Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1897 Wed, 20 Jun 2018 13:09:13 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) 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

Read more by this writer.

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
GothamTalks: Why You Should Vote in Local Elections http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7499:gothamtalks-why-you-should-vote-in-local-elections http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7499:gothamtalks-why-you-should-vote-in-local-elections GothamTalks commentary New Leaders Council


Gotham Gazette and New Leaders Council -- a nonpartisan, nonprofit leadership institute -- have partnered with Manhattan Neighborhood Network to create a series of video commentaries by New York City civic activists. GothamTalks is short video essays submitted through the New Leaders Council alumni network, which consists of hundreds of New Yorkers working in advocacy, government, campaigns, nonprofits, business, law, and other aspects of city life.

Like both the reporting we do at Gotham Gazette and the written op-ed columns we publish, the GothamTalks video commentaries range in subject, but are all meant to move the public discussion forward. Please watch, listen, and let us know what you think. Use #GothamTalks on social media, and tag us @GothamGazette and @NLC_NYC.

Note: The views expressed in GothamTalks are entirely those of the commentators, and not of Gotham Gazette or New Leaders Council.

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November 3, 2017
Max Markham
Voting in Local Elections

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GothamTalks: Why You Should Vote in Local Elections Fri, 03 Nov 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Voters Guide for the City's 2017 General Election http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7274:voters-guide-for-the-2017-city-general-election http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7274:voters-guide-for-the-2017-city-general-election de Blasio voting election

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


ELECTION DAY IS TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7 -- BE READY TO VOTE!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Voters Guide for the City's 2017 General Election Wed, 25 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
It’s Not Too Late to Start Paying Attention to the City Elections - Here’s How http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7253:it-s-not-too-late-to-start-paying-attention-to-the-city-elections-here-s-how http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7253:it-s-not-too-late-to-start-paying-attention-to-the-city-elections-here-s-how NYC Votes voters New York City

(image: NYC Votes)


If you’re one of many New Yorkers who have not been paying much attention to this year’s city elections, don’t worry, there’s still time to get up to speed and make informed decisions on Election Day, November 7.

Tuesday, October 24, marked two weeks until that opportunity to vote, and after only about 14% of registered Democrats went to the polls in the September mayoral primary, it would be good for the city’s civic health if more voters cast ballots in November. (About 24% of city voters cast ballots in the last mayoral general election, in November 2013.)

Voter turnout and election results send significant messages to our elected officials, and also to the candidates who come up short. Campaigns, consultants, candidates, and elected officials -- whether the mayor or your borough president, local City Council member or others -- know who votes and often pay attention to what voters think. Campaigns target and listen to people who have voted in the past. (One way to guarantee that your interests, preferences, and beliefs are not paid attention to is to continue not paying attention to city politics.)

Even if you don’t have much time to dedicate to studying up, three weeks is still enough to get to know more about the candidates running for those city positions being elected this year, as well as the three questions that will be on the back of the ballot. This is direct democracy in action, and those who participate help keep our political leaders accountable, while also helping decide the direction the city heads for years to come.

Local elected officials have many powers that directly influence everyday life, the way city services run, and the future of the city. City Council members are the local-most elected official and exist to represent you and your neighborhood -- on everything from street safety to school quality to small business policy to garbage pick-up to oversight of the NYPD, and much, much more. Along with every seat in the 51-member City Council, also on the ballot in November are the three citywide positions of Mayor, Comptroller, and Public Advocate, each Borough President position, several judicial posts, and the District Attorneys of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Then, there are the three ballot questions that each allow for a “yes” or “no” answer. Voters get to help decide whether 1) New York will hold a state constitutional convention, 2) corrupt politicians lose their pensions, and 3) small amounts of preserved upstate land can be used for vital infrastructure projects and be replaced by other new land.

Unfortunately, there isn’t that much competition on the ballot, largely the case because it is the general election in a city home to many, many more Democrats than Republicans or members of other parties. After Democrats, the second largest group of registered voters in New York City is actually those who do not belong to any political party, and Republicans are the third largest group. Democratic primaries are often where the most action is -- something to keep in mind for the future. [Here’s a full list of candidates for all the city government posts on the ballot in November.]

But for now, it is October, and you will have several choices to make if you choose to vote next month. There is competition for each of the three citywide positions, and plenty to brush up on with the candidates for those posts. For each, a Democratic incumbent is seeking a second term.

There is also some competition for most of the other positions, though in many City Council races, the Democratic nominee is facing only nominal opposition. Still, it is important to look into the candidates and vote, helping to send a message, whether you are behind the eventual winner or not. Even incumbent City Council who win reelection pay attention to their vote totals and win margin, noticing if they have more work to do to win over constituents. Broadly speaking, there are about ten City Council races that are especially worth paying attention to, but all that really matters for most voters is who is running in your district.

If you want to start paying attention to this city election cycle, here are a few ways to get started:

-Check your voter registration status. If you’re not registered to vote it is now too late to register to vote this November (but you should still register and get to know what’s happening this year, then get ready to vote in state level elections in 2018.)

-Start researching the candidates for Mayor. There are seven: Democrat Bill de Blasio, Republican Nicole Malliotakis, independent Bo Dietl, Reform Party nominee Sal Albanese, Green Party nominee Akeem Browder, Libertarian Party nominee Aaron Commey, and independent Michael Tolkin.

-Mark your calendar for Wednesday, November 1, which will be the second of two mayoral candidate debates. It is not yet clear which candidates beyond de Blasio and Malliotakis will be on the stage. It will be broadcast at 7 p.m. that night on CBS television.

(You can catch up on the first debate by reading our recap here, listening to this recap and analysis from our podcast, or watching the full debate.)

-Listen to other recent and past episodes of our election year podcast; which includes conversations with several mayoral candidates, both major party public advocate candidates, the Republican comptroller candidate, and others.

-The lone Public Advocate debate between Democrat Letitia James and Republican J.C. Polanco took place on October 16 -- you can watch it here, or read our recap here. (There are other Public Advocate candidates running.)

-The lone Comptroller debate between Democrat Scott Stringer and Republican Michel Faulkner took place on October 17 -- you can watch it here, or read our recap here. (There are other Comptroller candidates running.)

-Listen to our podcast episode recapping the Public Advocate and Comptroller debates and discussing the latest in the mayoral race, with Brigid Bergin of WNYC radio, from October 18.

-Poke around the NYC Votes website to view the candidate video statements from various candidates, including those who are running in your City Council district and those running to be your Borough President (you can punch your address in at the NYC Votes website to get a narrowed scope of who will be on your ballot). NYC Votes is the nonpartisan voter education and outreach arm of the city’s Campaign Finance Board, which oversees campaign finances and helps run the debates.

-Take this NYC Votes survey and sign up for updates.

-Read up on the three ballot questions from Gotham Gazette and/or from NYC Votes.

-As much as you can and want to, start reading regular coverage of the campaigns and city politics, in Gotham Gazette and other news outlets. Watch NY1, listen to WNYC radio.

-Mark your calendar for November 7, Election Day, and make a voting plan.

-Check your polling site to see where you go to vote on November 7.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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It’s Not Too Late to Start Paying Attention to the City Elections - Here’s How Sun, 15 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
You Can Help Boost Voter Turnout on Election Day, But You Have to Register Soon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7237:you-can-help-boost-voter-turnout-on-election-day-but-you-have-to-register-soon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7237:you-can-help-boost-voter-turnout-on-election-day-but-you-have-to-register-soon voting booth elections

(Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


In order to vote in the city’s November 7 general election -- for Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President City Council, and other offices -- one must register with the Board of Elections by Friday, October 13. For registrations by mail, registration forms must be postmarked by October 13 and received by the BOE by Wednesday, October 18. This is only for New York City residents who are not currently registered to vote.

Since party primaries are over, prospective voters are no longer being held to party registration deadlines and regulations -- New York has a closed primary system, with party-change deadlines far in advance. To vote in November’s election, one must simply be registered, with any party or none -- those registered to vote but not with one of about 10 official political parties are called “unaffiliated” voters. They are also at times referred to as “independents” or even “blanks” because of how they leave the party registration section of the form.

It appears that many New Yorkers have registered with the Independence Party thinking that it makes them an “independent” voter, but that is not the case.

Notably, though, Friday, October 13 -- of this year, 2017 -- is also the deadline to change your party registration ahead of next year's 2018 state-level electoral primaries in New York. If you're already registered to vote, you can declare a party or change parties by October 13 and be eligible for voting in Democratic, Republican, or other party primaries next fall.

Turnout on this Election Day is expected to be very low, with Mayor Bill de Blasio appearing likely to trounce his main opponents, Republican Nicole Malliotakis and independent Bo Dietl, as well as other minor candidates, including Reform Party nominee Sal Albanese, Green Party nominee Akeem Browder, and Michael Tolkin, running on his self-created Smart Cities ballot line.

In 2013, the turnout in the general election between de Blasio and Republican Joe Lhota was a meager 24%, the lowest in the city’s modern history. The 24% turnout in the general came after the Democratic and Republican primaries clocked in at 22% and 12%, respectively.

In this year’s Democratic primary on September 12, 14% of registered Democrats turned out to cast ballots. This is one of the lowest Democratic primary turnouts in the city’s history; in 2009, Bill Thompson won the Democratic mayoral primary with turnout of 11%.

This starkly low turnout in the Democratic primary comes in the wake of even lower turnout numbers in last year’s primaries for state and federal legislative offices. In the September 2016 state legislative primary, turnout totaled 10%; in June’s congressional primary, turnout stood at a measly 8%, according to a report from the City’s Board of Elections.

These numbers stood in sharp contrast to the turnout rates for the higher profile presidential contest that year: 35% of registered party members voted in April’s presidential primary, and 62% of registered voters in New York City voted in the November general election, with Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump at the top of the marquee.

As of April 1 in New York City, there were just under 5 million registered voters. Of these, about 3.43 million were Democrats, about 522,600 were Republicans, and about 880,660 were unaffiliated with a party. Many thousands more were spread among the smaller parties, including Green, Reform, Independence, Conservative, and Working Families.

A recent poll for this year’s mayoral race from NBC-4 and Marist College shows de Blasio leading the pack with 65% of the vote, followed by Malliotakis at 18% and Dietl at 8%. While there are several weeks to Election Day, competitors must catch fire soon to have a chance to unseat the Democratic incumbent. The first debate -- with de Blasio, Malliotakis and Dietl -- is scheduled for Tuesday, October 10.

New Yorkers can check their registration status here, check registration deadlines here, and see a full list of candidates for all offices in the general election here.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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You Can Help Boost Voter Turnout on Election Day, But You Have to Register Soon Thu, 05 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Your Right to Vote in New York is as Vulnerable as Anywhere in the U.S. http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7145:your-right-to-vote-in-new-york-is-as-vulnerable-as-anywhere-in-the-u-s http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7145:your-right-to-vote-in-new-york-is-as-vulnerable-as-anywhere-in-the-u-s 32985722296 421eb35b2d k

(photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


We are in a perilous time for voting rights. Since even before President Trump’s inauguration, he has been pushing the myth of widespread voter fraud. With the creation of the Presidential Advisory Commission for Election Integrity in May, he put the power of the federal government behind perpetuating that claim. This commission is part of a larger and systematic assault on voting rights.

Our government, both on the federal and state level, has made increasingly aggressive moves to redefine voting as a privilege rather than a fundamental right. The ultimate goal of these efforts is to make the electorate older, whiter, and more conservative by disenfranchising millions of students, low-income women and men, and people of color. Voting rights do not have the emotional appeal of some of the other dangers presented by this administration. However, our right to vote is our ability to have a say in the makeup and functioning of our government and our judicial system.

The efforts to restrict that ability are a key component of a larger effort to perpetuate a status quo of white supremacy, of ableism, of patriarchy, of deciding whose lives matter. Even after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, African-Americans continued to be disenfranchised for close to 100 years by vigilantes and mobs through a campaign of intimidation, terror, and assassinations. The violence that recently occurred in Charlottesville must be understood in light of our past and present struggles to preserve and expand the right to vote.

In May, Indiana enacted a law requiring a single county to consolidate precincts with fewer than 600 active voters, which would potentially eliminate half of the county’s voting precincts. The county in question, Lake County, is home to the largest Hispanic and second largest African-American population in the state. The Indiana Conference of the NAACP, supported by Priorities USA Foundation, filed a complaint challenging the law this month, arguing that the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

We see no reason to believe that the DOJ will fight on the side of the citizens who will be disenfranchised by this law. More recently, the Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, reversed a position held under the Obama administration and filed a brief siding with the state of Ohio after it purged thousands of people from its voter rolls for being “inactive” after not voting in two elections. Rather than defending its citizens and working to guarantee our right to vote, the DOJ is using its significant influence to support the practice of denying eligible voters their rights. The actions join the propagation of voter ID laws and voter roll purges in states like Wisconsin, Georgia, and beyond. These attacks are as widespread as they are effective.

The threat of voter roll purges and voter suppression now looms over the Empire State.

Earlier this month, the New York State Board of Elections complied with a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for New York voter roll information from the President’s Commission. The BOE turned over publicly available data (name, birthdate, home address, gender, political party affiliation, and voting history). The Co-Chairs of the BOE and Governor Cuomo released strikingly similar statements justifying this release, while explaining that they remain committed to protecting New Yorkers.

In Governor Cuomo’s statement, he referred to the commission as “a politically-motivated organization seeking to perpetuate the myth of voter fraud.” In response to questions by Brooklyn Voters Alliance members, BOE Co-Chair Douglas Kellner stated, “I have repeatedly indicated my concern that the leadership of the Presidential Commission has a track record that shows they are more interested in voter suppression rather than uncovering fraud. Nevertheless, New York law is unambiguous that any person can obtain a copy of the public voter list as long as they agree that the list will used be only for election purposes.”

We are pleased to see our elected officials and state agencies acknowledging the real threat posed by this federal administration. However, merely acknowledging the problem is not an adequate response to the grave threat New Yorkers face.

Despite living in a state that is known for championing progressive values, the voting rights of New Yorkers are vulnerable. And despite prior assurances by Governor Cuomo, New York is not leading in the area of voting rights.

As the Governor has acknowledged, we have some of the most outdated election laws in the country. Yet, the state Legislature passed none of the voting reforms introduced this legislative session. It is time for actions to match the rhetoric. It is time for New York’s elected officials to counter the efforts of the Trump administration to disenfranchise Americans by providing automatic voter registration, early voting, same day voter registration, and other measures that will expand access to the ballot and make it easier for all New Yorkers to vote.

Our rights will not be preserved by eloquent statements and voter registration drives. New York voters need full protection of our registration and voting rights. We need a government that demonstrates it will protect the voice of all of its citizens. That is why we demand meaningful voting reform.

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Executive Committee, Brooklyn Voters Alliance: Amanda Blair, Jess Byrne, Erica Cohen, Jacques David, Nicole Hunt, Julie Kerr, Amanda Ritchie, Beth Slade, Amy Stuart
Brooklyn Voters Alliance is a Brooklyn-based group of concerned citizens who want to encourage civic engagement and ensure open and fair elections for all New Yorkers. On Twitter: @BKVoters.

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

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Your Right to Vote in New York is as Vulnerable as Anywhere in the U.S. Tue, 22 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
New York Votes Act Doesn’t Go Far Enough http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6991:new-york-votes-act-doesn-t-go-far-enough http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6991:new-york-votes-act-doesn-t-go-far-enough Eric Schneiderman

 (photo via @AGSchneiderman)


In February, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman introduced the New York Votes Act, a comprehensive set of bills to protect and expand voting rights in New York. Among other issues, the Act includes no-excuse absentee ballots, early voting, and automatic voter registration.

This legislation is a step in the right direction, but I worry that it ignores the most impactful form of voter suppression facing New York: the state’s closed primary system.

About 3.3 million independent and unaffiliated voters are locked out of New York’s closed primaries -- more voters than the Republican Party has enrolled in the entire state!. The system impacts over a million more New Yorkers than automatic voter registration would.

Some argue that independents aren’t technically “disenfranchised” in New York because they still get to vote in the general election. But here’s the thing: New York districts are so uncompetitive -- as a result of partisan gerrymandering -- that over 90 percent of elections are determined in the primary. By the time the general election comes around, most races have already been decided.

Hundreds of thousands of voters were furious when they couldn’t vote in the New York presidential primary last year. Many tried to change their party registration ahead of time, and were still denied a vote, due to this ridiculous rule and the untenable lead time required. New York’s voting laws stifled many new voters or those newly engaged in politics that wanted to participate in our democracy.

I witnessed many of my grassroots organizers and colleagues, people incredibly engaged in the campaign process, not able to vote or forced to vote by affidavit, only to find out later in the mail their vote wasn’t counted. This is exactly what contributes to lower civic and political engagement, and in turn, lower voter turnout.   

While Schneiderman originally proposed giving independents the ability to change their party affiliation up to 10 days (in-person) or 25 days (by mail) ahead of a primary, the final version of the New York Votes Act will move the deadline to four months ahead of a primary. If the bill passes, New York would only move from having the longest wait period to change party affiliation to the second longest wait. That’s not reform.

And regardless of the affiliation deadline, the solution fails to address the core reason why so many voters are increasingly becoming independent; they don’t want to join a party for any reason or duration of time. No one should have to register with a party in order to vote in any election. Attorney General Schneiderman even acknowledged that in his report on voting reform, going as far as to recognize that: “Many of these individuals had no interest in affiliating with either of the two major parties” in order to vote. So why make them?

No wonder independent voting rights advocate Francis Barry wrote in a recent op-ed: “New York is the worst state for independents, bar none.” And no wonder New York consistently ranks among the lowest in voter turnout in the country.

There is a strong connection between closed primaries and low turnout in the general. Four of the five states with the lowest turnout in 2016 have closed primaries. The five states with the highest voter turnout in 2016 all use open primaries.

When you lock millions of voters out of the primaries, you can’t expect them to turn out for your party in the general election. That much is obvious. Independent voters want to be a part of the political process from day one, not ignored during the primary or told “join a party if you want to vote.”

The abysmal voter turnout in New York is a large part of the reason why Schneiderman introduced the New York Votes Act in the first place. The day the legislation was introduced, he held a press conference at Federal Hall, where he stood in front of a crowd of voting reform activists and declared his support for any legislation that “makes it easier to vote.”

So why does the New York Votes Act tout automatic voter registration as the centerpiece of reform, rather than the single most impactful issue facing New York voters -- the very issue that has the biggest effect on voter turnout?

What good is automatic voter registration for the general election when the vast majority of races are determined in the primary? And why focus on it at the expense of over 3 million voters who want to vote but don’t want to be forced into choosing a party?

Millions of Americans support open primaries. The current system, in which taxpayers fund closed primaries that exclude huge swaths of voters, is unsustainable. You cannot lock out the second biggest voting bloc in a state from participating in what almost always amounts to the only meaningful round of voting. That’s not democracy.

Primaries are public elections funded by taxpayers. Everyone should be allowed to vote in them, regardless of party affiliation.

As a grassroots activist who organized for Bernie Sanders in four different states -- and have since joined NYPAN and the Democratic Socialists of America -- I’ve heard from hundreds of Americans who are fed up with way the country runs its elections.

That’s why I’m supporting the Open Primaries petition to Attorney General Schneiderman and the New York State Legislature to do the right thing, and expand the New York Votes Act to include open primaries.

Abide by your own words, Mr. Attorney General, and make it easier to vote in New York, for all New Yorkers, by opening the primaries.

Make New York a true democracy.

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Jeremy Kaplan is an independent filmmaker and political activist.

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

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New York Votes Act Doesn’t Go Far Enough Mon, 12 Jun 2017 22:21:57 +0000
Schneiderman: ‘Not one single substantiated claim of voter fraud in New York last year’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6770:schneiderman-not-one-single-substantiated-claim-of-voter-fraud-in-new-york-last-year http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6770:schneiderman-not-one-single-substantiated-claim-of-voter-fraud-in-new-york-last-year Schneiderman voting

AG Eric Schneiderman voting


New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman responded to a congressional inquiry Wednesday, making clear that there was “not one single substantiated claim of voter fraud in New York last year.”

In a letter, addressed to Reps. Elijah Cummings, Robert Brady, and James Clyburn, Schneiderman emphasized the real voting challenges in New York are those that disenfranchise potential voters, rather than the “imaginary problem of voter fraud.”

“New York’s voting system faces many challenges,” Schneiderman wrote, with restrictive laws, rules and procedures, as well as administrative errors, that both legally and illegally disenfranchise New Yorkers seeking to exercise their right to vote.

Schneiderman’s letter came, he wrote, in response to an inquiry from the three members of Congress, all of whom are fellow Democrats, that came in the wake of President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally, costing him the popular vote during the presidential election. Cummings is the top Democrat on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; Brady is ranking member, Committee on House Administration; and Clyburn is Assistant Democratic Leader.

In a letter to election officials and attorneys general in all 50 states, the representatives asked for details like the identity of individuals who cast a prohibited vote, the date of the vote, the polling place where the vote was cast, the legal reason for the vote being prohibited, and whether the individual was prosecuted.

Out of the thousands of calls fielded by the Attorney General’s office during the four elections that took place in New York during 2016 (three primary days and one general election day), just two callers alleged voter fraud, according to Schneiderman. The Attorney General’s office investigated one claim and determined the charge was unfounded. The second caller did not provide sufficient information to warrant an investigation in that case.

Furthermore, the New York State Board of Elections has not referred a single allegation related to fraudulent voting during the 2016 elections to the Attorney General for investigation or prosecution, according to Schneiderman. “The lack of such complaints made directly to my office, as well as the absence of referrals from other agencies, leads me to conclude that voter fraud—the act of an ineligible individual casting a vote in an election—is a non-issue, at least in New York State,” he wrote in the letter.

Unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud have erupted on the local and national stages in the past year. In October 2016, Manhattan Board of Elections Commissioner Alan Schulkin came under fire after he was secretly filmed alleging that rampant voter fraud exists in New York City, enabled, in part, by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s municipal identification program (which has no relationship with voting given that New York does not have voter identification laws). Schulkin, a Democrat, also claimed organizations in certain neighborhoods bus voters around between districts to fraudulently win seats, apparently making the case for Republican-backed voter ID laws.

At the time, City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito blasted Schulkin’s claims as “uninformed opinions” with “no basis in fact” while Mayor Bill de Blasio called for his resignation. Democratic Party leaders decided not to reappoint Schulkin after his term ended in December 31, 2016 -- he continues to serve, though, until a replacement is named and confirmed through the City Council.

Trump’s more recent theory that thousands of voters were “bussed in” from Massachusetts to New Hampshire during the presidential election have since been discredited even by the president’s closest aides.

Voter access continues to be a problem given New York’s antiquated electoral system, which has drawn the scorn of many elected officials, advocates, and everyday New Yorkers. In December, the Office of the Attorney General released a comprehensive report detailing the many issues voters faced at the polls during the April 2016 presidential primary election.

Last year, Mayor de Blasio outlined a series of voting reforms he wants to see, including early voting and same-day voter registration.

As he has before, Governor Andrew Cuomo included those measures and others in his 2017 State of the State policy agenda.

Attorney General Schneiderman recently introduced the New York Votes Act, which seeks to address many of these ongoing issues by updating the state’s voting systems through early voting, automatic and same-day registration, consolidated primaries, shortened party registration deadlines, and more. Schneiderman also recently filed suit against the New York City Board of Elections for widespread violations that illegally purged over 200,000 New Yorkers from the voter rolls.

Republicans in the state Senate continue to form the most obvious and entrenched blockade to most of the voting reforms being sought by Cuomo, Schneiderman, and others.

“Our democracy is ailing, with too few eligible citizens registered to vote, too few of those who are registered exercising this fundamental right, and too many states devising methods to suppress the vote, rather than encourage participation in our nation’s elections,” Schneiderman wrote to members of Congress. “We would be happy to work with Congress to solve these problems – many of which persist not only in New York but also in states across the country – rather than seek to address the imaginary problem of voter fraud.”

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Schneiderman: ‘Not one single substantiated claim of voter fraud in New York last year’ Wed, 22 Feb 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Embraces Voting Reform Agenda, But Implementation Poses Challenges http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6724:cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6724:cuomo-embraces-voting-reform-agenda-but-implementation-poses-challenges Cuomo voting 2015

Gov. Cuomo voting (photo: The Governor's Office on flickr)


During his State of the State tour early this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a trio of major reforms hailed as important steps toward modernizing New York’s antiquated electoral system and increasing the state’s paltry voter turnout. While they are long-called for proposals that many are pleased to see Cuomo promote, implementing these goals could be more complicated than it may seem.

Two of the three reforms, early voting and automatic voter registration, were outlined in Cuomo’s 2016 agenda, but the initiatives failed to move through the Legislature last year due to opposition from Senate Republicans, who control that chamber. It is a power structure that continues into the 2017 session, meaning the road to passage is uphill, and steeply so.

New York is one of only about a dozen states without some semblance of early voting. While the state already has a form of automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles, Cuomo’s proposal is to streamline and expand the practice. If passed, it would amount to more widespread automatic registration, but not universal.

The third electoral proposal from Cuomo, same-day registration, will likely require a constitutional amendment -- meaning approval from two consecutive classes of the state Legislature, then voters via ballot referendum -- a process that would take at least three years. There is some debate among constitutional law experts over whether such an amendment is required for any form of same-day registration, which would allow voters to show up at the polls to both register and vote on the same day.

The three reforms are almost universally seen as long overdue in New York. Voter turnout in New York is especially poor: in 2014, the state ranked 49th of the country’s 50 states. While New York has watched many other states change voting laws to increase access to the ballot, the voter turnout deficit here is growing progressively worse, with just 19.7 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots in the 2016 presidential primaries. Turnout numbers have also consistently declined during gubernatorial elections and, in New York City, during mayoral election years.

“New York is so far behind the curve on election administration that almost anything is an improvement,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of government reform group Common Cause New York. “I think the governor has picked issues that are very good places to start.”

Those with high praise for Cuomo’s 2017 electoral agenda include Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who, after monitoring the state’s four election days of 2016, issued an exhaustive report with areas for reform at the end of the year.

"I commend Governor Cuomo for proposing common sense reforms to our voting system. I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo, the legislature, and everyday New Yorkers across our state to address the systemic problems in New York's voting laws,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “New York must become a national leader in voting rights by expanding and protecting the rights of all New Yorkers to cast their vote.”

In the statement, Schneiderman also recommended consolidating New York's exhausting voting schedule into a single primary. In 2016, there were three: in April for the presidential race; in June for congressional races; and in September for state legislative races.

While it is still early to speculate exactly how the Legislature will respond to Cuomo’s electoral reform agenda, there are key early markers, process details, and implementation questions ahead of whatever policy debate may occur.

One thing is certain: Democrats in the Assembly, where they have the majority, and in the Senate, where they do not, will be behind the election and voting modernization efforts -- including and beyond Cuomo’s three main proposals. What is less clear is whether the governor will fully push for early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration in budget negotiations, which are just beginning; and whether there is any room for passage in the Republican-controlled Senate, perhaps with the help of the Independent Democratic Conference -- the seven-member body that has formed a ruling coalition with the Senate GOP.

Early Voting
When it comes to early voting, New York is one of just 13 states without some window wherein voters can cast ballots before Election Day.

For several years running, an early voting bill has passed the Assembly, only to be blocked in the Senate.

According to Gov. Cuomo’s 2017 proposal, every county would offer residents access to at least one early voting poll site for every 50,000 residents during the 12 days leading up to Election Day. Voters would be guaranteed eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends to cast early ballots, and bipartisan county boards of elections would determine locations of the early poll sites.

While high voter participation would ideally be a bipartisan issue, New York Republicans -- who cling to control of the state Senate by a tiny margin -- have calculated that better ballot access and more participation is likely to turn out Democratic voters, according Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens and outspoken proponent of voting reform.

“These reforms are more necessary than ever and I’m glad they were included in the governor’s presentation, but the problem is Senate Republicans seem to have a personal interest in keeping people from voting,” said Gianaris, a co-sponsor of several packages of electoral legislation. “That's been the biggest hurdle to overcome, because voter restrictions tend to benefit them.”

A spokesperson for Senate Republicans did not return multiple requests for comment.

A natural partner of early voting is absentee voting. In his State of the State policy book, Gov. Cuomo, a second term Democrat, also cited the requirement for absentee ballot voters to provide an excuse, which is written into the state constitution and its removal would require a constitutional amendment.

A bill to remove this requirement from the constitution has passed the Assembly and is, like other voting reforms, awaiting Senate approval.

Senator Joseph Addabbo, who co-sponsored the bill and served as chair of the Senate Election Committee in 2009, said his staff has not looked closely at the governor’s plan yet but expressed hopeful optimism about the governor’s electoral reform agenda.

“I’ll say I can embrace a lot of what he’s proposing and now our legal counsel might look at whether and how it can be implemented,” said Addabbo, a Democrat from Queens. “This is a lot of what we’ve worked on and proposed in 2009. We really go through painstaking measures to determine what is going to get voters to vote.”

In addition to persuading the Senate majority, Cuomo and Assembly Democrats will have to hash out the details with counties, which, while supportive of early voting, want the governor to include a provision for who would foot the bill -- approximately $3 million per year, according to one estimate -- for the additional polling options.

"Despite principled visions on the issue, on the fiscal nature of the cost shift it's unconscionable for the state to be shifting and enacting policies these days in the property-tax-cap era. It should be dead on arrival." Stephen Acquario, executive director of the state Association of Counties, told the USA Today Network.

Automatic Voter Registration
Automatically registering voters when they become eligible or when they come into contact with government agencies is a fairly new concept. Since 2015, automatic voter registration -- which can have different forms and meanings short of universal automatic registration of voters once they become eligible -- has been approved in six states with strong bipartisan support and is taking off across the country, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

The idea is to shift the onus of registering from the individual to the government. In addition to increasing voter registration in other states, automatic voter registration has been shown to have significant benefits for administrators, reduce costs, and improve the accuracy of electronic poll books.

Cuomo’s proposal, recycled from last year, would automatically register anyone who comes into contact with a state Department of Motor Vehicles, unless the person chooses to opt out. Currently, eligible voters can register through the DMV, but they must provide additional voting information as they apply for DMV services.

Cuomo’s proposed version of automatic registration is preferable to similar bills passed in Oregon and California, which only registers eligible citizens who apply for or renew a driver’s license. However, Cuomo’s plan is not as inclusive as say, that which is outlined in New York’s Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by Senator Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, which would enable a variety government agencies to automatically register voters.

The Brennan Center outlines four ways that states can modernize their electoral systems with automatic registration. The first, of course, is by automatically registering anyone who interacts with government offices, unless the person declines registration. The second is portability, which ensures that registered voters remain on the voter rolls even after they move within the state. The third, online access, allows voters to register, check, and update their registration records through a web portal. And fourth, the state should provide a “safety net,” that allows citizens to correct errors on the voter rolls or register before and on Election Day.

Ideally, automatic registration would occur through many different state-run agencies, reaching well beyond the DMV to the the widest possible segment of eligible voters. There is a sizeable population, especially in urban centers like New York City, that does not drive or interact with the DMV. Broader automatic registration would include:

DMVs; Medicaid and public assistance offices; colleges and high schools; military recruiters and other military offices; unemployment and other public benefit offices; firearm licensing agencies; immigration offices; government-funded job-training centers; law enforcement and corrections agencies that interact with people who regain their voting rights after a criminal conviction.

Some community groups have raised concerns that tying automatic voter registration to the DMV alone may skew registration number in favor of areas with high rates of car ownership, disproportionality impacting upstate voters over New York City, for example.

Researchers at the Brennan Center are exploring whether data can shed light on the concern that automatic registration through the DMV advantages some groups over others.

“We recognize that this is a serious concern for some important groups and we want to take a close look at this question,” said Chisun Lee, senior counsel at the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “We are hopeful that the net benefits for increasing the franchise, and reaching voters who otherwise wouldn't be enrolled, will be positive for all.”

Same-Day Voter Registration
Same-day voter registration, perhaps the boldest of Cuomo’s proposals, would allow New Yorkers to register and vote on the same day.

Currently, New Yorkers must register to vote 25 days prior to an election, though the state constitution's requirement is only ten days. Depending on how it would be implemented, same-day registration may require a constitutional amendment. However, if early voting is passed, there are legal experts who argue that the constitution would allow same-day registration for those who vote prior to ten days before Election Day.

Again, a constitutional amendment is typically at minimum a three-year process which would require two “yes” votes from consecutive Legislatures and the passage of referendum on the following year’s general election ballot.

Alternately, a “yes” vote on the constitutional convention referendum, which will be on the ballot this November, could provide another avenue to remove restrictions and institute reforms like same-day registration.

At this point, 13 states and the District of Columbia have same-day voter registration, and California, Vermont, and Hawaii have approved the provision, though it has not yet been implemented, according to Cuomo’s office.

The upcoming opportunity to amend the state constitution via constitutional convention, which, for New Yorkers, appears as a ballot referendum every 20 years will be November 7, 2017. A constitutional convention is a four-year public process that could result significant changes to the entire document and laws of the state. If New Yorkers say “yes” to a convention on this year’s ballot, a year later, voters will select delegates to participate in the convention; the following year, in 2019, the convention will convene; and voters will be able to vote on any proposed changes the following Election Day.

Like with the electoral and voting reforms Gov. Cuomo has proposed, he has expressed varying degrees of support for a "yes" vote on a constitutional convention, but whether the governor takes significant action will go a long way toward determining the outcome.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Cuomo Embraces Voting Reform Agenda, But Implementation Poses Challenges Sun, 22 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Appeals for Support in Pushing Albany on Voting Reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6631:de-blasio-appeals-for-support-in-pushing-albany-on-voting-reform http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6631:de-blasio-appeals-for-support-in-pushing-albany-on-voting-reform bdb speech flag

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


In order to improve New York’s dismal voter turnout rates, it’s necessary to “shake the foundations of things,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in his keynote speech at a voter turnout symposium at New York Law School on Friday.

Speaking to an audience of more than a hundred people, many of them advocates of voting and election reform, the mayor made a forceful appeal to reinforce his recent call for reform bills in Albany. De Blasio lamented the fact that New York is well behind dozens of other states in making voter registration and the act of voting easier and asked those in attendance to help him push the state government to act.

“We know that the system as it’s currently structured under our state law literally cannot keep up with the reality of our modern democracy,” de Blasio said, bemoaning the state’s “arcane” electoral laws kept in place by entrenched lawmakers in Albany. “This state, this theoretically progressive modern state, when it comes to electoral laws, shows no evidence of being progressive and innovative and modern,” he added.

De Blasio is calling for same-day voter registration, early voting, electronic poll-books, and other reforms, including wholesale restructuring of the state law that governs the city Board of Elections. Promising to push state lawmakers in the coming months, de Blasio told the crowd that the status quo is not working. “Now we have to take this battle to Albany, once and for all. And I hope you will join me in that,” he said.

The symposium was hosted by Citizens Union, a government reform group, and co-sponsored by a number of organizations that promote voting reform and ballot accessibility. De Blasio’s keynote came after several panels on issues related to voting and elections that featured elected officials, advocates, and other experts. One participant was Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsors a variety of the related bills in Albany, where they have passed the Democratically-controlled Assembly, but not the Republican-controlled Senate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed his support for the slate of election and voting reforms.

In the run up to the November 8 general election, and in the days since, the mayor has shown a renewed interest in voting reform. He held a major news conference the day before the state deadline for voters to register for the general election, hosted a number of Get-Out-The-Vote events before and on Election Day, and has been vocal about the need for reform on radio and television appearances.

On Friday, he reiterated his call for reforms, again citing the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign as motivation, and saying that in their absence the state has passively disenfranchised millions of voters. There are roughly 2 million eligible voters in New York State who are unregistered, he said, 1 million of whom live in New York City alone.

In the 2016 election, only 52.4 percent of voting-eligible New Yorkers cast a ballot, the 7th lowest turnout rate in the country and below the national rate of 58.1 percent, according to materials from Citizens Union handed out at the event. While voter participation has been increasing in recent election cycles, New York has consistently ranked below the national average turnout since 2000.

On the national level, the mayor spoke of the need to do away with the electoral college system, which allows a presidential candidate to be victorious without winning the popular vote. (Case in point, de Blasio-backed Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead over President-elect Donald Trump has surpassed 1 million votes.) He also criticized the Citizens United Supreme Court verdict, as he often does, for facilitating the entry of massive amounts of money and corporate interests into elections. (De Blasio and his allies are the subject of multiple law enforcement investigations, including around whether the de Blasio administration did favors for donors to a political nonprofit the mayor's allies established. No one has been charged and de Blasio maintains no laws were broken.)

Closer to home, de Blasio called out the city Board of Elections, saying it would be a more efficient agency if he was allowed to manage it, if it was restructured, or if it at least accepted his offer of $20 million in exchange for substantive reform.

The mayor was preceded by reform advocates who delved into the myriad issues with voting in New York. They cited the lack of civics education in schools, the control exerted by political party machinery, a trust deficit in the political system, and voter fatigue as a few of the many reasons that the state has one of the lowest turnout rates in the country.

De Blasio was introduced by Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, who thanked the mayor for his attention to voting and election reform. Dadey also praised the mayor for following through on campaign promises and remembered first collaborating with de Blasio in the early 1990s when the current mayor was an aide to then-Mayor David Dinkins and the two worked on advancing LGBT rights.

“There is a status quo that is not working for a lot of people in this city, in this state, in this country,” de Blasio said of the political machinery and bureaucracy. “We have to be the ones to break through. I think this is one of those historical moments. It is our time, the momentum is with us, all of us who want reform.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
De Blasio Appeals for Support in Pushing Albany on Voting Reform Fri, 18 Nov 2016 05:00:00 +0000