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Guide For The Last Minute Voter: General Election 2012


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STATE SENATE --˘ ASSEMBLY --˘ CITY COUNCIL SPECIAL ELECTION --˘ JUDICIAL RACES 

NEW YORK — Before Hurricane Sandy pounded her community, caused her home to flood and left her in the cold without power, Diana Demarco was planning to vote in today's election.

Now the 54-year-old woman says she'll spend the day cleaning the storm waters from her Howard Beach home.

“You think people care?" she said of the election. "Maybe some do, but there is no electricity and no information."

In an effort to make it easier for storm fatigued New Yorkers like Demarco to exercise their right to vote, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that he would sign an executive order allowing New Yorkers in areas devastated by the storm to cast their ballots at any polls in the state. 

"We want everyone to vote. Just because you're displaced doesn't mean you should be disenfranchised," Cuomo said at a press conference last night.

Besides the city, the order covers Nassau, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester counties.

Voters will be able to fill out affidavit ballots, which will then be mailed to the appropriate Board of Elections. However, people will only be able to vote in the national elections that are uniform across ballots, not local legislative races that will determine their districts' representation.

The possibility that voters won't cast ballots in their own districts for local candidates could mean the difference in some close races. For the State Senate, it could also weigh heavily into whether the Republicans keep control of the chamber.

Chung-Wha Hong, the executive director of the Immigration Coalition of New York City, said allowing people to cast affidavit ballots would give people displaced from their neighborhoods by the storm the opportunity to participate in the democratic process. "People aren't going to go back to the Far Rockaways to vote," she said of one of the hardest-hit parts of the city.

But advocates are worried that there could be a series of problems at the polls today and that turnout will be depressed. 

"On the bright side of the coin, I think this could open dialogue on how hard it is for us voters to exercise our right to vote," said Ashton Stewart, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New York City.

However, because it is a presidential election year and the ballot also includes important Congressional races, people may turn out to vote. 

The decision to allow voters to cast affidavit ballots came after days of confusion as county election officials hustled to replace poll sites that were rendered unusable during the storm. In the city, it wasn't until Sunday that the county Board of Elections released a list of 60 or so relocated poll sites.

Adding to the uncertainty, the Board, facing enormous pressure to coordinate the election after the storm knocked out power to two of its offices and left its Election Day plans in disarray, continued to update the list hours later.

Some poll sites were consolidated into larger sites, including in Howard Beach, where brothers Phil Landman, 58, and Elliot Landman, 57, were repairing their home, which was damaged by the storm.

After learning that their nearby poll site would be moved to the other side of the neighborhood, they said there was no way they would be voting this year.

"It’s too far away ... It’s a hike from here," said Elliot Landman, pointing out that they had no transportation to get there after their three cars were water damaged during the storm.

NEED TO KNOW WHERE TO VOTE? CALL 311 FOR POLL SITES OR TEXT "NYCVOTES" to 877-877 (SPANISH "DONDE") --˘ POLL SITE CHANGES --˘ POLL SITE LOCATOR --˘ VOTE411.ORG --˘ POLL SITE MOBILE APP --˘ GOOGLE VOTER INFORMATION TOOL 

STATE SENATE

With the storm overshadowing the election, it bears recalling that the entire balance of power in the Republican-led State Senate is at stake on Nov. 6. But those districts with competitive races in the city were among the hardest-hit by Sandy, and it's anyone's guess whether voters will turnout to cast their votes.

The election probably is the last thing on the minds of voters in the 15th State Senate District — which includes Breezy Point, Howard Beach and Far Rockaway, where homes are underwater or have been destroyed by fire.

Neither one of the two men who are the leading contenders for the seat, incumbent Democratic Sen. Joseph Addabbo and Republican challenger and Councilman Eric Ulrich, have been hitting the campaign trail hard since storm pummeled their community.

Addabbo has spent his days since the storm assisting in disaster relief across the district. His own campaign office was flooded out, and he estimates that half of the polling places in his district are under water. Meanwhile, Ulrich celebrated the birth of his baby girl last week amidst the chaos of the storm.

Jessica Proud, a spokeswoman for Ulrich, said the campaign was concerned that the new poll sites "threaten to disenfranchise thosuands of voters" in Queens that were damaged by the storm.

"The Board of Elections has moved polling sites to areas that are inaccessible to many voters who are without power, public transportation, vehicles and fuel," she said in an email. 

Also in Queens, long-term incumbent Democrat Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky is facing a solid challenge from J.D. Kim in the 16th State Senate District. Kim, a political operative, has focused his campaign on small business. Stavisky has touted campaign finance reform as one of her main goals as well as improving the quality of life of her constituents.

The city’s other hot Senate race in the 22nd district of Brooklyn, between Republican incumbent Martin Golden and young Democratic challenger Andrew Gounardes, has also slowed down if not been completely eclipsed by the storm.

Gounardes’ spokesman Chris McCreight says that the election isn’t exactly on the forefront of anyone’s mind.

“The hurricane definitely impacted some polling sites in Gerritsen Beach and Manhattan Beach," he said. "To what extent, nobody knows, mainly because the focus has been on the destroyed houses and the families. I don't think too many people are thinking about the election at this point in those neighborhoods so it's hard to say if the polling sites will be anywhere near operational by Tuesday.”

Golden couldn’t be reached for comment last week.

If there was one sign to point to that indicates the struggle for control of the State Senate is closer than anyone cares to admit, it would have to be the race for the newly created 46th district. The district snakes down around the upstate urban centers like Schenectady and Albany through rural areas and small towns — like it was designed only to reach Republican voters

Republicans currently control the Senate 32 to 29. The district was carved by Republicans to help bolster their majority and added as the 33rd district despite the protests of Democrats who said that a new district made no sense.

Most Albany insiders saw it as a hand-wrapped gift to Assemblyman George Amedore, a home builder who appeared on a reality TV show before winning his seat.

Even though the district seems to have been gerrymandered to benefit the Republican candidate, a recent Siena College Poll shows that Democrat Cecliia Tkazyk trails the popular Amedore by only three points — 44 to 47 percent. Tkazyk has received a major boost from PAC spending, which has likely helped her close the gap on Amedore.

Meanwhile, in the 55th district in Monroe County, Democrat Ted O’Brien has a major lead over Republican Assemblyman Sean Hanna of 50 to 39 percent, according to the Siena College poll. The seat is currently held by retiring Sen. James Alesi Hanna, who enjoyed a 19-point swing in the polls over just one month.

If Democrats hold on to their incumbents, those two seats could put them in the majority. Of course, that all depends on whether the Independent Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Jeff Klein, decide to play ball. The breakaway faction of Senate Democrats have functioned as a buffer for Senate Republicans during important votes, although it appears important for them to be seen as Democrats in their districts.

Many Democrats think that the Independent Democrats would be forced to return to the fold if the Democratic Conference needed them to create a majority. After all, it would be hard for them to explain to their constituents why they were siding with the Republican Conference. But nothing is guaranteed.

Read the Gazette's coverage of the two key state Senate races: Democrats Hope for State Senate Win In Conservative Brooklyn --˘ Showdown at Howard Beach --˘ Rival Candidates in State Senate Race Say They Won't Toe Party Lines

STATE ASSEMBLY

Although many city-based Assembly members are running opposed and the control of the body is unlikely to change hands anytime soon, there are a number of compelling races in the five boroughs:

Democrat Ron Kim will face Republican Phil Gim in the 40th State Assembly District in Queens. The pair are vying to replace departing Assemblywoman and Congressional candidate Grace Meng. Gim is a small businessman; Kim has worked in city and state government, including as an aide to Assemblyman David Weprin.

Assembyman Rory Lancman decided not to run for his seat after losing a congressional primary. Now Democrat Nilly Rozic and Republican Abe Fuchs are vying to replace him in the 45th State Assembly District. Fuchs’ focus is on education policy while Rozic was the chief of staff for Assemblyman Brian Kavanaugh.

The 45th State Assembly District in Brooklyn features a three-way showdown between incumbent Democrat Steve Cymbrowitz, Republican Russ Gallo and Independence Party candidate Ben Akselrod. Cymbrowitz has avoided debating his opponents, and has remained fairly quiet while being the subject of numerous attacks from his opponents. For instance, Gallo slammed Cymbrowitz for looking for staff on Craigslist, and said that the popular classifieds site is “notorious for being used by criminals and those peddling immorality.” So far, the race has not featured much substance.

In the 53rd State Assembly District in Brooklyn, scandal-scarred Democratic Assemblyman Vito Lopez is facing a challenge from Republican Richy Garcia, who is not very well known and had suspended his campaign only to revive it after the sexual harassment scandal surrounding Lopez broke.

In a case of déjà vu, another scandal swamped Democratic Brooklyn assemblyman is facing a fairly weak Republican challenger in the 55th State Assembly District. Assemblyman William Boyland who has won of the worse attendance and legislative records in the Assembly and who is under indictment for bribery charges faces underfunded Republican challenger Jonathan Anderson.

In the 65th State Assembly District in Manhattan, Speaker Sheldon Silver — facing a backlash for his involvement in secretly settling sexual harassment charges against Lopez — faces a challenge from Republican Wave Chan. Silver is expected to win handily. Silver has held the seat since 1977.

In the 76th State Assembly District, Democratic incumbent Assemblyman Micah Kellner is facing Independence Party Member Mike Zumbluskas (also running on the Republican line). Kellner has been focused on creating a new middle school in the district and has worked against the East 91st Street Transfer Station. Zumbluskas has focused on reducing taxes and says he wants to add to the Republican minority in the Assembly.

There is a full ballot in the 80th State Assembly District race in the Bronx to replace Naomi Rivera. Mark Gjonaj defeated the scandal-damaged incumbent in the Democratic primary and now faces Nicole Torres on the Republican line, Patrick McManus on the Conservative Party line and William Edstrom on the Green Party line.

CITY COUNCIL SPECIAL ELECTION

Six candidates are vying in the special election for the City Council seat in the Bronx that was previously held by disgraced veteran politician Larry Seabrook. The candidates for the 12th district include a community organizer, an Anglican minister, a lawyer, a policy advisor to Rep. Jose E. Serrano, a bus company owner and the executive director of a community center.

The district is bounded by Westchester County to the north, Williamsbridge to the west, Ollinville and Baychester to the south and the 338-acre Co-Op City to the east — the largest government-subsidized housing ever built.

The candidates have said education, economic development, crime and public housing are all key issues in the district. Youth violence has also been a subject of concern.

One candidate, Pamela Johnson, said during a debate among five of the candidates that if elected she would propose parenting classes to tackle the youth gang problem in the district. “Some parents don’t know how to be parents,” said the Eastchester community activist.  

Another candidate, Cheryl Simmons-Oliver, is a policy advisor on economic development for Rep. Serrano. In a series of videos posted on YouTube, she has outlined a multi-pronged platform, on issues including quality of life and job creation.

Some observers say the district was neglected during Seabrook's three-term tenure that ended when he was booted from his seat following his convicted in a corruption case. Prosecutors said he funneled $1.5 million in public funds to nonprofit organizations he controlled.

While most of the candidates in the nonpartisan race have focused their energy on promoting their own records rather than addressing Seabrook's shenanigans, candidate Joseph Nwachukwu told The New York Times that he wanted to increase accountability surrounding how the city's money is spent.

“After the Larry Seabrook debacle, people are looking at us as if we don’t have integrity,” the 54-year-old Anglican minister told the newspaper last month. “I will set an example and lead by example.”

Another candidate in the race, Andy King, lost a challenge to Seabrook in 2009. This year, he's seen by some as the man to beat.

He's raised the most money ($28,520) and has sought and received public matching funds of $49,333, according to the city Campaign Finance Board's website. Top donors have included unions, Councilman James Vacca and state Assemblyman Carl Heastie.

He has also won the support of the Bronx Democratic Committee.

The race has also been a test case for a new city rule requiring organizations or groups to disclose their independent expenditures on behalf of candidates.

According to campaign finance records, 1199 SEIU, spent $4,500 to back King, mainly by printing and distributing a flier for him — not surprising, though, given that the candidate worked as a community organizer for the union.

On his website, King has outlined his platform under the generic slogans of "providing care for our seniors", "improving access to healthcare" and "organizing for positive change."

Another candidate, Neville Mitchell, is a lawyer who represented the relatives of a groom shot and killed by police in a 50-bullet barrage on his wedding day on Nov. 26, 2006.

Mitchell told the Daily News in late October that he planned to sue the city's Board of Election because he said King's name is expected to appear on the ballot twice and in the same column as President Barack Obama.

Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez said the first candidate dropped out of the race and substituted King for the spot.

JUDICIAL RACES

When voters do go to the polls tomorrow, they will likely be expected to pick judicial candidates whom they probably never even heard about before. There are 43 candidates running to be judges in Bronx, Kings, New York and Queens counties. Up for grabs are spots on the civil, supreme and surrogate’s courts.

The New York City Bar Association, which evaluates candidates in judicial races, did not approve 10 of the candidates (“Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate”) and was unable to review two.

The City Bar says that it cannot comment beyond approving and not approving candidates “to ensure the thoroughness and integrity of the ratings process.”

More information about each candidate can be found on the New York State Unified Court System’s guide (it also includes a helpful description of what each court does) as well as on Judgepedia.

 

Ballots or Bedlam


vote-here-large

NEW YORK — Much will be at stake when New Yorkers go to the polls tomorrow, but perhaps nothing more so than the basic right to vote.

As of yesterday, less than 72 hours before Election Day, tens of thousands of voters were confusingly assigned new poll sites after Hurricane Sandy knocked out power to or damaged the usual spots where they cast their ballots.

Some of those 60 or so unusable sites have also been consolidated into about 26, meaning crowds of voters will likely show up at overtaxed schools or private sites to pick their candidates, which could lead to long waits at the polls.

Some voters will also be making their picks outside in tents, while others may need to be bused from devastated neighborhoods and shelters to make their voices heard.  

And for many people who turn out to vote in this critical election — if they are not dealing with flooded or destroyed homes, displacement or other, more important problems caused by the aftermath of the storm — it will be the first time they will use the new electronic voting machines.

If all that wasn't bad enough, the city Board of Elections, which has been known to bungle the administration of the democratic process on more than one occasion during relatively normal circumstances, has been without power at its lower Manhattan headquarters since last week after it was flooded (a satellite office in Staten Island has also been closed for the same reason).

Along with the electricity went the Boards's voter hotline, though people can call 311 to find out their poll sites.

The Board says its staff has been working round-the-clock to relocate polls, process absentee ballots and get the word out about the election. And, from what could be gleaned from interviews with officials and good government groups over the past few days, there was a semblance of coordination among the board, mayor's office, governor's office and federal and state officials to address the problem with voting sites.

But yesterday, after publishing what it said was the final poll list for the election, the Board updated it hours later. "There are some sites now that are viable at this minute that were not," said Board Commissioner Juan Carlos "J.C." Polanco yesterday afternoon. "In an effort to use the poll sites that were already there, we are using the ones that are there and have power and are viable."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking at a news conference yesterday, didn't give the Board his vote of confidence.

“Over the next day, it’s going to be critical that the Board of Elections communicate this new information to their poll workers," he said. "Unfortunately, as you know, the Board has had a history of not opening all poll sites on time, and they’re going to work hard to make sure that poll workers and voters know where they’re supposed to go on Election Day."

He said NYC Service volunteers are helping to notify the estimated 143,000 voters in all five boroughs who were assigned new poll sites.

Valerie Vazquez, a spokeswoman for the Board, said staff was planning to distribute information at shelters about where people can vote, posting signage at old poll sites directing voters to new ones and doing full page ads in citywide and local newspapers about the poll site changes.

New Yorkers can also text "NYCVOTES" (or "DONDE") to 877-877 to receive a message on their phones with their poll site. The technology is being donated to the city by Mobile Commons.

"As New Yorkers, we came together to hold a calm, orderly election following 9/11.  We will do it again in the aftermath of Sandy," said Onida Coward Mayers, director of NYC Votes!, the nonpartisan voter engagement campaign of the NYC Campaign Finance Board, in a statement. The campaign announced the text messaging software. "There will certainly be some challenges on Tuesday and it will require some patience, but it is important that all New Yorkers head to the polls to make our voices heard."

Even with these efforts, good government groups are worried that Election Day will be a mess.

Alex Camarda, the director of public policy and advocacy at Citizens Union, the sister organization of Gotham Gazette, said the Board was facing a vastly complicated election.

"I think it's going to be a Herculean task, and that the Board is going to have to bring better than their A game to pull this off without a problem," he said, adding that long lines and voter confusion were likely. "It's incumbent on the city and state to use their resources as well to get the word out so that we don't see fewer people voting as a result."

Turnout is a particular problem in New York City. According to a report by the Campaign Finance Board released in June, only 18 percent of voting age New Yorkers turned out to vote in the 2009 general election for mayor.

Any drop in turnout could have an effect on pivotal races for the U.S. Congress and the state Senate where candidates have suspended their campaigns in recent days to respond to the devastation in their communities on Staten Island, Queens and Brooklyn.

Ashton J. Stewart, the executive director of the League of Women Voters of New York City, said people were confused before the storm about where to vote because redistricting had relocated their poll sites.

"We were already up to our necks addressing the normal concerns with the general election," he said, worrying that turnout could be further suppressed because of the problems caused by the storm. "The people that do live in homes and are currently without power, I just don't know, I hope they still go to the polls."

City Fails Bengali Ballot Test; Elections Board Says It Has Plan” Maybe


Bengali

NEW YORK — Asian Americans continue to face "many barriers in exercising their right to vote" in several jurisdictions throughout the county, including in Queens, a civil rights group says.

In a report on local compliance with federal laws for language assistance at the polls, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund said yesterday that New York City was the only one of four jurisdictions in the U.S. that failed in its obligation to translate ballots into Bengali.

The other three jurisdictions were Cook County, Ill.; Hamtramck, Mich.; and Los Angeles, Calif.

The report also underscored that four elections have passed since the city was required by federal law in 2011 to provide language assistance in a South Asian language to voters in Queens.

The city's Board of Elections has said it will not be able to translate ballots into Bengali in time for the general election, but a revised draft plan to help Bengali speaking voters on Nov. 6 was made public at a a meeting of the agency's commissioners yesterday. The plan does not include Bengali ballots.  

A spokeswoman for the board responded to a request for comment about the AALDEF report by forwarding the draft plan.

An attorney with AALDEF, Glenn D. Magpantay, said the plan addressed some concerns. "It's a good plan, but there's still room for mischief," he said.

He said he commended the board for making an effort, but said the issue of Bengali ballots had been raised for months.

"We've been yelling at them since December of last year to get this done," he said. "They haven't done nothing. They've recruited interpreters, but no one knows how to access them."

Most recently, the board blamed the failure to translate the ballot into Bengali in time for November's election on the voting machine vendor, Elections Systems & Software.

But AALDEF said in its report that the same company was able to provide Bengali-language ballots for voting machines in time for Michigan's primary election in February.

AALDEF's Magpantay concedes that the software used in Michigan is slightly different, but he said of the board: "They have the technology."

ESS's representatives didn't respond to a request for comment.

AALDEF's report, based on monitoring of 56 poll sites in five jurisdictions around the country during this year's primaries, also found that voters in Queens often didn't know that language assistance was available and that "several" poll sites didn't have the required number of official interpreters.

The report also documented how one poll worker made disparaging remarks about Bengali and an instance where an "interpreter available" sign was written in Chinese even though Bengali and Hindi translators were sitting in front of it.

Under federal law, the city was supposed to have arranged to have voter registration forms, ballots, materials and interpreters available for Bengali readers in Queens during this year's elections.

While most, if not all, of the other materials have been translated, the ballot has not.

The board's draft plan calls for making a list of candidates' names available in Bengali at poll sites, translating sample ballots and other materials, as well as the hiring of interpreters.

Magpantay said his organization is weighing its options for forcing the board into compliance with federal law, including and up to filing a lawsuit over the delay in rolling out Bengali ballots.

"This is a very important election," he said. "The emerging South Asian community in Queens has a right to vote in their language."



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