Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/234 Sun, 27 Sep 2020 03:49:22 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) When Can New Yorkers Expect General Election Results? City and State Officials Give Different Answers https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9788-when-to-expect-2020-new-york-election-results-city-state-differ https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9788-when-to-expect-2020-new-york-election-results-city-state-differ presidential state city

New Yorkers soon head to the polls (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)


The 2020 general election results in New York City may not be known until mid-December, six weeks after Election Day, according to Michael Ryan, the executive director of the New York City Board of Elections.

Ryan told members of the New York City Council Friday that New Yorkers could expect election results between December 8 and 15, around the same length of time it took in the primaries but ages beyond the unofficial results New Yorkers have come to expect on election night. The timeline means certified results will come just in time for the Electoral College to formally select the next president by the mid-December deadline.

"We have to complete certification in order for the electors in the Electoral College [to vote], so I would say in the December 8 to December 15 range." Ryan said at an oversight hearing Friday in response to questions from members of the Council's Committee on Governmental Operation.

"But we're already working on all of that and the idea is to try to get it done as quickly as we possibly can. We don't want to play brinkmanship," he said.

The Electoral College is set to formally elect the president on December 14.

State regulators said Ryan's projection misses the deadline to certify results set in New York's election law by about two weeks.

"I will simply remind the city board that the statutory deadline for completing the canvass is November 28," said Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the State Board of Elections, which has oversight power over local boards, in his testimony later in the Council hearing.

"I point out that that's the Friday after Thanksgiving and the state board has made it very clear that the counties must gear up to meet that," he added.

As was the case in the June primaries, finding out the winners will take weeks due to the high volume of absentee voting expected in the general election. On the ballot this year along with president and vice president are races for all of New York’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and both houses of the State Legislature, among other state and local offices.

Traditionally, local boards of elections have been able to confidently publish "unofficial" results on election night, a tally of all the in-person votes cast. In a typical New York election, these account for a vast majority of votes, with official results released later once a relatively small number of military, overseas, absentee, and affidavit ballots are counted. But with absentee voting expanded to all registered voters due to the coronavirus pandemic, mailed ballots could make up nearly half the total ballots. In New York City, the BOE is anticipating as many as 1 million absentee votes, Ryan said.

Absentee and other mailed-in ballots take more time to be counted. Along with other requirements, officials must crosscheck each ballot with those received at each of New York State's 62 county boards of elections to ensure that no absentee voter voted at a poll site -- any in-person vote nullifies a mailed vote.

There are some steps administrators can take to try to speed up ballot canvassing (the actual counting of votes), but they are limited by statutory requirements.

One method is to maximize the number of ballots cast in person, which can be tallied almost immediately by ballot scanning machines at each poll site, but which in the pandemic comes with some health risk, especially for the most vulnerable populations. The BOE and other city agencies have been promoting early voting as an option for in-person voting that does not carry as much risk of exposure to COVID-19 as a crowded poll site would. There will be eight days of early voting offered from October 24 through November 1; Election Day is November 3.

The New York City Board of Elections has also purchased ballot counting machines for each borough, which have the capacity to digitally scan and copy two-sided ballots and ballot envelopes. The technology will save hundreds of BOE staff person-hours typically required to make photocopies of ballot material to be used as evidence in court challenges. The scanners mean more efficiency in handling ballot challenges and more personnel and space available for canvassing.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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When Can New Yorkers Expect General Election Results? City and State Officials Give Different Answers Sat, 26 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Sign By the Red X: New York Election Officials Unveil New Envelope to Ensure More Absentee Votes Get Counted https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9787-sign-red-x-new-york-election-officials-unveil-new-envelope-2020-absentee-votes-counted https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9787-sign-red-x-new-york-election-officials-unveil-new-envelope-2020-absentee-votes-counted kings abs oath envelope pg2b

Part of the new absentee ballot envelope design


The New York State Board of Elections has approved a new design for absentee ballot envelopes to be used statewide in the upcoming general election. The new layout, mandated by Governor Andrew Cuomo in an executive order, is intended to make it more obvious where a voter needs to provide a signature in order to have the ballot accepted by elections administrators under state law and avoid mass disqualification of absentee ballots as New York saw during the June primaries.

The design, shared by the State Board of Elections upon request by Gotham Gazette, is actually for three envelopes, which accompany every absentee ballot: an outer envelope, a return envelope, and what is known as the "oath envelope," which a voter must sign to certify they are registered and voting lawfully. The new oath envelopes will have a sizable red 'X' where the signature is required, an attempt to avoid the most common reason absentee votes were disqualified.

The envelopes, which were developed in consultation with Center for Civic Design and local boards of elections, were designed to have either one language (English), two languages, three languages, or five languages, depending on the jurisdiction. The number of languages required is dictated by the federal Voting Rights Act. For example, Brooklyn will have a three-language envelope and Queens will have a five-language envelope.

While Cuomo directed the State Board of Elections to develop the envelopes, they did not require his approval, according to a spokesperson for the governor.

Failing to provide a signature is a key reason absentee ballots were thrown out during the June primaries. The measure could help ensure that thousands of absentee ballots are counted in the general election that may otherwise have been tossed due to a missing oath. In New York City, 23 percent of the roughly 400,000 absentee ballots cast were rejected, "the overwhelming number" of which were for missing signatures on the oath envelope, according to Michael Ryan, the executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, in testimony to the New York City Council on Friday.

"I do not have a specific number but I can tell you that is going to be the vast majority," Ryan told the Council's Committee on Governmental Operations, which was conducting oversight over the June primaries and the upcoming general election, when asked by Chair Fernando Cabrera about the prevalence of the problem.

"This is directly analogous to election day," Ryan said. "A signature is the gateway to the ballot. If you do not provide a signature, you do not get a ballot."

"The only difference between election day and absentee balloting is the signature is captured in a different process but it must be captured nonetheless. And if it's not captured it's not valid," he added.

Election Day is on November 3 and New York's early voting period will be from October 24 to November 1. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, absentee voting eligibility has been extended to all registered voters and hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots have already been requested across the state. In addition to the presidency, many other federal, state, and local offices will also be on the ballot, including Queens Borough President.

Absentee ballots may also be rejected for other technicalities, including for having stray markings on the ballot or extraneous paper in the envelope, or for having an envelope that isn't fully sealed. Several pieces of legislation have been introduced to eliminate these obstacles, but not all of them have passed and been signed into law. One solution that was passed and will be in place for the general election is a measure that requires election administrators to notify voters when their ballot is rejected and give them an opportunity to fix the mistake.

But most of the errors are dwarfed by the frequency of missing signatures. Another reason some absentee ballots were rejected this summer is because the post office failed to postmark them, an issue beyond the control of voters. That was a particular issue in Brooklyn where roughly 4,500 un-postmarked ballots were initially rejected, according to Ryan (the other boroughs lost about 100 ballots each to the postmarking issue, he said), but later counted after a court challenge. In terms of other technicalities, "They really don't occur all that often," Ryan said.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Sign By the Red X: New York Election Officials Unveil New Envelope to Ensure More Absentee Votes Get Counted Fri, 25 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
State Inaction Means New York City Won't Launch Online Voter Registration Before 2020 Deadline https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9771-state-inaction-new-york-city-wont-launch-online-voter-registration-before-2020-deadline https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9771-state-inaction-new-york-city-wont-launch-online-voter-registration-before-2020-deadline online voter sep

Voter registration (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


A bill that would have made it possible for many thousands of New York City residents to register to vote online, which passed the State Senate but stalled in the Assembly earlier this year, is unlikely to pass before the general election registration deadline and would be too late to be implemented even if it did, officials say.

The legislation, first introduced in the summer of 2019, would allow the New York City Campaign Finance Board to open the online voter registration portal it created last year, pursuant to city law, which was blocked by the New York City Board of Elections, citing technical barriers in state law. After a chaotic primary season, the bill was passed by the State Senate's Democratic majority as part of a package of voting reforms, but was held in committee in the Assembly.

Assembly Member Charles Lavine, a Nassau County Democrat and chair of the chamber's election law committee, said the chances of lawmakers coming back into session before the general election was unlikely and the prospect of them taking up online voter registration in New York City was "very, very slim." 

"This was something that came through the Senate very, very late, I think in late July and at that point the Assembly was primarily focused on a bill Latrice Walker had for statewide automatic voter registration," Lavine said, referring to legislation that would require some government agencies to register their clients starting in 2023, a form of which voting reform advocates have pushed for years.

"We still are considering this particular bill, however the likelihood of it being passed in time to make any meaningful difference, any difference whatsoever, this year is not likely," he said of online registration. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's office and Assemblymember Michael Blake, the bill's sponsor, did not respond to requests for comment on the status of the bill and why it hasn't advanced.

Lavine says it's unclear whether Heastie will call the body back into session before the election. "If we do go back to session, in all likelihood we'll be very preoccupied with issues involving state spending," he said, citing uncertainty around additional federal aid and referring to the state’s immense budget hole due to a massive drop in tax revenue because of the covid-related shutdown.

Matthew Sollars, a spokesperson for the Campaign Finance Board, told Gotham Gazette that at this late stage the portal would not be ready to launch by the October 9 registration deadline to vote in the general election. Early voting is set to occur October 24 through November 1, Election Day is November 3, and every eligible New Yorker is allowed to vote by absentee ballot due to coronavirus concerns.

With the presidency, state, and local offices on the ballot, the fall election is expected to shatter turnout records. State administrators are anticipating turnout to reach 8 million -- nearly three-quarters of the total registered population in a state that regularly lags behind national turnout rates.

The online voter registration bill would let New York City residents register via a Campaign Finance Board website until the state launches its own portal for all New York State residents, which was originally slated for April 2021. But one state election commissioner told Gotham Gazette that work on the state portal had been temporarily delayed due to fiscal belt-tightening, which could mean New York City residents will lack online registration through the consequential mayoral and other city government primaries in June 2021.

Voter registration has long faltered in New York City and State, where election rules are antiquated and cumbersome, and avenues to get on the rolls are limited. But in the first ten weeks of 2020, registration at both the city and state levels exceeded 2016 figures. Then the pandemic hit New York.

In mid-March, around the time Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio declared states of emergency, the rate of registrations dropped significantly, falling below 2016 levels. By June, only about 80,000 New York City residents registered to vote, compared with 155,000 in the first half of 2016, according to the Campaign Finance Board. The divide between New York City and the rest of the state also widened during the pandemic, with new registrants outside of New York City surpassing 140,000 by June.

In 2017, the New York City Council passed a law mandating the development of an online voter registration system that would transmit a voter's information electronically to the BOE. The portal was developed by the city's Campaign Finance Board and ready to launch in 2019, but the BOE said the system, which allowed for only an electronic signature, violated the state's signature stipulations.

In June 2019, the BOE voted to require that people who register through the portal be mailed a separate form that they would have to sign and send back. Good government groups decried the decision, saying it made the city's online voter registration more complicated, not less. Since the decision, the Campaign Finance Board and voting advocates have been pushing legislators to pass the state bill authorizing the city's portal.

"We urge our state leadership to protect our democracy during this emergency by establishing an online voter registration system that all New Yorkers can access,” said Amy Loprest, executive director of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, in a statement on March 31. “With in-person voter registration events shut down, we are concerned that young voters and naturalized citizens, in particular, will be disenfranchised during this critical election year.”

The state law to create statewide online registration by 2021, passed before the BOE ruling and did not address the city's problem.

Currently, the only online voter registration in the state is through the Department of Motor Vehicles and requires a driver's license or other DMV-issued ID. In New York City, where public transportation options are abundant, DMV registrations accounted for only one in ten voter registration forms received by the Board of Elections, according to the Campaign Finance Board's annual election report in 2018.

More than 700,000 eligible New York City residents do not have a state driver's license or other DMV identification, according to a CFB spokesperson, who pointed out that over 430,000 young people (ages 18-29) qualify to be registered but are not.

"This was a bill that I think would have been really good to have passed earlier in the year and signed into law," said State Senator Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn Democrat, the bill's Senate sponsor, and Lavine's elections chair counterpart in the Legislature’s upper chamber, in a recent interview. "It would have been really helpful for us to give New Yorkers the option to register online, particularly when we have a system that is ready to go."

"It’s frustrating to know that an already created portal to allow New York City residents to register to vote online is waiting for the green light from the legislature at a time when enrollment has dropped significantly from where it was in prior presidential election years," wrote Jennifer Wilson, deputy director of the New York State League of Women Voters, a good government group, in an email.

Lavine said a number of obstacles prevented the bill from passing this year with its Senate companion, including the BOE's own limitations.

"We had staff members who had reached out to the city Board of Elections and they were preoccupied with trying to get ready for the November general election, which is understandable," Lavine said.

"No comment," wrote BOE spokesperson Valerie Vazquez in an email.

"Generally speaking, a lot of bills that concern the city Board of Elections will come from the city Board of Elections, which is not to say that this not a good idea, it is a good idea but it is still being analyzed," Lavine said.

Lavine also blamed cultural differences between the Senate and Assembly that give individual senators greater autonomy from the majority leader. "It is much easier for senators in the majority to get those passed. In the Assembly we have to take into consideration the fact that there are on any given day close to 110 members of the Assembly who are in the majority party. While in the Senate, we have 37 or 38 senators in the majority. Senate staff is allocated primarily to senators and in the Assembly we have a much stronger central staff, so it's a differently balanced system and has been for as long as I've been in the Assembly."

"This is how it goes sometimes. I'm going to continue to push and my hope is that we can get it across the finish line," Myrie told Gotham Gazette.

Even with citywide online voter registration off the table for the presidential election, the system could still be in place for next year's elections for mayor and other city offices. According to State Board of Elections Co-Chair Douglas Kellner, work on the state's online registration portal, which was slated to be up and running by April, had been paused for over four months due to budget cuts in response to New York's fiscal crisis.

"The funding had been suspended by the budget office shortly after the budget was adopted but it was unfrozen thanks to efforts by Senator Liz Krueger a couple of weeks ago," Kellner said over the phone. "So now it's back in process."

The citywide primaries, which are in most districts all but decisive in the heavily Democratic city, will take place in June 2021. Asked whether the temporary budget freeze would impact the April deadline, he said: "Somewhat, yes. As I say it's now back on the front burner and people are working on it, which was not the case from April until mid-August."

[See options for registering to vote by the October 9 deadline for this fall's elections here]

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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State Inaction Means New York City Won't Launch Online Voter Registration Before 2020 Deadline Thu, 24 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
As General Election Approaches, Mixed Results for Efforts to Ensure More Votes Get Counted https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9761-new-york-ensure-more-votes-counted-2020-election-absentee-ballots https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9761-new-york-ensure-more-votes-counted-2020-election-absentee-ballots Myrie Gianaris State Senate voting

State Senators & election officials (photo: Senator Gianaris' office)


After the June primaries, when tens of thousands of absentee ballots were rejected on technical grounds or never cast because they were mailed to voters late or not at all, state lawmakers passed a series of measures aimed at correcting some of those mishaps. But several other bills introduced by legislators and pushed by voting rights advocates that could prevent thousands of ballots from being thrown out are still on the table as the clock ticks toward the general election.

Leading up to the June primary, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a series of executive orders to change the rules around absentee voting in an effort to avoid crowded poll sites during a pandemic. The measures extended absentee voting eligibility to all registered voters, required absentee ballot applications be mailed to voters, and guaranteed postage for mail-in ballots.

The unprecedented leap in absentee voting led to a number of new problems for voters and elections administrators that ultimately disenfranchised voters, often without their knowledge. In New York City, 84,000 mail-in ballots were thrown out, frequently on technicalities like having a missing signature or a partially unsealed envelope. In response, state lawmakers introduced a series of bills to ensure more votes are counted, including several related to notifying voters when their ballots might be thrown out.

Some were passed and signed into law in August, but many others remain unmoved as the state's elections administrators brace themselves for a four-fold increase in voters this fall. The early voting period will run October 24 through November 1; Election Day is November 3. The New York State Board of Elections is anticipating 8 million voters including as many as 5 million mail-in ballots, in a state with 12.9 million registered voters.

Two of the signed bills codify key elements of Cuomo's primary executive order and guarantee another election with a significant portion of the electorate voting by mail. The first expands eligibility to vote absentee to the entire electorate during an epidemic or disease outbreak. The second allows voters to apply for an absentee ballot online through the New York State Board of Elections website. (There has been no legislation or executive order that would require local boards of elections to mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, as Cuomo mandated in the primaries.)

Others signed into law aim directly at problems that arose from the deluge of mailed ballots during the primaries.

Thousands of the absentee ballots were rejected in June because they arrived at boards of elections offices without a postmark, a problem that was completely outside voters' hands. A new law now requires election boards to count the ballots if they are time-stamped by the board by the day after Election Day, even if they are missing a postmark from the United State Postal Service (USPS).

Another bill seeks to work around the post office by requiring local boards to establish secure absentee ballot drop boxes. That bill is still in committee, but an executive order signed September 8, requires local boards to have drop boxes at early voting sites, Election Day poll sites, and their offices (in New York City, each borough office will have a drop box).

On the same day, Cuomo announced a campaign to raise awareness about the ways New Yorkers can vote, including early voting, an option watchdogs are saying should be more heavily encouraged to avoid the administrative stresses of absentee voting and long lines on Election Day.

As primary day approached in June, many voters still had not received the absentee ballot they had requested from the New York City Board of Elections (BOE). When he testified before state lawmakers in August, Michael Ryan, the executive director of the city BOE, said the absentee ballot application calendar did not grant enough flexibility in normal years and this year posed "an impossibility." A law signed later that month now allows voters to apply for absentee ballots prior to 30 days before an election, which is already giving local boards more time to process and fulfill requests.

A few days after he signed the August package, Cuomo signed an executive order that, among other things, requires local election boards to submit staffing plans and any staffing needs to the state by September 20, a measure to help ensure administrators can process the higher turnout.

Many of the ballots rejected this summer were tossed out because voters failed to sign their ballot envelopes.

One law signed in August would give absentee voters the opportunity to "cure" certain deficiencies on their ballots that would otherwise have them rejected -- namely lacking a signature, having a signature that doesn't match the one on the registration, or having an unsealed ballot envelope. Under the law, local boards of elections must notify voters within a day of detecting a defect and give them an opportunity to contest the rejection or correct the ballot. It extends the same type of due process right to absentee voters that in-person voters have when they sign an affidavit ballot at a poll site. A federal judge in Texas recently ruled a similar practice of rejecting ballots due to mismatched signatures there was unconstitutional.

Cuomo's August order requires the State Board of Elections to design a single "clarified envelope" for all local boards to use, which includes a large red 'X' where a signature is required.

Senator Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn Democrat, is chair of the Senate's elections committee and sponsor of several of the bills that passed, including the curing bill.

"Taking away someone's vote for a missing signature or an unsealed envelope really is the embodiment of disenfranchisement," Myrie said by phone Thursday.

"It's not the sexiest legislative highlight and victory but it really was, I believe, one of the most important election law bills we've passed both this year and last year, because of the implications of people knowing and having the opportunity to have their votes count," he said.

"Given the newness of the [mass absentee voting] experience, legislation that allows voters the opportunity to fix unintended, minor and often technical mistakes, is the right way to go," wrote Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG), the good government organization, in an email. "Far too many ballots were tossed in the June primary over ridiculously technical challenges."

But several other common mistakes are addressed in legislation that has yet to pass, but could lead to thousands more ballots being counted, their sponsors say.

One bill would extend the same notice and opportunity to cure ballots when they are received partially opened, or closed with glue, tape, or another re-sealing agent. In these cases, the legislation would give recourse to voters to attest that they sent their ballot in the condition it was received in. The bill is still in committee.

A second bill would require absentee ballots to be counted as long as the voter's intent is "unambiguous," even if there are other markings on the ballot.

"It is so easy with a marker to make a mark. What if it's food? I mean, everybody is doing absentee ballots at home, right?" said Assemblymember Amy Paulin, a Westchester Democrat who sponsors the two bills along with Myrie, in a phone interview.

"You don't want any stray marks of any sort when the intent of the voter is clear to eliminate the vote from being counted. And right now it can be challenged," she said.

Myrie and Paulin are not sure whether their bills will pass in time to impact the general election and it is unclear whether the two chambers of the State Legislature will meet in session to pass any legislation before voters go to the polls (or the mailbox).

"We have no idea whether we're going back to session prior to the election," Paulin told Gotham Gazette. "Certainly if we are I'm going to be pushing [the bills] and if we're not then they're still worth doing."

Lawmakers will have to act especially quickly if they are going to pass another proposal that would make it easier to register to vote in time to enfranchise more eligible New Yorkers by this fall’s vote, which includes the presidential election, among many others for Congress, the State Legislature, and more. The bill, which would create online voter registration in New York City through the city's Campaign Finance Board, has passed in the Senate but not the Assembly.

The online registration bill has passed in the Senate but not the Assembly, while automatic voter registration has passed both houses but has not been sent to the governor (or been requested by him) for signing.

"I can't say with certainty when we'll meet again but I do know that if it's the case that we have to move swiftly -- and this is to help safeguard our democracy, particularly in light of the rhetoric that is coming out of the federal administration -- I think that the [Senate] majority has shown that we're ready to take those steps and I expect that we will do the same in this instance," Myrie said.

There isn't much time before the October 9 deadline to register to vote in the general election.

Voting advocates and some lawmakers also want to see the state pay for postage on absentee ballots, as it did during the primaries, but the proposal appears unlikely to move without another round of federal stimulus funding. Between federal and state allocations, New York's elections administrators had an additional $24 million to run elections this year, which has largely dried up, according to State Board of Elections officials. About 40 percent of the 1.8 million voters in the primaries across the state cast an absentee ballot. With 8 million voters expected in the general election, the proposal would likely require the state to pay postage on millions of envelopes.

In response to inquiries about whether the governor planned to issue more executive orders to provide for postage, curing certain ballot errors, and other measures proposed by legislators and advocates, Freeman Klopott, a spokesperson for the state Division of the Budget, wrote, "The State is providing unprecedented access to the ballot box and just last week the Governor announced a public service campaign to raise awareness that voters now have three options to cast their ballot: early voting, voting absentee, or voting in person on Election Day." He added that the executive order establishing absentee drop boxes has the effect of "negating the need to mail a ballot at all."

"The boards of elections have millions of dollars available to them from previously provided funding from the State and Federal governments and they should make use of those resources as the State is contending with a $62 billion revenue drop over four years," he added.

"In the absence of Federal funding to offset this revenue loss, the State, which funds schools, hospitals, and public safety, will have to make spending reductions, and anywhere we don’t reduce spending will mean deeper reductions elsewhere," he wrote. "This is another reason the Federal government must step up and provide States with necessary resources."

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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As General Election Approaches, Mixed Results for Efforts to Ensure More Votes Get Counted Thu, 17 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
‘The Electorate Has a Bias for Youth and Energy’: Younger Candidates Take New York Politics by Storm https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9734-new-york-2020-young-candidates-state-legislature-candidates-student-debt-climate-change https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9734-new-york-2020-young-candidates-state-legislature-candidates-student-debt-climate-change 2 youth wave

Queens Assembly candidate Khaleel Anderson (photo: @KhaleelAnderson)


A younger generation of Democratic political candidates — which has grown up amid the Great Recession, growing inequality, rising costs of higher education and massive student loan debt, the ticking time-bomb that is climate change, and other crises including, now, the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout — has been offering ambitious policy goals and great urgency around achieving them, resonating with voters and finding success in their runs for office.

In recent election cycles, New York has seen many younger candidates win their bids for state legislative and congressional seats, one facet of the Democratic Party’s internal reckoning that shows an ascendant left wing in part led by a new generation of activists and candidates.

Some, but not all, of these candidates are democratic socialists, a far left brand of politics with a young base, as shown by support for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, the septuagenarian figurehead of the progressive movement in America, who won 65% of New York voters aged 18-29 in his 2016 Democratic primary contest against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who won every other age group, according to CNN exit polling data. And although the movement has not found victory through either of Sanders’ two presidential bids, down-ballot races have told a different story.

And that story is of a generational shift underway in New York politics, with major potential implications for public policy coming out of the state capital in Albany, not to mention other power centers like New York City Hall and borough-based Democratic Party organizations. It is also already manifesting itself in the state’s and city’s representation in Congress and impact on the national stage.

The recent trend of New York electing both younger and further left candidates kicked off with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s June 2018 primary victory over then-Rep. Joe Crowley, with the then-28-year-old democratic socialist shocking the world and immediately becoming a national standard-bearer for those of her generation and politics.

Then came September 2018 victories of now-State Senators Alessandra Biaggi, Jessica Ramos, Zellnor Myrie, and Julia Salazar, all in their twenties or thirties when elected as progressive insurgents against more moderate, older incumbent Democrats. All went on to easily win their general elections, as is the norm in almost every New York City electoral district given Democrats’ heavy voter enrollment advantage. In a Brooklyn swing district, Democrat Andrew Gounardes, then-33, beat Republican Martin Golden, then-68, helping the Democrats win back a State Senate majority and advance a long list of priorities.

Then came 2020, and a combined state and congressional (and presidential) June primary day amid a pandemic and massive resultant socio-economic crisis.

Younger, left-leaning candidates, often supported by many progressive groups and individuals, won a long list of Democratic primary victories. They ran on policies that, in sum, included single-payer health care, more urgent efforts to combat climate change and foster a “just transition” to a green economy, free public college, greater tenant protections, higher taxes on the wealthy, homes and jobs guarantees, more education funding, marijuana legalization, decriminalization of sex work, and, during the pandemic, rent cancellation.

The winning candidates included Khaleel Anderson, 24 years old; Zohran Mamdani, 28; Phara Souffrant Forrest, 31; Emily Gallagher, 36; and Jenifer Rajkumar, 38, all of whom won primaries for the State Assembly, along with Jabari Brisport, 33, who won a State Senate primary; and Ritchie Torres, 32, and Mondaire Jones, 33, who won Congressional races. Jamaal Bowman, 44, also won offering generational change and far-left ideology in his challenge to 73-year-old incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel, and other Assembly candidates in their forties, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas and Marcela Mitaynes, beat incumbent Democrats while offering a far-left message.

Souffrant Forrest, Mamdani, and Brisport were all endorsed by New York City’s branch of the Democratic Socialists of America, an organization that also backed Salazar and Ocasio-Cortez in 2018 and 2020, and had six of its seven endorsed candidates win this election cycle (DSA-backed Samelys Lopez lost to Torres in the 15th Congressional District primary).

Growing dissatisfaction with government and social conditions is something Torres, one of the youngest people elected to the City Council in modern times and likely to soon be one of the youngest elected to Congress, says has contributed to the success of younger elected officials, who are often those challenging incumbents.

“We’re living in an anti-establishment moment. When the electorate has a bias for youth and energy. I think if you have a young insurgent running against an established politician who’s been entrenched in office for decades, the young insurgent has a greater advantage now more than ever,” Torres said. “At a time of peak suffering, the argument for insurgents might be helped because if you have been entrenched in office for decades, and your district is in the same position that it was when you first entered public office, does your tons of experience really matter?”

Brisport, who is further to the left of Torres, nonetheless voiced a similar sentiment and said the reason for more young people challenging incumbents is their want for bigger changes.

“It is predominantly younger people that are unseating incumbents, are making up this new guard and I think that speaks to a hunger and a thirst for much bolder progressive policies throughout New York,” said Brisport, currently a middle-school teacher and of central Brooklyn, in an interview. “My generation, millennials and below us, Gen-Z, we are seeing firsthand capitalism really unfurling on itself, runaway income inequality, a world where we don’t see ourselves as eventual homeowners in the way our parents did, our American dream is no longer to get a house and 2.5 kids the dream is just to survive this nightmare, this hellscape of capitalism that we live in where rents are spiraling out of control, health care — you’re lucky if you have it and if you don’t you’re confined to a lifetime of medical debt — and if you’re Black, indigenous, person of color, you might just get shot by police for the crime of existing. It’s a confluence of factors that is extremely terrifying for people in my generation and revolutionary politics is much more alluring in a scenario like that.”

Some of those more progressive policies have seen more support from young people: a 2019 Quinnipiac University poll found that New York State residents aged 18-34 were the biggest supporters of congestion pricing (at 62% in favor), stricter gun laws (70%), legalizing marijuana (84%), and protecting abortion rights (80%).

And, although only 36% approved of single-payer health-care generally, if it were to decrease health care costs (even at the cost of raising taxes), they were the biggest supporters of single-payer health-care, too, at 57%. Younger people are more open than older generations to raising taxes if it means reducing individual health-care costs. Nationally, a poll conducted last year by the Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard Kennedy School found that 51% of those aged 18-29 support free public college for those from families making $125,000 a year or less and free community college for all — even if it costs $47 billion a year.

“I’ve seen multiple recessions, I’ve seen, in many ways, the failures of capitalism again and again and again kind of replayed ad nauseum,” said Mamdani, currently a housing counselor and of western Queens, in an interview. “There is a real fear with regards to health-care and with regards to debt, specifically student loan debt. We have seen, in many ways, much of capitalism’s promises, we have seen the terms and conditions of those promises in our lifetime. And generations older than us, there have been more of the promises delivered to them, while for us that promise has been extinguished and now it’s all of the fine print.”

Attaining higher education and employment are two interwoven issues for young people: higher education costs are rising (by over 25% in the last decade, according to a CNBC analysis of The College Board data), while a college degree is becoming more and more essential to find employment (as a 2014 report from Burning Glass, a labor market analytics company, shows). And most recently, during the coronavirus pandemic, young New Yorkers were most affected when it comes to losing employment — unemployment of those aged 16-24 skyrocketed from 6.6% to 35.2% from February to May, according to a report by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. For the city writ large, it had gone from 3.5% to 19.9%.

Anderson, currently a supplemental instructor at his alma mater, Queens College, and likely to be the youngest member of the state Legislature next year, noted that many struggles young people face — from affording higher education to getting a job to paying for rent — contribute to one another.

“Young people, we’ve got to focus on ensuring that we can have a future,” Anderson, of southeast Queens, said in an interview. “Whether it was succumbing to gun violence, whether it was succumbing to student debt, whether it was not being able to afford health-care, whether it’s living in the Rockaways in the Rosedale section of the district and facing constant flooding, these are the things that young people are genuinely concerned about and that’s how my politics will be guided.”

Anderson, who got started in politics as an organizer with the Rockaway Youth Task Force, went on to explain that he believes young people are at the center of many different issues, from being the most common perpetrators and victims of gun violence, to being those disserved by failing school systems, to being unable to afford housing, sometimes due to student debt.

“We’re at the epicenter of everything and until someone comes in like myself and other young leaders who will come behind me, comes in and understands the youth perspective and how we need to continue to invest in youth so that all of that trickles down and translates to everyone else, you will continue to see these problems perpetuate,” Anderson said.

Tenants’ rights, specifically, have been a cause many younger people are rallying around, according to Cea Weaver, a longtime housing activist who helped push stronger rent regulations through the Legislature last year and is the campaign coordinator of the Housing Justice for All coalition.

“New York’s a majority-renter city and it always has been,” said Weaver, who is 31. “So, I think, when you’re talking about New York City, I think it’s been a little bit surprising just how few elected officials have really centered renters’ rights. But I think as people become more active and as the housing market is more and more out of control, I think we’re just seeing a whole generation of younger electeds who are responding to a younger tenants movement.”

Many of the younger state candidates elected in 2018 — particularly Myrie, Biaggi, Ramos, and Salazar — ran on platforms centering tenants’ rights and in opposition to big real estate interests, including promises not to accept donations from developers. Housing was a key issue they had to distinguish themselves from their incumbent opponents, who were generously supported by the real estate industry.

Since then, many more candidates — incumbents and insurgents alike — have taken pledges not to accept real estate donations, and in 2019 historic legislation was passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Cuomo to increase protections for millions of rent-regulated tenants.

And it’s an issue that was at the center of many of the recent primaries, such as in Gallagher’s race against incumbent Joe Lentol, where her support of canceling rent contrasted with Lentol’s work in passing a more moderate rent voucher bill, and in Mamdani’s, where he highlighted his opponent breaking her pledge not to accept real estate donations.

Canceling rent is one policy challengers like Gallagher, who sometimes shared similar platforms with their also-progressive opponents, distinguished themselves. While many current Assembly members, like Lentol, dismissed the policy as unrealistic and having the potential to hurt small landlords, Gallagher argued it was essential to help those facing extreme financial insecurity due to the pandemic and who could not pay their rent (the bill in the Legislature would not cancel rent for those who could afford to pay and would provide relief for smaller landlords).

“A lot of these voters, they identify with someone who has student debt, or hasn’t lived in the community as long or hasn’t been paying rent themselves as long in the community and therefore are paying a higher part of their income to live on,” said Jerry Skurnik, a long-time political consultant at Prime New York and former aide to Mayor Ed Koch, in an interview. “I can’t prove it but I’m assuming Joe Lentol, because he lived in his community for 70 years, probably was paying less rent per square foot than Emily Gallagher did, not that he did anything unfair by doing that.”

Like other challengers discussing their own challenges with bills and burdens, Gallagher used her experiences struggling to afford rent to connect to voters during her campaign, and had previously said that, were she not in a rent-stabilized apartment, she likely would not have been able to live in the northern Brooklyn district, which has been home to massive development and accelerated gentrification over the past decade-plus.

“For something of this magnitude, for the times we’re living in,” said Brisport, an extreme measure like canceling rent “is fine, and it should be expected to think completely outside of the box. What’s the alternative, you’re just going to evict a million people? How is that not worse? From a moral standpoint, yes. From a public health standpoint, for the economy, everything, it would actually be more disruptive to have hundreds of thousands, over a million evictions happen in New York than to cancel rent and then have a small fund for landlords.”

Gallagher and Briport, among other younger progressive candidates, held out their personal experiences as renters in New York City in connecting with voters and activists who are passionate about tenants’ rights, according to Weaver.

“A lot of the people who are the young folks in elected office right now are also rent-stabilized tenants,” Weaver said. “Every single candidate is taking the housing crisis much more seriously than their predecessors…We have younger folks who are willing to think creatively about what a solution would look like in this movement and who don’t have decades of housing policy telling them that the most important thing is to bail out the real estate industry.”

But some see defeating older, experienced Assembly members, like Joe Lentol, as a huge loss to the community. Bob Liff, Senior Vice President of George Arzt Communications, said although he has nothing against newcomers like Gallagher, Lentol and others provide a lot of value due to their experience and the connections they build over time.

“What you’re losing is an awful lot of institutional memory,” Liff said in an interview. “And when you’re at a certain age and you think that you are inherently soiled by your experience, well that’s all well and good, until you realize you don’t know where the bodies are buried. These people do because they buried them.”

Liff — who through his firm is a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Democratic Party but was speaking only for himself, he stressed — criticized some younger candidates, especially those in the Democratic Socialists of America, for being seemingly unwilling to acknowledge valid points against them or their policies, such as the fact that the organization does tend to perform best in gentrified areas, and that some of their candidates come from wealthy backgrounds while offering their working-class messaging.

“I’m hopeful, I just think that as you mature hopefully you understand that you need more allies, and that the way that you get more allies is not to trim your sails but to respect the idea that other people might have different views and you might have to work with them. I mean, God forbid, settle for half a loaf,” Liff said, referencing his belief in the necessity to find compromise to achieve meaningful legislation. “It’s an argument for the idea that this country changes in an evolutionary rather than in a revolutionary way. But you can’t tell me that we’re not better off than we were in the 1950s.”

Liff mentioned Ocasio-Cortez as someone he believes has done a great job fighting for her policy goals while also working with her colleagues in Congress.

Brooke Smith, 39, is student body president at CUNY’s Medgar Evers College and a supporter of Anderson. When living in the Rockaways years ago, she saw Anderson volunteering in front of the supermarket, getting signatures for the state senator at the time. Two years later they met again on a bus for a CUNY advocacy trip, and by the end of the day he had shared with her his plan to run for office, and moved her and her husband to donate to him. That donation allowed Anderson to reach the minimum required for him to open his campaign account.

As someone who is not technically a millennial but has worked with many young people pushing for a tuition freeze and free CUNY education, among other things, as a student representative, Smith has a unique perspective on the younger generation, and said she sees a sense of entitlement Liff described as a negative in a more positive light.

“What I’ve noticed is that the younger generation, they’re a lot more radical than the two generations above them,” said Smith, who has also been an advocate for families who have stillbirths after losing her daughter in 2014. After the more radical civil rights era, subsequent generations were more hesitant to seek significant change and reform, she said, until now. “They’re kind of experiencing all the privilege that they should. Not really feeling different. They feel entitled to certain things because they do feel worthy, that they belong here, that they deserve the same treatment, things of that nature. So now, as they start to actually see some of the things that some of these other generations were talking about, they have become more radical because they feel more empowered because of the entitlement that was given to them from several generations down. So, I actually think it’s a beautiful thing because it’s causing a whole different level of change.”

Smith also feels the lack of government experience candidates like Anderson have can also be a plus, as it means they are not as invested in the status quo, echoing a similar sentiment Weaver made regarding old guard politicians’ approach to housing policy.

“That sense of entitlement is going to push them to not really fall into the culture that much,” Smith said. “They’re so radical that I feel like there’s a fearlessness, so I expect to see [Anderson] be able to stand up and bring up to the table that most people are afraid to mention because of their colleagues, because of the things that they have to go back-and-forth with each other, because he’s not coming from that culture.”

Torres similarly said that insurgents' lack of political experience and work on the outside of government is becoming more and more of an advantage, and less of a disadvantage, in these races. A liberal who does not identify as a democratic socialist and has in fact been very critical of the DSA while agreeing on several issues, Torres’ primary win in the Bronx resulted in the DSA’s only local loss of this election cycle. He sees the recent success of younger candidates generally as a sign that people want change, and as many of them are activists, that they want someone used to challenging those in government.

“Young elected officials tend to function as advocates rather than as insiders,” Torres said in an interview. “I think the greatest change is that politics is going to become as much about the outside game as it is about the inside game.”

He said he is part of a generation that “has been failed by the government,” and referenced the rising costs of housing, healthcare, and higher education. Growing up in public housing himself, he said he felt abandoned by the federal government — one of the reasons he recently ran for Congress, which historically has played a greater role in the funding of public housing. After beating the Bronx Democrtic Party’s chosen candidate in his 2013 primary win, Torres has had an independent streak during his Council tenure, and been one of the most vocal critics of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat.

Torres noted that the only wholly consistent characteristic of the successful insurgents mentioned is their younger ages, suggesting that voters are looking at more than just the policies candidates support.

“Voters are not so much voting for a particular ideology, they’re largely voting for change,” Torres said. “For a new generation of leadership. Because even among the elected officials there are considerable ideological differences.”

Liff and Skurnik both mentioned that, similarly, discontent during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and 1970s led to a movement of young insurgents running against the establishment and for change. Skurnik said Democratic Congressional Rep. Eliot Engel, who recently lost his seat after being outflanked from the left and outworked by Bowman, the democratic socialist former middle school principal, got his start in politics during this time as an anti-war politician. Engel was first elected to the State Assembly in 1977, when he was 30 years old. Lentol also entered office at the age of 30, in 1973, and was often seen as one of the major progressive leaders in the state, especially when it came to criminal justice reform.

“That would be unfair to the incumbents who do grow and do embrace these issues,” Liff said, mentioning how although Lentol was originally for the death penalty, he ended up playing a pivotal role in ending it in New York State. “And the reason there’s been progress on these issues is because they have, in fact, understood the political forces, the fairness, the justice, the inequality issues.”

Similar to those who were motivated to join politics during the Vietnam War, or after Watergate, Skurnik said the election of President Donald Trump in 2016 had a similar effect.

“I would say more Trump than anything else. Trump energized people, generally progressive people, to get more involved and pay more attention,” Skurnik said.

One policy area Trump has motivated movement on is climate change, as he has denied it is happening, called it a “hoax,” took America out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and appointed officials to top posts who have rolled back environmental regulations.

The New York City Sunrise Movement, a youth-led advocacy group focused on electing politicians who recognize the dangers of climate change and support legislation such as The Green New Deal, has had significant success in New York, including by putting major resources to help elect Bowman.

“Trump is a caricature of what was already wrong with American politics, and so I think that he has kind of exaggerated everything that was already going wrong and made it painfully obvious to everyone so that you could no longer possible ignore it,” said Grace Cuddihy, a 16-year-old member of the group.

The NYC Sunrise Movement itself was founded in 2018 and has made substantial efforts to support politicians that oppose Trump’s policies. In New York, they have helped to get many of their endorsed candidates into office, including Mamdani, Brisport, Souffrant Forrest, and other insurgents who won in 2020, as well as some in 2018, including Ocasio-Cortez, Biaggi, and Myrie. Fourteen of their 16 endorsed candidates won this year, many of them younger progressives.

Cuddihy said the organization made 60,000 calls for its endorsed candidates, and its national branch — which she is also a part of — made hundreds of thousands of calls just for Bowman.

“It really is my future and my life and because I am so young — they say we have nine years left, I’m going to be 25,” Cuddihy said, referencing some of the most disastrous projected impending consequences of climate change. “As someone who can’t vote…watching democracy deteriorate before my eyes and not being able to go to the voting booth and do something about it has motivated me to be more active in terms of phone-banking and volunteering for candidates and organizing for political leaders.”

And although the Green New Deal championed by Ocasio-Cortez and many other but not all New York representatives has not gained as much traction in Congress as activists would like, New York has passed significant climate change and green economy legislation that included investments in renewable energy and enacted goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and 100% clean power by 2040.

But candidates such as Brisport and Mamdani want more ambitious climate policies, such as making energy a public utility and having New York divest pension funds from fossil fuels (something being pursued to an extent at the city level but not at the state level).

“The threat is right here, it’s already here, it’s happening and the urgency is so right there for my generation that the notion of strong redistributive policies, shifting billions of dollars from the wealthiest people into fighting climate change isn’t some laughable idea, it’s a necessary thing to do,” said Brisport.

While younger and more progressive voters recently helped elect candidates with ambitious left-wing agendas, such as Brisport, it is yet to be seen what the impact will be on the legislative bodies they are entering. When a wave of progressives like Myrie, Biaggi, Ramos, Salazar, and Gounardes helped Democrats to win back the State Senate in 2018, it resulted in sweeping legislation at the state level — although some of the most ambitious far left policy goals were left on the back burner, forming the platforms of some of this year’s insurgent left-wing candidates.

Skurnik thinks a similar thing will happen in 2021, as incoming members will push the state farther left, but not all the way, with policies such as those focused on tenants’ rights.

“They will move more incumbents, the establishment people, to a more progressive position. Maybe not as far as they say they want to go,” Skurnik said. “I don’t think they’re gonna cancel rent, but I think they will do other things for tenants that, three or four years ago, weren’t even on the horizon.”

***
by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been corrected to note that NYC Sunrise did endorse Ocasio-Cortez in the 2018 Democratic primary.

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‘The Electorate Has a Bias for Youth and Energy’: Younger Candidates Take New York Politics by Storm Tue, 15 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Five-Candidate Field Emerges for Expected Bronx Special Election to Replace Council Member Cohen https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9720-candidates-emerges-expected-special-election-bronx-city-council-cohen https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9720-candidates-emerges-expected-special-election-bronx-city-council-cohen eebit3fuyaistaj

Council Member Cohen (left) passing out masks in his Bronx district (photo: @AndrewCohenNYC)


Bronx City Council Member Andrew Cohen’s recent nomination for a Supreme Court judgeship at the Bronx Democratic Party’s judicial convention in August means that the already-underway contest to replace him in the Council will likely move up from a June 2021 primary to a February or March 2021 special election, assuming Cohen assumes his judgeship in January. The special election in Council District 11, along with contests for soon-to-be-vacant seats in Council Districts 15 (Ritchie Torres) and 31 (Donovan Richards), appear likely to be crowded, competitive affairs and are likely to be the first uses of ranked-choice voting in New York City.

City Council District 11, which Cohen has represented since 2014, covers the northwest corner of the Bronx, including the neighborhoods of Bedford Park, Kingsbridge, Riverdale, Norwood, Van Cortlandt Village, Wakefield, and Woodlawn. Riverdale, the traditional political power center of the district, is largely white while the neighborhoods of Kingsbridge and Woodlawn, are home to a majority of people of color.

According to NYU’s Furman Center, in Community Board 8, which overlaps with much of the district, about half of the population is Hispanic, while 29% is white and 15% are black. The poverty rate in the area covered by the Community Board was 18.8% in 2018, slightly higher than the citywide rate of 17.3% but significantly lower than the borough’s poverty rate of 27.4%. Average rents in Riverdale are about $1,410, while the average rent in the Bronx is $1,210.

Even before Council Member Cohen received his judicial nomination, candidates were already lining up to replace him given term limits, including district leader and teacher Eric Dinowitz (whose father is State Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz), tech entrepreneur Jessica Haller, former Community Board 8 chair Daniel Padernacht, social worker Abigail Martin, and Marcos Sierra, a district leader and former community board member. The recent nomination kicked the budding race into a new gear, likely shortening the timeline, and Gotham Gazette spoke with the five candidates, all Democrats like Cohen, about their campaigns and the top issues in the race including housing, public safety, education, transportation, and more.

“This is a very interesting race during a very interesting time politically in the Bronx,” said Gary Axelbank, host of Bronx Buzz on BronxNet TV. “There’s no question there’s an upheaval in Bronx politics, but there’s a real opportunity for the Bronx to remake itself.”

Eric Dinowitz appears to hold an advantage in name recognition given his father is a Bronx county stalwart who has held his Assembly seat for over two decades. Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz’s 81st District is almost coterminous with the 11th Council District, with the latter extending more into Norwood than the former.

The younger Dinowitz had raised $73,550 for the race, as of a July 11 campaign finance disclosure that covered the previous six months, and had $53,966 in cash-on-hand. Haller came in second in the cash race having raised $55,827, and with a balance of $38,371 in her account. Padernacht has raised $30,961, but has only $3,099 in his account as of July. Martin has not yet filed any financial disclosures.

Eric Dinowitz had 311 individual donors to Haller’s 386 and Padernacht’s 246. Their average donations were $236, $145, and $126, respectively.

“I have hundreds and hundreds of individual donations. The vast majority of those are from the Bronx and small-dollar donations,” Dinowitz said of his fundraising lead. “What that tells me is that I’ve built a broad, deep coalition of support throughout the district.”

The other candidates have criticized the timing of Cohen’s elevation to a judgeship, which they say gives an advantage to Dinowitz since a special election will likely have lower turnout than the June primary and give the candidates less time to establish their campaigns. Eric Dinowitz has pushed back against that critique. “I am a public school teacher and have been a community activist for years,” he said, when asked about the questions surrounding the influence of his father in the race. “The voters are smart. They’re going to make a choice. It’s up to me to tell my story and share my vision of what we need to recover from this crisis and revitalize this community and this city.”

Haller, however, was critical of how the Democratic county party handled the process. “Not only is it a backroom deal where papa gets to anoint his son,” she said. “We’re going to trigger a special election that’s going to cost millions, we’re not going to get full turnout, and the community is going to be unrepresented for months.” The cost of the special election was a particular sticking point for Haller, who noted, “We have budget cuts everywhere.”

Martin echoed Haller. “This is an example of machine politics at play and Jeffrey Dinowitz has orchestrated it. It’s evidence that he doesn’t want the constituents of this district to hear from all the candidates,” she said, citing the difficulties of running as a first-time candidate, particularly during the pandemic. “Special elections are expensive and we should be using that money to keep roofs over heads and food on tables.”

Special elections in New York City are also non-partisan, meaning candidates run on ballot lines they create, and can’t be nominated by the traditional parties. Therefore, none of the candidates will appear on the Democratic Party ballot line. Assuming all goes accordingly for Cohen, the election will take place (using the ranked-choice voting system) and the winner will win the seat outright, and be sworn in soon after to serve the final months of Cohen’s second term. Like with all 51 City Council seats and many other city government positions, there will still be an election for the seat next year via the June primaries and fall general election, to see who holds the position for 2022 and 2023, but the special election will mean there’s an incumbent in that second 2021 race.

Why They’re Running
“Every single day, I see deep inequities in my classroom,” said Eric Dinowitz, who teaches at the Walton Campus, a public school in the Jerome Park neighborhood, “and there’s only so much I can do as a teacher to solve this problem. As a Council Member, I’m going to fight for the structural changes needed for all students, for working families, and for seniors.” Dinowitz, a member of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), has been endorsed by his union. He did not specify what he meant by “structural changes.”

Haller touts the environment as her signature issue and believes that the Bronx has suffered from harmful policies that can be fixed at the local level. “The Earth is on fire quite simply and we feel it quite acutely in the Bronx...We see it in lack of opportunity for kids and we see it disproportionately in all sorts of terrible things from covid to heat. So much of it is completely preventable if you think about the world and the city in a systemic way,” she said, referring specifically to asthma-related and heat deaths caused by pollution.

She describes herself as “a mom and a climate activist and I’ve been an entrepreneur for many years,” pointing to her work on the $3 billion Willets Point development, helping to make the project environmentally sustainable, through her startup at the time. “For me, the next frontier of addressing the most global issues at the most local level is moving into City Council, where I think I can pick up the reins of the really great work that has been started by the Council,” she said.

“I love government service and I think being a City Council Member would allow me to expand the amount of work I do in the community,” said Padernacht, citing his “experience, knowledge, commitment, determination, and willingness to work with everyone.”

Padernacht pointed to his twelve-year Community Board experience, which he believes gives him a “grasp on community efforts” and “really good experience working with the community in the framework of advocating for the community,” as well as a background on the issues that matter most and an understanding of city agencies. In addition to working as chair, Padernacht has served as charity of the board’s transportation committee and vice-chair of its land use committee. He says Community Board members turned Council Members “hit the ground running” because of that “wealth of knowledge.”

“We need a strong economic framework in the city of New York and in order to do that we need to create opportunity for business, support for business, and make sound financial decisions,” said Padernacht, who opposes any city tax increases and supports eliminating waste in city agencies to close the budget gap. “We need that to be able to support our most vulnerable populations.”

Martin was spurred into the race by witnessing the city’s worsening affordability crisis. “After watching families get squeezed out of this city year after year, I’ve grown increasingly concerned that New York is becoming more and more expensive, and then covid hit, leaving us in an enormous fiscal crisis,” she said. “I saw services being cut for those who need it most all while politicians are refusing to ask those who can to help out.”

“We have to do better to save this city and the Bronx from complete collapse,” she added, pointing to affordable housing and childcare as top concerns. She opposes any increases to MTA fares, if possible.

“I’m running because I want to have equitable representation,” said Sierra, a Norwood resident, “that leads to an inequitable distribution of resources. The 11th Councilmanic District is larger than Riverdale.” Sierra serves as a district leader in the 80th Assembly District, only about a fifth of which overlaps with Council District 11.

Sierra continued, “In the uncertain and turbulent times ahead, the people of the 11th CD deserve a representative with real life qualifications. Someone who has lived their struggle, experienced their grief, and can relate to walking in their footsteps.”

Housing & Land Use
Affordable housing is a preeminent issue for voters in the district, as it is across the city. Council Members play a prominent role in the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and the entire Council traditionally defers to the judgement of the local member when choosing to approve or reject a particular land use application, which at times become controversial when large projects or increased density are involved. The area is home to few public housing units: in Community Board 8, only 3.4% of rental units are NYCHA housing, compared to a borough-wide average of 9.7%, according to the Furman Center.

“It’s vital that we keep people in their homes, especially our seniors,” Eric Dinowitz said, stressing the importance of ensuring access to the city’s Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) Program and the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) programs. He wants to expand the city’s affordable housing supply, “so people can afford to live in their own city,” but did not specify how the housing supply should be grown.

“The lens that I am viewing my vision of the city is equity, resilience, and sustainability,” Haller said, clarifying that “sustainable also means financially sustainable.” “Affordable housing has to be built well and built safely,” she said. “Everything that we build in this city needs to be able to withstand what’s coming and to be operating into the future.”

“We need to focus on affordable housing, but the business model needs to work so developers come and do it,” Haller stated, decrying some “false business models” that use too-high Area Median Income (AMI) numbers, often set by city and federal formulas, that make included affordable housing unaffordable to local residents.

“One of the biggest things we can do to create stable housing is affordable housing through homeownership,” Padernact told Gotham Gazette. He praised the state’s Mitchell-Lama program, which provides rental and cooperative housing to moderate- and middle-income families through private development, and said that the opportunity exists for the city to establish similar programs.

On land use, Padernact said he would take a “holistic view” and “look at the benefit to the community of any potential new development. I’m going to look to see how that development fits within the immediate community. I’m certainly going to seek feedback from neighbors and stakeholders. And, I’m going to look at its impact on the district’s infrastructure,” specifically its effect on public transit, schools, and emergency services.

“I would suggest a more aggressive approach,” Martin said, on affordable housing, saying there was “room for improvement” with Mayor de Blasio’s housing strategy, which relies on subsidizing the development of rent-restricted housing and rezoning large swathes of neighborhoods to create more density. “We need to talk about [land use]. We have areas that don’t have the infrastructure to handle more people and we have areas that can,” she said, emphasizing the importance of impact studies that can gauge the long-term effects a rezoning would have.

Sierra said his top priority is “real affordable housing, not that band-aid stuff,” specifically referring to Area Median Income determinations. “The AMI for the City of New York is artificially inflated because it includes affluent suburbs,” he said, and pointing out that the AMI assesses the median income for a family of four at around $113,700, when the Bronx’s median income is closer to $36,530. “Because of this AMI, people in the Bronx pay 50% of our income to rent, when the national average is 30%. It blows my mind that the borough that has the lowest pay per capita in the country pays the most rent in the entire nation.”

Sierra suggested that the City Council create an AMI specifically for the Bronx, so that affordable housing guidelines reflect the actual incomes of the residents of the borough, though it is not clear if that is something the Council can do and have the city still be eligible for federal housing funds.

Police Accountability & Public Safety
Amid recent Black Lives Matter protests and the “Defund the NYPD” movement, police accountability and reform are once again major issues in city elections. The candidates in the District 11 race all voiced support for the movement for greater police accountability, but some stopped short of advocating for significantly shifting funds from the police department to social services.

“We obviously have deep problems with policing in New York City,” said Eric Dinowitz, who supported recently enacted reforms such as the repeal of Section 50-A of the state civil rights law, which shielded police officers’ disciplinary records from public view, and a state law criminalizing the use of chokeholds by officers during arrests. “Maybe we don’t need to criminalize certain behaviors,” he added, particularly in reference to people experiencing homelessness. “Something I’ve been advocating for years has been more social and emotional health training.”

“I struggle to see what a simple statement like getting rid of a billion dollars does,” Dinowitz said, when asked about the ‘defund the NYPD’ movement, which had called for cutting $1 billion from the police department’s roughly $6 billion annual operating budget. “Cutting the budget in and of itself does nothing to change the culture or legislation of what police do.”

Haller initially supported defunding the police budget by $1 billion over four years in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, and now supports calls for a $1 billion reduction in the police budget. However, she said, “I will not legislate by hashtag. You can’t take an organization and say ‘I’m going to give you less money and fewer resources and you have to do better.’”

“The slogan ‘defund the police’ is a bad slogan,” Padernacht said. “I would be supportive of diverting money to other services that add to the public safety of the city.” Citing recent cash bail reforms and a purported NYPD work slowdown, he said, “I think the increase in crime is due to a perception that there aren’t many consequences for those committing the crimes in New York at this moment and I think perception is the key word there.” Notably, while overall the major index felony crimes are slightly lower than last year, murders and gun violence have increased significantly.

Martin said she’s still “in the fact-finding phase,” but added, “In general, we are watching crime go up and I think that that is becoming a big concern for people. When you talk about tightening the budget, every single city agency has to do their fair share to get us through this crisis.”

Similar to other candidates, Sierra expressed skepticism over “Defund the NYPD” as a slogan, saying, “I believe that you can support the police and still be against police brutality. We need law enforcement in our neighborhoods. Anyone who says otherwise is not paying attention, for practical safety purposes.”

“I agree with the reallocation,” Sierra said, referring to recent budge shifts by the City Council and mayor, adding, “I feel that we should not have police officers in school.”

Education
The reopening of city schools is an issue raised by many of the candidates, who almost uniformly expressed skepticism about the city’s plan, which involves partial in-person instruction mixed with virtual learning. New York City is currently the only major school system in the country with plans for in-person learning to begin when the school year starts (for New York City students on September 10).

“I’m a parent myself. I think all of us want our children back in the classroom, but I think we all want our children to be safe,” Eric Dinowitz said.

Haller, a mother of four school-aged children, said, “There’s an absolute lack of common sense and common goals, so that the teachers don’t trust that they’re going to be safe and the parents don’t trust that their kids are going to be taken care of.”

“I believe that housing, education, and public safety are inextricably combined with one another and when it comes to education we need to move to skills-based education and away from teaching to a test,” Padernacht said. On the school reopening plan, he said “We’re not prepared for blended learning” and “we should target in-person teaching to the students who need it most.”

Martin, who has children in public school, has decided to keep her young children in remote learning this year. She explained, “Parents who are able to make that choice should make that choice so that parents who are unable to, who have to go to work, can. I’m very concerned with how things are going to go. I’m going to be watching it very closely and we’ll see what happens. I wish the Department of Education had been able to get more creative, but here we are.”

On the city's school reopening plans, Sierra said, “It could be better.” He specifically cited air filtration systems in school facilities as a major concern. “If there is no comprehensive testing done on the ventilation systems in every school, we are potentially putting children and faculty in extreme danger for exposure to covid and that’s not acceptable.”

Transportation
Communities like in Council District 11, at the very edges of the city proper, are in constant need of mass transit access and reliability.

Eric Dinowitz pointed to his activism on transit, campaigning for accessibility at an MTA station in the district, which was ultimately successful. He tied the city’s recovery efforts inextricably to this issue. “As we’re looking to revitalize this city, especially our businesses, we have to ensure that our transit system works and that it works for everybody,” he said. Dinowitz points to his advocacy against the MTA’s plans during the Bronx bus route redesign to cut express bus service in the district, which ultimately did not happen.

“Covid really makes this very hard,” Haller noted, citing the fall-off in the MTA’s revenue. “We need to make public transportation such that people find it convenient enough not to need a car.” She proposes installing CitiBikes in the northern Bronx, which currently does not have any, and focus on other “micro-transit” solutions to make public transportation more accessible. Despite the recent redesign of bus routes in the Bronx, which Haller called “a great attempt,” she said that “it’s going to be really hard to satisfy everyone.”

Sierra opposed the recent Bronx bus redesign, saying, “I thought it was a bad idea from the beginning” and decrying what he called a lack of community engagement. ADA compliance is also a top concern when it comes to transportation for Sierra. “If we’re going to have a conservation about improving transportation, that should be number one if not number two on the list," he said.

“There are still a lot of residents [of the district] who rely on cars,” Padernacht said. He supports the expansion of bike routes in the district, saying “it’s a safety issue for pedestrians, bikers, and drivers.”

Additionally Haller discussed at length her signature issue of the environment, noting that heat deaths and childhood asthma hospitalization rates are on the rise in the city, and saying “The heat island that is the Bronx and all of New York City is even hotter” than the world as a whole. She wants to see congestion pricing, low-emission zones, and other policies that would reduce the cars on the city’s roads.

“We’re terrible,” Haller said of the city’s resiliency efforts. She opposes a massive proposed sea wall and instead believes the city should be pursuing “living shorelines” and “other small, diverse” resiliency projects. “We have to learn to live with the water,” she said. “We’re not going to hold it back.”

***
by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated to remove Dionel Then, who dropped from the race just as this story went to publication. It has also been corrected to remove mention of Martin's fundraising numbers, she has not yet filed any and updated to add that Marcos Sierra is running and comments from an interview with him.

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Five-Candidate Field Emerges for Expected Bronx Special Election to Replace Council Member Cohen Mon, 31 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
'We're in a State of Transition': Bronx Democrats Wrestle with Changing of the Guard https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9706-2020-state-of-transition-bronx-democrats-wrestle-changing-guard-heastie-diaz-jr-sr https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9706-2020-state-of-transition-bronx-democrats-wrestle-changing-guard-heastie-diaz-jr-sr Bronx Democrats Heastie Diaz Jr Crespo

Bronx political leaders Heastie, Diaz Jr., Crespo (photo: Bronx Borough President's Office)


To say the Bronx political landscape is changing is simultaneously both a trite observation and a vast understatement. The once-vaunted Democratic machine in the borough is currently leaderless and has lost many of its longtime fixtures in recent years, with more on their way off the political stage. This comes at a time when progressive and anti-establishment forces are gaining momentum across the city, though in some ways less so in the Bronx than other boroughs. But, there have been signs that such shifts are underway in the Bronx, and it’s unclear how much power what’s left of the older guard can hang onto.

What’s at stake is power, representation, and reform, as well as the public policy outcomes that can come from all three. Many of those challenging longtime power brokers are offering more inclusive democracy, more attention to people of color in districts that have been represented by white elected officials, a louder voice for younger Bronxites, and a fight for more progressive policies. 

Several electoral newcomers embodying major change in New York City politics shot to victory in June’s primaries, some by defeating longtime, party-backed incumbents or the political establishment’s chosen candidate. From Khaleel Anderson and Zohran Mamdani in Queens to Jabari Brisport, Phara Souffrant Forrest, Emily Gallagher, and Marcela Mitaynes in Brooklyn, there were a series of Democratic primaries for state legislative seats that made for a youthful, leftist wave.

It also extended to the Bronx, where Jamaal Bowman defeated longtime incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel in their congressional primary (the district also includes part of Westchester), and Amanda Septimo is set to replace 26-year incumbent Assemblymember Carmen Arroyo, who lost her primary ballot spot due to campaign errors. Septimo will join other young progressives, such as Assemblymember Karines Reyes and State Senators Alessandra Biaggi and Gustavo Rivera, in the Bronx’s state legislative delegation.

Along with Engel and Arroyo, many other longtime pillars of Bronx politics have bowed out, or been kicked out by challengers and voters, in recent years -- and others won’t be around soon given announced plans to leave politics. Meanwhile, still others are in the sights of progressives who see blood in the water and an electorate interested in change, with voters apparently more open to giving pink slips to incumbents and welcoming to candidates who both better represent them demographically and champion policies meant to meet their acute needs, which include challenges due to poverty, poor health, crumbling public housing, and more.

Between 2018 and this year, Joe Crowley (whose former district covered parts of the Bronx, in addition to Queens), Jeff Klein, and Engel were all felled by young primary challengers from their left. Jose Serrano, who’s been in Congress for three decades, is retiring. Their replacements -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Biaggi, Bowman, and Ritchie Torres, respectively -- represent generational, racial, ethnic, gender, ideological, and LGBTQ-status shifts.

Controversial City Council Member Ruben Diaz Sr. announced that he would be retiring from politics after coming in third in the race to replace Serrano, which was won by his current Council colleague, Torres, and is also pushing out of elected office Assemblymember Michael Blake, who forewent a reelection bid to pursue the seat in Congress and came in second.

Ruben Diaz Jr., who’s been the Borough President for over a decade, surprisingly dropped out of the 2021 mayoral race earlier this year (term limits prevent him from running again for his current post) and said he is leaving politics altogether. A few months later, Marcos Crespo, a longtime ally of both Diaz Jr. and Sr., resigned as both an Assembly member and as chair of the county party.

Chantel Jackson will replace Blake in the Assembly. Amanda Farias, who lost in the 2017 primary as Diaz Sr. moved from the State Senate to the City Council, had already announced her intention to run again in 2021 before Diaz Sr. said he wouldn’t seek another term. Another young progressive who ran in 2017, Michael Beltzer, is also considering running for the seat again. Marjorie Velázquez, also a young progressive, has announced her intention to challenge Council Member Mark Gjonaj, whom she narrowly lost to in 2017 as Gjonaj moved from the Assembly to the Council.

The field to replace Diaz Jr. as Borough President is still developing, with City Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Carbera and Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez in the race already.

The Bronx political machine, which has perhaps been the strongest Democratic county party in the five boroughs in recent years, still has power. Before being elected Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie reigned as Bronx county party leader for over seven years, then passed the baton to Crespo, an ally, and still wields tremendous influence over the party, as well as the entire city and state given his perch in Albany.

Many current elected officials in the borough have ties to the party apparatus, as do candidates for City Council running in the 2021 elections that will see all of city government on the ballot. The party was influential in selecting and electing Darcel Clarke to become Bronx District Attorney as her predecessor left the post for a judgeship in a move orchestrated by county leaders, who continue to have strong influence over judicial appointments and patronage jobs at various government offices, like the Board of Elections.

But given recent losses, departures, and planned departures, the future of the county party’s power is very much unknown. A lot depends on Heastie, as well as the next county party chair, and the machinations and outcomes of the 2021 election cycle, which will then be followed by a state and federal election year in 2022.

Other examples of change in Bronx politics -- dominated by Democrats who enjoy an overwhelming voter registration advantage in the borough, which currently has not one Republican elected official (other than President Trump, whom Bronx voters opposed but for 9.5% of the 2016 vote) -- are developing.

State Senator Biaggi recently left the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club (BFRDC), a local powerbroker, to form her own political club in the area. She told the Riverdale Press that “My values are not aligned with what the club's leadership is representing.” 

Longtime Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, a member of the BFRDC, received only 63.5% of the vote in his 81st Assembly District (Riverdale, Kingsbridge) primary against what one person familiar with Bronx politics described as “token opposition.” Dinowitz’s district partially overlaps with Biaggi’s 34th Senate District. He could face difficult reelection prospects in 2022 if a well-resourced candidate emerges. The Assemblymember’s son, Eric Dinowitz, is currently running in City Council District 11, which will likely have a special election early next year after incumbent Council Member Andrew Cohen was nominated for a Supreme Court judgeship at last month’s judicial convention, a process heavily controlled by county party leadership.

“I am elated about what’s happening in the Bronx right now and I’m looking forward to working with whoever the City Council brings us next year, because it will be a better batch than before,” said State Senator Rivera, who won his seat in 2010 as an independent reformer without county party support.

“We’re in a state of transition and it gives new people the opportunity to be tried out and step into the void,” said Bronx Assemblymember Victor Pichardo, who told Gotham Gazette he is considering a run for county party chair.

Although Heastie wields tremendous political power as Assembly Speaker, the county party’s ability to run candidates for open seats (with no incumbent) and win or to protect incumbents appears significantly diminished. Given the city is on the eve of the 2021 municipal elections, those many races are likely to be more wide open and competitive than in past cycles.

“The county organization’s purpose for the last decade has really been, how do we best organize ourselves so we provide the best base so that Ruben [Diaz Jr.] can run for mayor,” said Rivera. “As you saw, as soon as Diaz Jr. dropped out, then all of a sudden the county chair [Marcos Crespo] said ‘alright, then I’m out, deuces.’ He didn’t even wait until the year was done!”

With Diaz Jr. out of the mayoral race, the Bronx county party’s support is up for grabs among the remaining candidates, as will potentially be the backing of the Bronx’s new delegation of Council members in the race to succeed Corey Johnson as speaker, which will unfold in late 2021 and January 2022. But as shifts in borough politics indicate, it’s unclear how much weight a county party endorsement for mayor will carry, and whether there will be a cohesive block of county votes for the next Council speaker.

“Overall, there’s a sentiment where people have felt like they’ve been excluded politically and now they want a voice,” said Assemblymember Reyes, noting that this is a phenomena citywide, not just in the Bronx. Combined with many incumbent officeholders leaving public life, “it’s made the Bronx a hotbed for progressive change. People just want change and history has shown us that happens all the time. We’re in the middle of that right now.”

“The problem I have [with the county party],” Rivera said, using a Game of Thrones reference, “is that I don’t ‘bend the knee.’ Ultimately, for me, there are so many people that are more about the intrigue than the policy.” Rivera and others Gotham Gazette spoke with for this article believe that the county party has been slow to adapt to the contemporary reality in the Bronx and slow to include newer demographic groups and progressives in its processes.

These changes come at a time of acute pressure for the Bronx, on top of longstanding systemic problems. The Bronx is home to the highest poverty rates in the city and the country, is where a disproportionate share of the city’s “essential workers” live, and is the borough hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, both in terms of fatalities and economic consequences.

Since Ruben Diaz Jr. assumed the borough presidency, the borough’s unemployment rate fell from 14.1% in January 2010 to 4.6% in February 2020, an all-time low for the Bronx. But amid the coronavirus fallout, the unemployment rate in the Bronx jumped to 19.8% as of July. At the same time, the Bronx has languished as the unhealthiest county in the state, while also placing last in several other quality-of-life metrics.

“We’re the unhealthiest borough, we’re the poorest borough, and there’s a lot of scrutiny now,” John Doyle, a former City Council candidate and Bronx political reformer, told Gotham Gazette. “The Bronx machine was caught resting on its laurels, because until Trump got elected, people were never really opening the hood and kicking the tires on their Democratic incumbents.”

Several elected officials and others interviewed by Gotham Gazette pointed to the 2016 presidential election as the spark for many Bronxites to get involved in local politics for the first time. Groups like Bronx Progressives and the Bronx/Upper Manhattan Democratic Socialists of America branch were created in the wake of Trump’s election. That helped encourage several insurgent candidates like Farias, Beltzer, Velázquez, and Doyle to run in 2017, and led to two of the most consequential and stunning upsets in modern New York political history in Ocasio-Cortez’s and Biaggi’s 2018 wins. Now, Bowman followed suit in 2020. 

County Party Chair Race
While there is little overt campaigning going on for Bronx Democratic Party chair, there are several candidates maneuvering largely behind the scenes to replace Crespo in the top job in the borough’s political apparatus. The party convention, where the next party chair will be elected, will likely take place in September, although this is not definite due to the pandemic.

The county chair is elected by a simple majority of the district leaders. The executive committee (which includes Assemblymembers Latoya Joyner, Jeffrey Dinowitz, and Michael Bendetto, among others) can exercise a role in the process, but act like “super-delegates” and traditionally within the Bronx county committee, the executive committee would not overturn the decision of the district leaders.

As Gothamist reported last month, nine of the 24 district leaders in the Bronx were elected without county party support. However, according to Beltzer, a cofounder of the group Local Democrats, the nine aren’t necessarily anti-establishment progressives. “It’s a good sign, but I’m not sure if it’s necessarily a progressive sign. I don’t know that the nine people who ran would call themselves progressive. They could just be community- and politically-minded folks who just work outside the machine.”

Assemblymembers Victor Pichardo, Latoya Joyner, and Karines Reyes, among others, have all been touted as potential next county party bosses. Pichardo and Reyes would both be the first Dominican to hold the position; Joyner and Reyes would be the first woman in the position.

“I see myself as a bridge-builder,” said Pichardo, who has made public his intention to run for county party chair, in an interview with Gotham Gazette, highlighting a desire to focus on “solutions that benefit the people we serve” over “political wrangling and bickering.”

As county party chair, Pichardo says he would “bring all the stakeholders together and try to hash out the differences among members and community leaders. People really need to understand what the Bronx Democratic Party is about and we need to define it for ourselves. The new Democratic Party is a big tent party. We can harness all that energy for the greater good.”

Pichardo sees the recent success of progressive organizations and candidates in the Bronx as “nothing new. The left-wing movement has existed in the Bronx since at least the 1960s,” with the growth of the Puerto Rican community in the borough at the time. “It’s a cyclical thing that happens and now there’s a new wave with change that’s hopefully for the better.”

“For me, it’s about bringing everybody together because the more that we fight internally and politically, the less focus we have on the real issues here in the borough,” Pichardo said.

While Reyes told Gotham Gazette she’s “not actively campaigning” for the post, she does have ideas on what the next county party chair should do once elected and said she’d consider vying for the position if the support is there.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty within the body of the party to determine how this will go,” Reyes said in an interview. “The person who is going to take this seat is not just going to have to campaign in the old sense of getting people in line, but whoever’s vying for this seat needs to talk to these new district leaders about how to make the party different and more inclusive.”

Reyes wants to make the county party’s endorsement process more transparent, saying “the purpose of the party is to inform and educate the electorate and that requires a lot of organizing and getting people involved, which hasn’t been the case. The party has been good at engaging those folks who’ve always been engaged, but they haven’t been good at the new base of the Democratic electorate.”

“The next chair of the party is in for a big headache,” Reyes continued.“I anticipate that elected officials in the Bronx will always have primaries going forward.” Reyes said this is a positive change.

Generational & Demographic Shifts
“We’re seeing a generational shift,” said Eli Valentin, a political analyst, professor, and Democratic consultant. “The electorate is tending to be more in line with the progressive values of the younger generation, because we’re also seeing a generational shift with the voting population.”

The Bronx has the youngest median age of any of the city’s boroughs at 34, compared to the citywide median of 36.6.

In 2016, the average age of the four members of the House of Representatives representing at least part of the Bronx was 70.5 years, but come next year the average age of the Bronx’s four House representatives will be 43.3, a shift catalyzed by the ascension of City Council Member Torres to replace retiring Rep. Serrano, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez defeating Crowley, and Bowman defeating Engel. Rep. Adriano Espaillat also represents parts of the borough, taking the post after Charles Rangel’s retirement.

Additionally, out of those four, two -- Ocasio-Cortez and Bowman -- are members of the Democratic Socialists of America.

The Bronx’s 15-person state legislative delegation had an average age of 54.4 in 2016, but the average age will be 42.8 in the new year, with younger legislators like Septimo, Reyes, Biaggi, and Jamaal Bailey replacing older predecessors in recent years.

“The Bronx is changing in a way I haven’t seen in my lifetime,” said J.C. Polanco, a Republican consultant from the Bronx and former Board of Elections commissioner. “Politicians used to get elected with only a couple thousand votes, so a well-oiled insurgent campaign can end up winning.” Polanco said he doesn’t always think that’s a good thing.

The borough also has more women as a share of the population than any other borough (89.2 men for every 100 women, compared to 91.2 for every 100 citywide). In 2014, three of the 15 members of the Bronx’s state legislative delegation were women, but that number will increase to five of 15 in the new year.

In the City Council, only two of the nine districts that cover at least part of the Bronx are represented by women (Diana Ayala and Vanessa Gibson). As the 2021 city election cycle heats up, there is currently at least one woman running in all nine districts. Meanwhile, Gibson and Fernandez are seeking the borough presidency.

“We’re no longer waiting for permission to run,” Reyes said, when asked about the recent surge in women candidates seeking office in the borough.

The Bronx has long been the least-white borough in New York City, but the white population has declined by more than a third in recent decades, making up 14.5% of residents in 2000 but only 9% as of 2019. There are only two white state Assemblymembers left from the Bronx (longtime Assemblymembers Jeffrey Dinowitz and Michael Benedetto), while there were three earlier this decade.

The decline in the borough’s white population, which has traditionally been predominant in northern Bronx neighborhoods such as Riverdale, can be attributed to older white residents moving or dying, and an increase in the number of immigrants and Bronxites of color throughout the borough. So far at least, a recent influx of new white residents in the South Bronx, enticed by relatively cheaper rent than nearby Manhattan, has not offset this change. Additionally, many Dominican New Yorkers have been priced out of Upper Manhattan and many have moved to the Bronx.

“I don’t think gentrification will be as pronounced [in the South Bronx] as it is in other parts of the city,” Valentin said. He attributes this to one key difference between the South Bronx and areas of the city that are currently experiencing gentrification, such as western Queens and northwest Brooklyn, which is that there is a higher concentration of public housing developments in the South Bronx than those places, which will make gentrification of the South Bronx a slower process than what has taken place elsewhere.

While Bronx politics has been dominated for decades by the Puerto Rican community (including Serrano, Diaz Jr., Diaz Sr., Crespo, Torres, and others now and in the past), several newer elected officials, such as Reyes and Pichardo, hail from the growing Dominican community in the borough (Espaillat is also Dominican). While the two communities share some similarities and common issues (such as language access), immigration is a key concern for Dominican Americans in a way that it is not for Puerto Rican Americans, who are American citizens from birth.

“We as a Dominican community, as an immigrant community, can no longer be ignored,” said Reyes. “People want representation that looks like them, understands their culture, and speaks to them, because there are nuances.”

This is just one nuance that differentiates this ascendant community from the entrenched political powers in the borough. Furthermore, the Dominican diaspora is often politically divided internally along party lines in the Dominican Republic. Last month, the Dominican Republic held its presidential election and, in the period leading up to it, Bronxites in some neighborhoods were more likely to see posters for Dominican presidential candidates than New York primary candidates.

“In the primaries, when I was out campaigning, there were folks campaigning for an election in another country. It seems like they were even more active for those campaigns than the campaigns here. There’s a bit of apathy for American politics,” Reyes told Gotham Gazette.

Dominican Americans “are very much entrenched in Dominican politics and that divides them even here in the Bronx. That makes it very hard to organize them as a Dominican community, because they’re fragmented within themselves,” said Reyes.

Rise of Progressive Groups in the Bronx
“The Bronx is definitely changing for the better, politically. We have more people engaged, more people holding electeds accountable, and electing people that represent their values,” said Amanda Farias, who is running again in City Council District 18 in 2021 after competing against Diaz Sr. in 2017. “I can only see it getting more progressive and democracy moving more left in the Bronx.”

“Progressive organizations are getting better and better at identifying and working with young, progressive people of color in those districts who relate to their communities” said Camille Rivera, a consultant at New Deal Strategies. “It’s not the same-old, same-old lefty, DSA brand. They’ve created a space where energetic community organizers can run and make a difference.”

“The Bronx Democratic Party feels less invincible than it did a year ago, but we still have hints of their power,” said Jazz Hooks, of the Bronx/Uptown Manhattan branch of the New York City branch of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). “We have a lot of potential. Our message can reach far beyond who the conventional wisdom says it can reach.”

“The racial dynamics [within the DSA] are something that we need to address and we are seeing progress,” said Hooks, who co-founded the NYC-DSA’s Afro-Socialist Caucus, noting the better-than-expected performance of Samelys López in the Democratic Primary for the 15th Congressional District, in the South Bronx, shows that the DSA’s message appeals to communities of color.

While not a citywide group, the Bronx Progressives are a new group with similar objectives (López is a co-founder). According to Beltzer, the Bronx Progressives “came out of the Bernie Sanders movement in 2016 and we wanted to make sure that we continued to organize the community. We wanted to make sure that people had a political home that might not exist in the county organization.”

Beltzer says “a lot of progressives in the Bronx are still in their own silos, but it’s definitely something that’s building.”

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Note - this article has been updated.

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'We're in a State of Transition': Bronx Democrats Wrestle with Changing of the Guard Sun, 23 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Donovan Richards on Development, Jobs & His Vision for Queens https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9697-max-murphy-podcast-donovan-richards-nypd-reform-jobs-vision-queens-borough-president https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9697-max-murphy-podcast-donovan-richards-nypd-reform-jobs-vision-queens-borough-president donovan richards 600

City Council Member Donovan Richards (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


August 19, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Donovan Richards on Police Reform, Jobs & His Vision for Queens

City Council Member Donovan Richards, very likely the next Queens Borough President, joined the show to discuss how he plans to operate as borough president and what's next as he chairs the Council's public safety committee.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org.

Max & Murphy · Episode 243: Donovan Richards On Police Reform, Jobs & His Vision For Queens

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Donovan Richards on Development, Jobs & His Vision for Queens Wed, 19 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Can New York Officials Deliver November Election Results in a Timely Fashion? https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9682-new-york-city-election-officials-deliver-timely-2020-november-results https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9682-new-york-city-election-officials-deliver-timely-2020-november-results 3 how election official

"Every Vote Counts" (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography)


While New Yorkers have come to expect challenges in the voting process, they’ve also come to expect "unofficial election night results" rolling in in the hours after polls close -- a tradition that sometimes entails staying up late to find out the winner of a close race, or waking up the next day to a new leader-elect who had been only a hopeful when voters went to the polls.

But with the unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots for the June primary this year, some races took up to six weeks for clear winners to become apparent, during which time uncertainty about the results and fears of what the delay portends for the already-fraught general election reverberated across New York City. With the promise of skyrocketing turnout less than 80 days away, and Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature indicating New York will again greatly expand absentee voting, few of the challenges to the timely counting of ballots have been resolved and representatives of the New York City and New York State boards of elections have said little about what they are doing to improve the process.

In the June primaries, the New York City Board of Elections (BOE) sent 775,000 absentee ballots to voters -- twelve times the number mailed in 2016 -- and received over 400,000 back. In the fall general election, with races for President, Congress, the State Legislature, Queens Borough President, and other offices, the State Board of Elections is expecting as many as 5 million absentee ballots to be cast statewide -- a four-fold increase from the 1.2 million received in the primaries, which strained election infrastructure across the state. With the Electoral College set to formally select the president on December 14, the New York City Board will again have to certify the election results within six weeks of election day, this time contending with vastly more ballots. Even if they can meet the statutory requirements, as some administrators appear confident of, many want to see a tighter timeline.

Lawmakers have passed or proposed a series of bills that would again expand absentee eligibility for Covid concerns as well as others that aim to address problems that arose in the primaries. On August 11, the State Senate and Assembly held a joint oversight hearing where officials raised concerns about preparedness for the fall and mishaps with absentee requests, delivery, and counting in the primaries, which in New York City resulted in 80,000 mail-in ballots being rejected.

The New York City Board of Elections is taking some steps to scale up its absentee counting operations, like purchasing new technology and encouraging people to take advantage of in-person early voting, a nine-day period from October 24 through November 1. Election Day is November 3. But very little is public about what other measures are being taken to prepare for the onslaught of mailed ballots or what resources are available to the board.

To count all the ballots requires personnel, space, and machinery, and to do it quickly means more of everything. That all requires money and a pool of workers, both of which have become hard to come by in a pandemic.

Funding
A typical general election costs anywhere from $20 to 25 million, according to the State Board of Elections. For the 2020 general election, administrators expect they will need twice that.

"To do everything, we need $50 million, conservatively," State Board of Elections Co-Chair Douglas Kellner told state lawmakers at the August 11 oversight hearing.

In March, New York State received $20.5 million in federal CARES Act funding to cover election-related expenses that rose due to the pandemic, and counties received an additional $4.1 million in state funds. The State Board of Elections established a grant reimbursement program to distribute the federal funding to local boards, which have spent roughly half of it, according to testimony provided to the State Legislature. It is unclear how much of that has gone to New York City and how much the NYCBOE has spent. Neither the New York City nor State board of elections provided comment or information requested for this story, including about how much money is available to New York City for ballot-canvassing in the general election.

In Fiscal Year 2020, which ended at the end of June (after the primaries), the New York City Board of Elections was allocated $246 million in city funds and saved $31 million by only running one election between March and June, instead of two as had been planned but changed due to the pandemic, according to a spokesperson for the Mayor's Office of Management and Budget (OMB). That budget was nearly twice what was available in FY19, largely due to start-up costs associated with early voting.

In the current fiscal year's budget, which went into effect July 1 and was negotiated during the pandemic, the city allocated $136 million to the BOE. That money is meant to cover the general election this fall and the primaries for city offices set for next June.

"We are monitoring the BOE’s needs, and will make sure that they are properly funded for this year's elections," a spokesperson for OMB wrote to Gotham Gazette.

The extent of the city's canvassing needs are obscure, in part because of uncertainties about potential changes to election rules, either via state legislation or gubernatorial order, and the state of the coronavirus outbreak -- and in part because of a lack of information coming from the city BOE.

One week after the August 11 oversight hearing, the board still has not submitted its written testimony to the Legislature’s elections and governmental operations committees (or to Gotham Gazette after multiple inquiries). In his oral testimony and in response to questions from lawmakers, NYCBOE Executive Director Michael Ryan focused more on obstacles to mailing ballots to voters and the 80,000 ballots that were disqualified than on changes that could improve the ballot count and deliver speedier results.

Asked whether the BOE would be able to certify the election by the deadline for electors to choose the president, Ryan said "yes," without indicating whether any effort would be made to expedite the process.

"The City Board of Elections, long before I got here and since I've been here, has met many challenges and we have always found a way to get the job done, ultimately, despite what some others may think," he said.

Representatives for the State Board of Elections, a regulatory body, have not responded to requests for the information they have on the city board's canvassing efforts and challenges.

Earlier this month, the New York City Board of Elections approved the purchase of mail-sorting machines -- one for each county (borough) -- at a cost of $1.5 million. The machines are capable of opening, sorting, time- and date-stamping, and digitally scanning up to 15,000 ballots an hour, according to Sherwin Suss, the agency's chief contracting officer, in a presentation to commissioners on August 4.

Ryan said the agency was exploring whether it will need back-up machines from the supplier, Neopost USA.

"We will pursue those other avenues of process with the chiefs and deputies and with the vendor to determine what additional pieces of equipment we will need," Ryan said, referring to the leaders of the board's borough offices and Neopost. "We will treat this five as a floor."

The machines, which are set to arrive in October, will undoubtedly ease the BOE's logistical burdens, and their ability to scan ballots alone could save an immense amount of physical labor. In the primaries, "our borough offices copied over 443,000 individual absentee ballot envelopes, which required two pages, so that was almost a million pieces of paper that had to be photocopied for challenges and court cases," Ryan said at the oversight hearing.

Personnel
Even with the technological upgrades, personnel for the actual counting of ballots, which by law must be done by hand, is still an issue.

"Recruiting personnel to actually physically count ballots is probably the hardest part of our recruiting personnel," said Dustin Czarny, an elections commissioner in Onondaga County and chair of the Democratic Caucus of the New York State Elections Commissioners Association, in an interview. "They need more training and more expertise than, say, a normal election inspector that is at the polls."

"This is not something that can be trained easily -- you learn by doing," he added. There are a number of technical and statutory "quirks" to canvassing ballots, which require training and care, Czarny said. Canvassers have to know how to open and count ballots making sure each vote is properly reviewed, that anonymity is maintained, and that votes are not being disqualified without cause.

"A lot of that has to come through the experience of dealing with absentee ballots, which we've never dealt with on a scale like we have now," he said.

The pool of experienced canvassers is small -- a perennial challenge for administrators -- and shrinking.

Boards of elections often rely on retirees to make up the poll-worker and -inspector pool. With seniors among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, administrators around the state are scrambling to fill vacancies. Czarny hopes that the fact that canvassers generally don't interact with the public will make that specific recruitment easier: "the risk will be less, but whether we can convey that" is another story, he said.

Another obstacle is related to the BOE's bipartisan structure, a vestige of anti-corruption sentiments at the turn of the last century.

In New York State, for every ballot cast there must be a designated Democrat and Republican canvassing each vote. That means boards will need to hire two times the number of ballot canvassers than is physically necessary to tally up the votes, even with the historic surge in turnout expected in the presidential election.

More personnel also means more tables to sort and count ballots, and more space to house them. With the coronavirus pandemic requiring social distancing, the BOE's space needs are growing exponentially.

An executive order signed by Governor Cuomo on August 24 requires local election boards to submit staffing plans, including personnel needs, to the State Board of Elections by September 20, providing an opportunity for the state board to assist if possible.

Statutory Hurdles
Even without resource challenges, there are certain waiting periods built into state election law that, in conjunction with growing absentee voting, will likely delay general election results.

The statutory deadline for boards of elections to accept absentee ballots is seven days after an election, so the actual tally cannot begin until after that time (November 10 this year).

"That's sort of baked into the process," said Sarah Goff, deputy director of the good government group Common Cause New York.

Normally, with a few thousand absentee ballots cast statewide their impact on the final results is trivial, allowing local boards to publish "unofficial" results shortly after the polls close. But with potentially 40 percent of voters voting absentee statewide, the deadline poses a significant obstacle to getting the final outcome with any of the expediency New Yorkers are used to.

Once the seven-day period is up, administrators still can't simply start counting ballots. New York State law permits a voter to vote in-person even if they have cast an absentee ballot, with the in-person vote usurping the mailed ballot. Ensuring the right ballots are being counted takes time.

"Once they hit that seven-day cutoff point in terms of ballots received, they then have to go through this time-consuming, but obviously necessary, process in which they cross-check absentee ballots against folks who voted in person," Goff said, adding that New York is one of the few states that allows in-person voting to override an absentee ballot. "And then they will finally start to count the ballots."

The process could take days, meaning the actual canvassing of ballots may not begin until 10 to 14 days after Election Day, according to Goff.

"Obviously, looking ahead to November, they will be better prepared given that they've gone through this already once, they know what to expect in turns of increased volume, and can sort of roughly project the volume that they are going to see," she said. But the coronavirus pandemic is unpredictable and an uptick in cases could drive up the number of absentee ballots beyond the current estimates.

Cuomo's August 24 executive order will help boards expedite the counting by allowing them to start processing, though not necessarily opening, received ballots before Election Day. The change will speed up the process of settling contested ballots, but won't impact the seven-day post-Election Day period to receive mailed ballots.

Early voting "in the middle of a pandemic"
One thing advocates want to see is a better use of alternatives to absentee voting, particularly early voting, which first rolled out in 2019.

"Early Voting sites were not properly promoted, they promoted absentee ballots," said Sarah Steiner, a New York City-based elections lawyer, of the city's and state's approaches during the primaries. But doing so "would be the biggest thing that I think they should do," followed by establishing additional early voting locations, she said.

In his oral testimony to the State Legislature, Ryan said the BOE would be undertaking a public education campaign around early voting "through social media and other outlets." For the primaries, the Board of Elections expanded the number of early voting sites from 61 to 79 in New York City.

"The board increased -- increased -- the number of early voting sites by 30 percent in the middle of a pandemic," Ryan told lawmakers.

Nevertheless, only about 52,000 took advantage of the option, just 6 percent of the city's total turnout in the Democratic primaries.

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated with two pieces of information about Governor Cuomo's August 24 executive order, issued after this story originally published.

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Can New York Officials Deliver November Election Results in a Timely Fashion? Tue, 18 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
New York Elections Administrators Lay Out Immense Challenges, Uncertainty Ahead of Fast-Approaching General Election https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9671-elections-administrators-lay-out-immense-challenges-uncertainty-new-york-2020-general-election https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9671-elections-administrators-lay-out-immense-challenges-uncertainty-new-york-2020-general-election Myrie Senate

State Senator Myrie in the Senate chamber (photo: State Senate)


After June saw drastic shifts in how voting in New York is conducted, elections administrators, state legislators, and watchdogs have a long list of changes they want to see enacted before the general election this fall. But above all they want clarity from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Many of the key players in New York City and State elections testified Tuesday at an oversight hearing held by both houses of the Democrat-controlled Legislature examining the June primary, its successes and failures, and solutions for a safe and efficient general election.

"For many New Yorkers...democracy was functional," said State Senator Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn Democrat and chair of the Senate elections committee, in his opening remarks at the hearing. "But too many New Yorkers saw their democracy fail them during this pandemic."

"This hearing today is about finding solutions for the voters of the State of New York," Myrie said.

As their remarks showed, administrators are looking at a logistical nightmare unfolding at the feet of a notoriously antiquated and byzantine elections system, which typically conducts 95 percent of voting in person, during a pandemic and with the anticipation of record-breaking turnout.

"We have run elections in times of turmoil," said State Board of Elections (SBOE) co-executive director Robert Brehm, in his testimony Tuesday. "In my lifetime, we've had natural disasters...We've had Hurricanes Irene, Lee, and Sandy on the cusp of elections. And public safety issues -- September 11th is certainly a date that impacted elections."

"But the COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be longer, more sustained, and much more complicated a world crisis than any of those," he added.

As the coronavirus outbreak unfolded in New York, elections administrators throughout the state contended with a host of issues leading up to the June primaries. Facing a dramatic increase in absentee voting because of the governor's executive order extending eligibility, they still had to ensure that poll sites were safely run as more than half of voters still cast ballots in person.

In New York State, 1,027,234 voters cast a ballot in person on primary day, June 23, and 731,131 voted absentee (38 percent), according to testimony provided by the State Board of Elections. Another 118,108 New Yorkers voted in person during the early voting period, fewer than half the roughly 256,000 voters who did in 2019, despite there being 17 more early voting poll sites.

With over half of voters opting to vote in person in June and the surge in turnout expected for the general election, which will include the presidential race, elections commissioners throughout the state are looking for ways to ensure proper staffing amidst a pandemic that is keeping people home -- especially older New Yorkers who make up a bulk of the state's poll workers.

The additional bureaucratic hurdles of shifting to a more mail-oriented election system -- including the sudden prominence of the U.S. Postal Service, which is beyond the authority of state regulators -- meant tens of thousands of ballots were thrown out on technical grounds and thousands more were sent out late by the New York City Board of Elections or never got delivered.

Yet despite recognizing a host of repeat and new challenges for the general election, the executive orders that altered the primaries have all expired, and election administrators are proceeding as though its business as usual as the clock ticks.

"Presently we're running this November election based on the laws we have on the book," Brehm told the committees. "I believe some [recently passed bills] have gone to the governor last night, but they are not in place yet."

"So we're basing our planning on the laws we have on the books and certainly we will have to adapt as much as we can for what comes our way," he said. Early voting for the general election is just over two months away, and preparations for mailing millions of absentee ballot applications and ballots must begin relatively soon to be executed well.

Cuomo has yet to sign legislation or orders that would expand absentee eligibility again, or proposals that could help voters but also place additional burdens on the state and county boards of elections, like one that would require local boards to notify a voter when their ballot is rejected and offer a way to remedy it.

"The Legislature already passed a bill that is awaiting signature by the governor giving voters the right to cure defects," said SBOE Co-Chair Douglas Kellner. "That will create more work for the boards of elections but will reduce the number of ballots that are invalidated for inadvertent reasons."

There’s a long list of voting and election reform bills that have either passed both houses of the Legislature and await gubernatorial action; have passed one house and await action in the other; or have been introduced but not yet moved in either the Assembly or the State Senate.

Invalidating Ballots
The main reason more than 80,000 absentee ballots were invalidated in New York City alone, according to Kellner, was because of a missing signature. While lawmakers and advocates are pushing for the ballot curing bill to be signed into law, Kellner said the SBOE is also looking into ways to redesign the ballot envelope to ensure that voters provide the required signature, which they say is the only method they have of seeing that the right person cast a particular ballot.

Envelopes missing postmarks was another key reason absentee ballots were thrown out. But the USPS did not testify in person at Tuesday's hearing, held jointly by the elections committees and local governments committees of the Senate and Assembly, leaving a number of unanswered questions about whether postmarking would be a problem in the general election.

"There was consultation [with the USPS] on that," Kellner told lawmakers.

"The postal service guidelines and procedures require postmarking for election materials and the odds of not getting a postmark are just as great if you put a stamp on an envelope as they are by using the pre-paid postage system," he said, referring to reports that the missing postmarks were an error caused by the state's use of pre-paid envelopes.

Ballot Logistics
One of the biggest logistical issues boards of elections face is that law sets the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot at seven days before the election, which leaves very little time to process them and send a ballot, much less have the voter then return the ballot in time to be counted. USPS guidelines released in July advise states to leave a 15-day window for election mail, Kellner said. With the anticipation of a high volume of absentee ballot applications, the SBOE is seeking a 15-day deadline to apply before Election Day, which is November 3 this year.

"I think there is agreement that the current timeframe is unrealistic and has led to some of the disenfranchisement that we've seen this year," said SBOE Co-Chair Peter Kosinski.

Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, the state's largest election jurisdiction, told lawmakers Tuesday that he agreed with the need to adjust the timeline. "To be clear, the present calendar didn't work under regular circumstances, when we just had the normal number of absentee ballot applications," Ryan said. "Now you have a twelve-fold increase, it becomes an impossibility."

In New York City, about 53 percent of the applications for absentee ballots came through the city's newly-established online portal, Ryan said.

Jennifer Wilson, deputy director of the League of Women Voters of New York State, urged the Legislature to provide funding to county boards "so that all voters can be sent an absentee ballot application form, and that both the request form and absentee ballot return envelopes include pre-paid postage."

Additional costs include staffing at poll sites and messaging to promote early voting, which was expanded in June but under-utilized. PPE and additional poll-site precautions to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 are likely to be other significant expenses. County boards are also exploring new technologies to sort and canvass votes. For instance, last week, the New York City Board of Elections approved the purchase of five mail-ballot sorting and scanning machines, at the cost of roughly $1.5 million.

With the primary results taking six weeks to fully count and certify, many are also worried about how long it could be before the general election results are tabulated.

County boards are exploring staffing increases and new technologies to sort and canvass votes. For instance, the new machines the city BOE ordered are capable of sorting up to 15,000 ballots per hour.

Funding
Funding is another big source of uncertainty ahead of the general election.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated $400 million to states for elections, with states required to provide a 20 percent match. New York State received roughly $20.5 million in CARES Act funding and state lawmakers allocated an additional $4.1 million to local election boards, according to the SBOE. Of the total available, county boards have already spent $12 million -- roughly half -- with three country boards having spent all of their additional funding. A majority of that spending went towards the postage on pre-paid absentee ballot envelopes, according to the SBOE.

A typical election in New York State costs roughly $25 million. But with precautions and extenuating provisions being made around the coronavirus pandemic the costs this year are much higher.

SBOE Co-Executive Director Todd Valentine said with 6 to 7 million pieces of mail sent out for the primaries, when Cuomo’s executive order required election material be sent with pre-paid return envelopes. With the possibility of mailing postage-paid absentee ballot applications in the general election to roughly 12.6 million registered voters statewide, the state is looking at a $26 million price tag just for absentee ballot applications, according to Valentine's estimate.

"We've certainly asked the governor's office whether they had any intentions repeatedly…of making those changes," he said, referring to a possible requirement to mail absentee ballot applications to every registered voter. "They have not given us an answer."

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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New York Elections Administrators Lay Out Immense Challenges, Uncertainty Ahead of Fast-Approaching General Election Tue, 11 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000