for extending the state’s Freedom of Information Law to the Legislature, which is not currently subject. He also calls for FOIL and the open meetings law to apply to state ethics monitors the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and the Legislative Ethics Commission.

The governor is again calling for extending the power of the state Inspector General to nonprofits affiliated with the SUNY and CUNY systems, including their contracting processes. This reform relates to some of the alleged bid-rigging in Cuomo’s economic development programs. While Cuomo is open to the IG having more power, he continues to resist re-establishing the state Comptroller’s pre-clearance of contracts procured through SUNY-affiliated nonprofits.

On that same note, Cuomo is also again proposing the creation of a Chief Procurement Officer in order to “oversee the integrity” of contracting processes. Critics have called this potential position duplicative given the role of the Comptroller. The governor’s policy book notes, “despite existing legal safeguards, conflicts of interest and unlawful conduct may jeopardize the impartiality and objectivity of the current procurement process. This risk is further heightened by the significant amount of dollars spent by state and local public agencies, which exceeds tens of billions of dollars annually.”

Cuomo is also proposing legislation toward eventually creating a uniform contract-tracking system among various state entities that each currently use their own.

There is no indication of a new appetite for the voting, ethics, and campaign finance reforms that Cuomo has proposed before, and it is unclear if there will be support for some of the new proposals, like more transparency around digital political advertisements. Several of the proposals would likely pass if the state Senate flips to Democrats, which could occur at some point later this year. The governor must first call a special election for the 11 vacancies in the Legislature, two of which are in the Senate.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Cuomo's 2018 State of the State 'Reform' Agenda Largely Repeats Past Proposals Wed, 03 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Unveils ‘Democracy Agenda’ of Ad Transparency, Election Security and Voting Reforms http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7384:cuomo-unveils-democracy-agenda-of-ad-transparency-election-security-and-voting-reforms http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7384:cuomo-unveils-democracy-agenda-of-ad-transparency-election-security-and-voting-reforms 38198034236 bf971489f7 z

Gov. Cuomo voting (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)


Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday unveiled his “Democracy Agenda,” a plan to create more transparency in political advertising and require online platforms to archive political ads, protect state elections from hacking threats, and enhance voting opportunities.

The 13th proposal of the governor’s developing 2018 State of the State speech, the advertising transparency and cybersecurity initiatives are joined by three voting reform measures that were introduced by Cuomo last year but did not pass: early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day voter registration.

"What we saw during the last election was a systematic effort to undermine and manipulate our very democracy," Cuomo said in a statement. "With these new safeguards, New York — in the strongest terms possible — will combat unscrupulous and shadowy threats to our electoral process, as well as break down fundamental barriers that for far too long have prevented New Yorkers from being heard and from exercising their right to vote."

In his 2017 agenda, Cuomo included the voting reforms as part of his 10-point government ethics program, which included strengthening campaign finance laws, such as closing the LLC loophole, which allows virtually unlimited donations to elected officials. None of the planks were passed, either in the budget in April or at the end of the legislative session in June.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office declined to reveal whether ethics and campaign finance reform will be introduced in a separate plank during the governor’s upcoming SOTS address, but said the administration was committed to getting the announced electoral reforms passed.

“In our political environment, it can sometimes takes multiple years for the legislature to pass reforms like these—as was the case with raise the age, the minimum wage increase, and even marriage equality, which failed in 2009 and then passed with bipartisan support two years later,” said Cuomo spokesperson Elizabeth Bibi. “This administration remains committed to modernizing our election process and will work with the legislature on this issue.”

The voting reform measures are not embraced by leadership in the Republican-controlled state Senate, which clings to power through a ruling coalition with breakaway Democrats, and Cuomo told reporters that there was “no appetite” from the Legislature to implement them during budget negotiations earlier this year.

After the legislative session, the governor did sign an executive order expanding the list of agencies required to provide voting registration assistance, but advocates said that the order could have gone further. For example, they say, a task force assembled by Cuomo to explore the implementation of these new rules could also study the costs and benefits of more meaningful electoral reform -- such as early voting and automatic registration -- in order to better sell the proposals to legislative leaders in 2018.

If passed, Cuomo’s early voting proposal would allow eligible New Yorkers to cast ballots up to 12 days before Election Day. Automatic voter registration would automatically register anyone who comes in contact with the Department of Motor Vehicles or other government agency unless the person chooses to opt-out, and same-day registration would allow New Yorkers to register to vote when going to the polls to cast their ballots.

Reform advocates praised the governor’s Democracy Agenda while urging him to include funding for the proposals in his upcoming budget.

“While Governor Cuomo's recent push in cyber security and transparency for elections is an important step forward to ensure that New York's elections remain fair and safe, our basic voting processes also demand improvement,” said Common Cause/NY Executive Director Susan Lerner, in a statement. “Common Cause/NY urges the Governor to include Early Voting in his upcoming budget to create a more equitable voting process for all.”

Cuomo’s democracy platform, as presented in a press release, focuses on the proliferation of “fake news” and political ad campaigns on social media platforms, which are not regulated in the same way as advertisements on traditional media platforms. Citing the influence of  “unscrupulous and disruptive actors” on the 2016 presidential election, Cuomo’s proposal would codify state regulations as introduced by United States Senate and House members to regulate online advertising for federal elections. The governor vowed to ensure that all social media platforms, and other states, adopt similar policies.

“As many as 126 million Americans are estimated to have seen Russian-bought political ads on Facebook alone last year, without realizing that they were seeing content paid for by Russia.  Additionally, 131,000 Twitter messages, linked to more than 36,000 Russian accounts, have also been identified,” states the press release from Cuomo’s office.

To ensure the fairness and transparency of New York elections, Cuomo has put forth a three-pronged strategy to: expand New York State's definition of political communication to include paid internet and digital advertisements; require digital platforms to maintain a public file of all political advertisements purchased by a person or group for publication on the platform; and require online platforms to make reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.

Violations of these requirements would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000, according to Cuomo’s office.

The cybersecurity component seeks to keep elections uncorrupted by hackers. Earlier this year, following numerous reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Cuomo directed the New York State Cyber Security Advisory Board to work with state agencies and the State and County Boards of Election to assess the threats to the cybersecurity of New York's elections infrastructure, identify security priorities, and recommend any necessary additional security measures.

As a result of this review, Cuomo says he is proposing a four-pronged approach to further strengthen cyber protections for New York's elections infrastructure: create an Election Support Center; develop an Elections Cyber Security Support Toolkit; provide cyber risk vulnerability assessments and support for local boards of elections; and require counties to report data breaches to state authorities.

Governmental reform advocates had praise for Cuomo’s proposals, as promoted through the governor’s press release.

"Our democracy urgently needs repair. Washington has not yet acted, but states can. Today New York lags behind many other states. With these reforms it can step into the lead, making it easier to register and vote, and protecting the system from abuse,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, in a statement.

He noted that automatic voter registration, if done right, could add millions to the rolls, cost less, and bolster security. Meanwhile, early voting and same-day registration would make voting far easier for working people.

“And it is vital to ensure that foreign governments and other malevolent actors can't distort elections with dark money ads or attacks on voting machines and databases. Governor Cuomo's agenda would be a powerful step forward. It's worth fighting for. We hope Albany listens," Waldman said.

The governor’s 13th State of the State proposal also received praise from Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Island who has introduced similar legislation to prevent anonymous and false political attack ads on social media, and Kaminsky’s fellow Senate Democrats, who have long pushed for voting reforms like the ones unveiled today.

“I thank Governor Cuomo for joining this important effort to rid our election process of these false, misleading, and anonymous advertisements. These often dirty attacks that are aimed at providing misinformation to voters undermine our democracy. Voters deserve full transparency during their elections,” said Kaminsky. “It is important that we restore the voters' trust in government, and Governor Cuomo advancing this initiative will ensure we are able to take real steps to clean up campaigns in New York.”

Each year, ahead of his annual State of the State address, which for 2018 will take place on January 3, Cuomo typically previews several planks of his new agenda. Other initiatives unveiled so far have focused on environmental investment and protections, strengthening of labor laws, gun control, and returning the Islanders hockey team to Long Island.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Unveils ‘Democracy Agenda’ of Ad Transparency, Election Security and Voting Reforms Thu, 21 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Online Voter Registration on Verge of Passage in New York City http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7314:online-voter-registration-on-verge-of-passage-in-new-york-city http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7314:online-voter-registration-on-verge-of-passage-in-new-york-city polling place

Polling place (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


As New York State’s archaic election and voting laws continue to dampen voter turnout, the New York City Council is about to take a step to encourage participation. The City Council’s governmental operations committee will vote on Tuesday, November 14 to approve a bill allowing online voter registration for city residents, Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee, told Gotham Gazette on Thursday. The bill is then expected to pass the full City Council on Thursday.

“With the historic low in turnout on Tuesday, online voter registration will be an essential tool to help more residents become voters,” Kallos said in a phone interview, referring to the 22 percent of registered voters who showed up to the polls to vote for mayor. Following the committee vote, the bill will head to the Council floor for a vote at its next stated meeting, he said.

New York’s laws lag behind most other states and voter turnout has been consistently low in recent elections at the federal, state and city level. Nationally, 34 states and Washington D.C. allow some form of online voter registration. Although New Yorkers can submit registration forms online through the Department of Motor Vehicles, only those with DMV-issued identification can do so. “Many people in urban areas, which have higher concentrations of low-income communities of color, may not have drivers licenses because they rely on public transportation,” Kallos said.

Kallos’ bill requires that the New York City Campaign Finance Board, or another agency designated by the mayor, create a website and mobile application where residents can register to vote or update their registration. The agency will have to submit those registration forms to the Board of Elections within two weeks, and the portal will inform applicants when their registration will go into effect. The online form will allow applicants to either upload files with a copy of their handwritten signature, a photo for instance, or directly sign the form using a touchscreen.

“I think it’s long overdue and it’s good to see the City of New York join the 20th century,” Kallos said, hinting that the state’s voting laws require broader modernization. While online registration would make registering easier, to significantly improve turnout -- millions of registered New Yorkers do not vote in local elections -- many point to state-level reforms, such as early voting and same-day registration, which have stalled in Albany, curbed by the Republican-controlled state Senate.

“Anything that can be done to improve New York’s appalling voter participation rate is worth doing,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit that advocates for better election laws. “We live in the 21st century. We shouldn’t have VHS technology in the Netflix age and this makes perfect sense to do what can be done to make it easier for people to register to vote.”

Kallos, a Democrat who represents the Upper East Side, credited Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for paving the way for online registration through an informal opinion he issued in April last year. Schneiderman, who was responding to Suffolk County officials seeking clarity on voter registration requirements, wrote that a registration form completed with an “electronically-affixed handwritten signature” would be consistent with state law.

Although the bill would take effect 18 months after it is signed into law, Kallos urged the de Blasio administration to move quickly. As a demonstration of the ease with which a portal can be created, he built his own fully-functional microsite, which he said took only a few hours. “I hope the city doesn’t wait years or months but gets it done in weeks, days or even hours,” he said, also hoping that every city agency integrates links to the portal in online forms, which isn’t mandated in the legislation.

“The Administration worked closely with the City Council in crafting this legislation,” said mayoral spokesperson Seth Stein, in an email. “We support online registration and making voting more accessible to New Yorkers. We look forward to reviewing the final legislation when it passes the Council.”

Kallos is also hoping that the city’s bill will “convince our colleagues in Albany to bring online voter registration to the state.” The New York State Legislature has been consistently averse to electoral and voting reforms. “Elected officials get elected by the voters that exist, not by the voters who might exist,” said NYPIRG’s Horner. “So there’s a natural reluctance to bring new voters into the system.”

He added, “New York needs a soup-to-nuts review of its elections process with a goal toward making it easier for people to register, making it easier for people to vote, not harder, and that’s what New York does unfortunately right now.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Online Voter Registration on Verge of Passage in New York City Thu, 09 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
As New York Votes, a Push to Allow 17-Year-Olds the Ballot Next http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7303:as-new-york-votes-a-push-to-allow-17-year-olds-the-ballot-next http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7303:as-new-york-votes-a-push-to-allow-17-year-olds-the-ballot-next bobbt carroll presser

Assemblymember Robert Carroll at Monday's rally


On the eve of Election Day 2017, a state Assembly member from Brooklyn held a press conference focused on voter engagement and turnout, but it wasn’t in support of his own candidacy -- he’s not up for reelection until next year -- or anyone else’s. Instead, Assemblymember Robert Carroll was talking about his push to allow 17-year-olds to vote.

In the state capital of Albany, Carroll recently introduced a bill, the Young Voter Act, that would allow 17-year-olds to cast ballots in state and local elections. The voting age is currently 18 for national elections and within New York. The legislation would also require that all students in public high schools receive at least eight hours of formal civics education, and that schools provide voter registration forms to students when they turn 17.

The proposal, which Caroll will attempt to see moved when the Legislature returns to session in January, is aimed at improving New York’s dismal record of voter turnout (among the worst states in the country). On Monday, Carroll rallied in support of the bill outside the city’s Board of Elections with fellow Brooklyn Democratic Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, as well as several politically engaged high school students and advocates.

This included the leadership of the Youth Progressive Policy Group (YPPG), a group of students whose stated mission is to “give the youth of New York a voice in our state’s political process.” The group claims that engaging people in the electoral process early will lead to a more civically active life later on, and it is thus important to not only educate students in civics at an early age, but also to empower them to be a part of it.

YPPG’s President, Eli Frankel, a senior at Manhattan’s Bard High School, was quick to note that 17-year-olds are productive members of civic society in other ways, and that this should be extended to voting.

“We are organizing rallies like this, we’re going out and we’re talking to people, and a lot of 17-year-olds are contributing to their communities and have responsibilities of adulthood already,” Frankel told Gotham Gazette. “They’re paying taxes, they’re driving, some can enlist in the military. So, it’s time that voting is incorporated into those responsibilities that 17-year-olds already have so they can begin participating in government in a really substantive way so their voice is heard.”

Chris Stauffer, YPPG’s vice chair and a senior at Bard, noted that in places where voting rights were extended to high school students, the turnout results have been very promising.

“Sixteen- to 18-year-olds in Takoma Park, Maryland actually have double the turnout than 18- to 25-year-olds,” Stauffer told Gotham Gazette of the locality that has lowered its voting age to 16. “This is without any reform to civics education.” People who are still in high school may have fewer extraneous obligations than someone in the age bracket immediately following, where many are away from home at college, allowing them to vote with regularity and consistency and setting them up for a lifetime of civic engagement.

Lowering the voting age alone might not be enough to spur extensive turnout among high school students and young people in general, which is why the bill includes more robust, comprehensive civics education in New York schools.

The non-profit group Generation Citizen partners with schools in cities around the country, including New York City, to provide students with an “action civics” curriculum centered around local issues, wherein students seek to enact change in specific issue areas. Generation Citizen helps fill a gap in civics education found in many schools and school systems, but it currently operates in a relatively small percentage of classrooms.

Civics education is often lacking in schools, especially as it relates to close-to-home politics and government.

“A lot of civics courses focus on larger, more grand themes in American history,” Frankel said. “And the civics seminars that this bill mandates all students get really directs students on the nuts and bolts of how they can go out and vote, how they can fill out a ballot correctly, how to register to vote, how to make sure their voice is heard outside of voting, how elections work, and where they can find the information about candidates and about elections that they need to go out and turn out.”

The bill also would provide for instant registration within schools. Schools currently have most relevant information for voter registration anyway, aside from an individual’s signature and party registration, according to YPPG Policy Director Max Shatan, a senior at Bard. This allows the process to involve minimal effort on the part of students.

According to YPPG PR Director Ilana Cohen, a senior at the Beacon School in Manhattan, these foundational steps in schools would engage people in the process even more than simply allowing them to vote at 17.

“Establishing the importance of voting in the classroom has a much greater effect than simply allowing teenagers to go out after high school and let them independently register to vote,” Cohen said.

Prior to the bill’s introduction, Assemblymember Carroll sat down with some of the students at YPPG to gather input on a pre-registration bill already in the Assembly. According to Carroll’s chief of staff, Dan Campanelli, during this conversation Carroll suggested crafting a bill to lower the voting age to 17, which was ecstatically received by the students. Carroll subsequently worked on the bill with the students.

“In this age of civic participation and interest, we need to make sure, in New York State, that we are teaching our young people what it means to be an active participant in their democracy,” Carroll said at Monday’s rally. “We teach young people all sorts of things. We teach them how to drive cars, we teach them how to take the SAT. We should teach them how to be active citizens and how to vote.”

Although the bill has 23 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly including Carroll, it would have to overcome the significant hurdle of passing the Republican-controlled state Senate, as well as to bypass a culture in Albany that is notoriously resistant to voting reform. Senate Republicans have been resistant to election reform measures that have passed the Assembly, like early voting and same-day registration. Younger voters typically skew Democratic, giving another reason for the GOP to oppose Carroll’s bill, especially as Republicans cling to the slimmest of majorities in the Senate, only due to several rogue Democrats who either caucus or form a coalition with the GOP. Though Carroll largely did not speak to its chances in the Senate, he is confident in its ability to pass the Assembly if it gets out of committee there.

“If you are against more people accessing the ballot box, then guess what? You’re against democracy,” Carroll said Monday. “And maybe you should get out of the business of holding elected office, because that’s the point of it.”

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Note - This article has been updated to clarify that YPPG's members are seniors at Bard High School, not juniors.

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As New York Votes, a Push to Allow 17-Year-Olds the Ballot Next Tue, 07 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Public Advocate Candidate Outlines Election Reform Agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7154:public-advocate-candidate-outlines-election-reform-agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7154:public-advocate-candidate-outlines-election-reform-agenda polanco bronxnet

JC Polanco on BronxNet


With candidates vying for votes ahead of New York City’s September primary and November general elections, many in and around campaigns know that the state’s antiquated election laws will, in part, ensure that a small percentage of potential voters will cast ballots among limited choices.

One candidate, Juan Carlos Polanco, known as J.C., is currently the presumptive Republican nominee for Public Advocate and has released an extensive package of proposed reforms to New York voting laws.

As a former member of the New York City Board of Elections (BOE), Polanco has had personal experience with the system that certifies candidates and runs elections. In a document provided to Gotham Gazette and subsequent phone conversation, Polanco outlined plans he believes will update, improve, and secure elections in New York through a combination of legislative changes, ballot referendums, and even changes to the state constitution.

“We have to really take a look at our election system and we have to modernize it,” said Polanco, who is eyeing a likely general election matchup with incumbent Letitia James, a Democrat.

Polanco is putting forward 10 proposals, some of which – like expanding the BOE’s reporting in the twice-yearly Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), which details performance of city agencies based on delivery of services – would be relatively easy shifts, and others – like instituting nonpartisan elections and starting a statewide voter identification program – would be fundamental reexaminations of voting in New York that would be very difficult to enact.

Among the former group, in addition to the MMR initiative, Polanco calls for forwarding of voter death and new address data to the BOE from city and state agencies, a new procedure for a nationwide search of the board’s executive director, and an increased budget for the agency to help it run the expanded programs.

The latter group are likely to be much more controversial; chief among them a proposal from Polanco for a statewide “free and fair voter identification program,” which the candidate framed as a compromise for including early voting and and no-fault absentee voting.

Polanco explained that free identifications would be arranged by the BOE using its central voter registration database and then be distributed through municipalities for free to voters who did not otherwise have a valid ID. He could not provide a cost estimate, and when asked why such a program was necessary when research has shown that voter fraud is almost nonexistent, he said there were two schools of thought on voter fraud.

“One is the [President Donald Trump] school, that 3 million people voted illegally in the election. Absolutely not. That’s an extreme view. Then we have the other extreme that no voter fraud happens. And that’s ridiculous,” Polanco said. He insisted that voters who turned up without IDs would not be disenfranchised, as they could fill out affidavit ballots – currently used by voters who arrive at polls to find they’re not on the rolls – that would be counted later if valid.

Another proposed change for voters would be the early voting provisions, which would have to be approved in the unsympathetic Republican-controlled state Senate. The plan would allow New York City residents to vote one week before the election, and to vote absentee without having to prove inability to vote in person, which is currently required for absentee ballots.

Polanco wants to change not only how New Yorkers vote but who they can vote for, by providing free legal counsel to candidates participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program who raise less than $10,000, and easing restrictions on ballot access for candidates.

“Candidates are getting kicked off the ballot after spending all summer campaigning and collecting petitions, and they’re getting kicked off for the most ridiculous reasons,” said Polanco, citing issues like having a slightly incorrect petition number listed on a cover sheet. Indeed, various candidates have been kept off or taken off the ballot for multiple city races this cycle, including one of two final candidates for the Republican mayoral nomination.

Unlike other populous cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, New York has a partisan election system where only voters registered to a particular party may vote in that party’s closed primary; that arrangement generally means that viable candidates tend to be selected only by the city’s registered partisans with one of the two major parties. Polanco wants to shift to a nonpartisan system, where rounds of voting, as opposed to primaries, would whittle down the candidate field.

“If you look at our city, it’s become much more of a nonpartisan city,” he said, adding that independent, or party unaffiliated, voters “are not participating.” While unaffiliated voter enrollment has indeed grown in the city over the past five years, nonpartisan voters still represent a minority (17.6%) of all registered voters. As Polanco looks ahead to the general election, he knows that there are many more unaffiliated registered voters in the city than those registered with the Republican Party (about 10.4% of all registered voters). It is those types of “independents” who helped Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg win their mayoral terms.

Finally, Polanco wants to address the undemocratic trend of elected officials stepping down from campaigns after ballot petitions have already been filed, allowing partisan county committees to pick their candidates and denying voters the opportunity to vote in an open primary. “They take it out of the hands of the voters and into the backrooms,” said Polanco of the practice. He said he would like to see, if not his ultimate goal of a nonpartisan election, then at least a mandated primary for special elections.

Polanco suggests that gerrymandering – the practice of drawing districts to maximize or minimize a particular class of voters – is partly responsible for ensuring that Democratic candidates routinely win special elections, though in general city districts are not considered to be gerrymandered.

Polanco acknowledged that in order to enact such an agenda, the Public Advocate – a largely ceremonial citywide elected position with little direct authority – needs to heavily rely on the bully pulpit and organizing, as opposed to hard power. Easier said than done. Polanco would be far from the first person to go to Albany seeking voting reforms. With the Senate controlled by his GOP party-mates through a power-sharing agreement with breakaway Democrats, there has been virtually no appetite for election reform.

He could have some ways around that, he said, such as getting proposals into a referendum to be voted on directly by voters. If the upcoming November vote on whether the state will hold a constitutional convention is approved, Polanco said he would support trying to enshrine some voting reform measures into the updated constitution.

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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Public Advocate Candidate Outlines Election Reform Agenda Thu, 24 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
The Deadline to Register to Vote this Fall is Fast Approaching http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7115:the-deadline-to-register-to-vote-this-fall-is-fast-approaching-and-other-key-dates http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7115:the-deadline-to-register-to-vote-this-fall-is-fast-approaching-and-other-key-dates 32985722296 26b52ab3b7 z

New Yorkers line up to vote (credit: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


New York City has roughly 6.6 million residents of voting age but only about 4.99 million registered voters, according to rough estimates from the American Community Survey and the state Board of Elections. The city’s municipal primary election is a little over a month away, on September 12, and the deadline to register to vote is approaching fast. New Yorkers have until August 18, next Friday, to register if they wish to vote in the primary. For the November 7 general election, the registration deadline is October 13.

As of April 1, there are 4,996,975 registered voters in the city, according to the state Board of Elections. Of those, 4,496,115 are “active” registered voters, as opposed to “inactive” voters who have failed to confirm their residence with the BOE. If inactive voters fail to vote in two consecutive federal elections, they are purged in the fifth year. About 3.1 million of the city’s registered voters are active registered Democrats and 470,195 are active registered Republicans. More than 780,000 active voters are unaffiliated with any party.

New York holds “closed” primaries, meaning that only voters registered with a party can vote in that party’s primary. Unfortunately for those registered voters who may want to switch their party registration ahead of a primary -- which often matters significantly more in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 6-to-1 -- the deadline for switching party registration passed in October last year. In the April 2016 presidential primary, many New Yorkers who were unaffiliated with any party were shocked to find that they could not vote as the deadline for selecting a party for that election had passed six months before primary day.

These harsh deadlines, and the state’s voting and electoral laws at large, have been the subject of significant criticism from elected officials and government reform advocates who argue that the state needs to rapidly modernize its laws. New York is one of only 12 states in the country that does not allow no-excuse early voting; the state also does not provide for automatic or same-day voting registration or electronic poll books.

“In our antiquated voting system, New Yorkers need to register 25 days before they actually vote, which is another deadline that they need to keep in mind when participating in our democracy,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a good government advocacy group. “Having such a 25-day waiting period between registering and voting is a throwback to a time when there were no computers and that’s why we need to update our voting laws to allow for registration and voting to actually occur on the same day.”

New York’s laws have also contributed in part to the state’s abysmal voter turnout rates. Only 8 percent of registered voters in New York City turned out to vote in the June 2016 congressional primary election, while 10 percent turned out for the September state and local primary. In the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary won by Mayor Bill de Blasio, only 24 percent of registered New York City Democrats turned out to vote.

[Read: 8%! New Report Shows Shockingly Low Voter Turnout in NYC]

While elected officials have generally acknowledged the flawed election process in the state, there has been little concerted action. In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a legislative package known as the “Democracy Project” intended to modernize elections. The package included such reforms as early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day voter registration. However, Cuomo was largely silent on the issue and voting and electoral reform were ultimately left out of the state budget passed in April.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also promised an aggressive push for electoral reform before the end of the legislative session in Albany this year, but only followed through with two telephone town halls. The mayor has supported a slate of voting reforms including same-day registration, early voting, keeping electronic poll books, consolidating federal, state, and local primaries into a single-day primary, reformatting ballots, and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. De Blasio does not, however, support a system of open primaries, contending that “parties mean something” and non-members shouldn’t vote in a primary.

The governor did implement a few incremental improvements last month, issuing a number of executive orders to make access to voter registration easier. The orders directed all state agencies to make voter registration forms available to the public, instructed CUNY and SUNY to take steps to increase student registration and required the Department of Motor Vehicles to promote online voter registration.

Dadey believes that the governor’s actions, while laudable, were not sufficient reforms. “It’s trying to make lemonade out of lemons that have gone bad,” he said, “but what we really need to do is get a voting system that makes voting as easy as possible in New York state because right now, New York State makes it so difficult...to register and to vote, that New York is really a passive voter suppression state.”

New Yorkers can check their voter registration status via the Board of Elections here, and check all registration and voting deadlines here.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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

 

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The Deadline to Register to Vote this Fall is Fast Approaching Wed, 09 Aug 2017 00:27:36 +0000