Gotham Gazette Thu, 29 Oct 2020 08:37:08 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) De Blasio's First Chief Democracy Officer Quietly Resigned in January and Hasn't Been Replaced ear vot bot

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune, New York City’s first Chief Democracy Officer, quietly resigned in January and Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to name a replacement to the position, even amid an especially complicated and consequential election year.

The mayor created the office of DemocracyNYC to be led by the Chief Democracy Officer in 2018, announcing it in his State of the City speech that February. The office was part of a ten-point agenda aimed at improving voter access, promoting youth voter participation, curbing the influence of money in elections, expanding lobbying transparency and making it easier to run for office, among other goals.

“If we're going to fight for fairness and we're going to fight for equality, we better fight to save our democracy,” de Blasio said in his speech. He pointed to several threats including dark money flooding into elections after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, plummeting voter participation, President Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine democratic institutions, and Russia’s attack on the 2016 presidential election. “We are so far from what the norm should be of an active and inclusive democracy,” he said.

In October that year, de Blasio appointed Fonseca-Sabune, a Harvard-educated attorney and civil rights advocate, to lead DemocracyNYC. But after just 14 months on the job,  Fonseca-Sabune stepped down from her position earlier this year – according to the City Record, her resignation was effective on January 1. She now runs her own anti-racism and anti-oppression coaching and organizational development service, according to her website.

Fonseca-Sabune did not respond to a request for comment. Her website features a photo of her with de Blasio at an announcement during her tenure as Chief Democracy Officer and says that in that role she “worked to amplify the voice of every New Yorker, including marginalized communities that have historically been disenfranchised. Her work has included developing robust voter-registration drives, expanding civics education across all ages for the 1.1 million children attending New York City schools, and partnering with community-based organizations, elected officials and agencies at all levels of government, and the philanthropic community to get more New Yorkers civically engaged.”

But since Fonseca-Sabune’s resignation, the mayor has not appointed a new city Chief Democracy Officer. Laura Wood, DemocracyNYC’s senior advisor and general counsel, has seemingly taken over her duties in that time. Wood appeared alongside the mayor at his news briefing on Tuesday to speak of efforts the city is taking to ensure that voting in this year’s general election, with early voting beginning Saturday, goes smoothly.

“As the start of early voting approaches, we want to emphasize that voters don't have to choose between their health and their right to vote,” Wood said. “And the DemocracyNYC team is working hard to make sure that New Yorkers know how to vote safely.” Wood was previously senior advisor and special counsel to the State Attorney General and prior to that, chief Counsel to the State Senate’s Democratic Conference.

When asked for comment, mayoral spokesperson Bill Neidhardt did not explain the reason that Fonseca-Sabune left the administration or why the mayor has not replaced her. He also did not say whether a search for a replacement was underway. “As we presented at today’s press conference, the Democracy NYC team, led by Laura Wood, is performing the critical task of protecting our democracy and the health of all voters and poll workers,” he said in an email on Tuesday.

In a statement on Wednesday, mayoral spokesperson Jose Bayona said, “After Rini’s departure in January, the work at Democracy NYC was kicking into high gear and Laura Wood stepped into the leadership role as the elections expert given the focus our team would be heading this and next year. At this critical time, and with an evolving fiscal crisis, we currently have a strong and committed team to build on the demanding task of protecting our democracy and the health of all voters and poll workers. We thank Rini for her work and wish her the best in her endeavors.”

Rachel Bloom, director of policy at Citizens Union, a government reform group, said the empty position should have been filled as soon as possible, particularly as the city heads into possibly the most consequential presidential election in decades, as well as a major citywide municipal election next year when all of city government will be on the ballot. “There are multiple agencies doing a lot of similar work, between the Civic Engagement Commission and the Campaign Finance Board and DemocracyNYC, and I think it is beneficial to have one person who is leading that as the Chief Democracy Officer,” Bloom said in a phone interview.

Bloom did note that despite the vacancy, DemocracyNYC work has been getting done. As Wood explained at the Tuesday news conference, the office is rolling out several initiatives including a public service announcement campaign with the relatively new city Civic Engagement Commission, created by 2018 ballot referenda, on how to vote early and by mail, a fact sheet developed with the Department of Health on how to vote safely, and a collaboration with Citi Bike for discounted rides on Election Day.

“There's a lot of collaboration happening right now,” Bloom said. “But I think if that position is going to exist, it should be filled and it should be filled now.”

One of the chief reasons the mayor created the DemocracyNYC office was to increase voter registration in the city. “Whoever will take this job will end up being responsible for registering 1.5 million New Yorkers in the next four years,” de Blasio said in that State of the City speech. At the time of Fonseca-Sabune’s appointment, there were 5.13 million registered voters in the city; as of February 21 this year, there were 5.32 million.

While de Blasio’s goal was always dubious, voter registrations efforts were hobbled this year because of the pandemic, Bloom pointed out, and the state still does not have a truly online system of voter registration (a city-led effort to create online voter registration has also stalled without state approval). “We usually see the largest numbers of new voter registrations in a presidential election year and because of the pandemic, that was completely upended this year,” Bloom said.

The city Board of Elections did recently report processing almost 169,000 new registrations between September 1 and the October 9 registration deadline to vote in this year’s election.

“If that was one of the primary goals of having a Chief Democracy Officer,” Bloom added, “it seems like a really odd moment in time to not have that role filled. And yes, their work continues to be done, but I don't know why the position hasn’t been filled for months and months and months.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
De Blasio's First Chief Democracy Officer Quietly Resigned in January and Hasn't Been Replaced Wed, 21 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The Deadline to Register to Vote is Friday; Here's How to Get Registered and Vote register people day

City workers looking to register people to vote (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

The 2020 general election is well underway, and the deadline to register to vote in it in New York is this Friday, October 9.

New Yorkers can check their registration status by using this online tool or, if they live in the city, calling the city Board of Elections at 1-866-868-3692.

To register, or to update a registration with a new address, New Yorkers can print out voter registration forms, fill them out, and send them to their local Board of Elections office — there’s one in each borough. New Yorkers can also pick up voter registration forms at their local Board of Elections office and complete them in person. The form is available in 16 languages.

New Yorkers who have Department of Motor Vehicles-issued licenses or identifications can register to vote online. (Legislation that would allow all eligible New York City residents to register to vote online recently passed the State Senate, but stalled in the Assembly for unclear reasons.)

The New York City Campaign Finance Board, which runs voter outreach and education through its NYC Votes initiative, has reported a sharp decline in voter registration this year as compared to 2016, likely because of the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic to outreach efforts — but there’s still time for that to change.

The fast-approaching deadline for voter registration also means that Election Day is less than a month away. New Yorkers can vote in the 2020 election — which includes races for President and Vice President, House of Representatives, State Legislature, and more — in several ways.

Voters can participate either through absentee voting by mail, in-person early voting October 24 through November 1, or in-person voting on Election Day, November 3. Voters’ early voting poll site and Election Day poll site are often different, and early voting hours vary: check your poll site(s) here and see early voting days and hours here. On Election Day, poll sites are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in New York City.

As election administrators expect a surge of overall voting, including much more absentee balloting than usual amid universal expansion of that option and potentially long lines on Election Day, officials and voting advocates have been encouraging voters to vote early if possible to avoid both the potentially dangerous crowds of Election Day and the potential confusion of absentee voting.

Sabrina Castillo, outreach director for the New York City Campaign Finance Board, suggests every New Yorker make a voting plan. “Making a plan for voting is always a good idea,” she said in an interview, “because studies show that people who make a plan are more likely to actually cast a ballot than those who don’t.” Castillo also recommends making alternative voting plans, especially considering the pandemic. “Your early voting poll site might not be the same as your day-of,” Castillo added, “so that’s why it’s important to plan.”

While this Friday is the voter registration deadline, other deadlines are also on the horizon.

October 27 is the last day to apply online, email, postmark, or fax an absentee ballot application. Even if a voter cast a ballot by mail in the June primary, voters concerned about catching or spreading COVID-19 must again apply for absentee ballots for the general, citing “temporary illness” as their reason on the application. The New York State Board of Elections offers more information on requesting an absentee ballot.

The absentee ballot itself must be postmarked by Election Day and received by the Board of Elections by November 10 in order to count.

Voters concerned that their ballot may not arrive in time to be counted or disqualified for other reasons that have at times undermined absentee balloting may choose to vote in-person, even if they already sent a ballot by mail — the Board of Elections will make sure nobody’s vote counts twice, and an in-person vote always supersedes a mailed vote. Voters can also bring absentee ballots to a poll site or the Board of Elections by Election Day. “There should be drop boxes there,” Castillo said, so that “you’re not actually going in.”

by Lauren Hakimi, Gotham Gazette

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The Deadline to Register to Vote is Friday; Here's How to Get Registered and Vote Mon, 05 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
State Inaction Means New York City Won't 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]

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

State Inaction Means New York City Won't Launch Online Voter Registration Before 2020 Deadline Thu, 24 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The Deadline to Register to Vote in June is Friday - and Other Key 2020 Primary Election Info early voting rally

Register to vote by Friday May 29 (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

New York’s primary election is less than a month away on, June 23, preceded by early voting June 13-21, and with all eligible voters allowed to vote absentee due to the coronavirus pandemic. The deadline for new voters to register is this Friday, May 29 [Find more info here].

There are state legislative, congressional, and presidential contests on the ballot along with a few local seats like Queens Borough President and a Brooklyn City Council race. Only party-affiliated voters can vote in the primaries, and almost all of the races in New York City are Democratic primaries. All Democrats across the state can vote in the party’s presidential primary, and there are many primaries for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, State Senate, and State Assembly. All Queens Democrats can vote in the borough president primary.

Check your voter registration online here. Enter your address and party affiliation here to see your sample ballot. You can read the full list of all primaries on the June ballot in New York City here.

The coronavirus pandemic caused significant upheaval for the state’s political calendar this year and several elections that were meant to take place in the preceding months have been delayed till the June party primary. (Some special elections – for state Assembly, Senate and Queens Borough President – were even cancelled through executive order by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and primaries are being held to fill those seats, to be followed by the fall general election, in more typical fashion.)

As many Democratic presidential candidates were dropping from the race and the coronavirus outbreak was taking hold of New York, state leaders inserted language in the April budget to allow the state Board of Elections to cancel the presidential primary if all candidates other than one had conceded. When that happened and Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee, the BOE voted to cancel the primary, but the decision was overturned by a federal judge after a suit by former candidate Andrew Yang, among others, and much protest from former candidate Bernie Sanders and his supporters. The Republican presidential primary was cancelled months ago since President Donald Trump is the party’s only candidate.

Though in-person voting will still take place, with strict social distancing guidelines for polling sites, voters are being urged to instead vote through absentee ballots. (Short of that, taking advantage of early voting hours is encouraged. Find the list of New York City’s early voting sites here.)

In April, the governor allowed all voters to apply for an absentee ballot, using the pandemic as a valid excuse for one; he later mandated that the Board of Elections send all eligible voters an absentee ballot application with paid postage. Votes must then request the ballot, receive that in the mail, fill it out, and send it back.

The State BOE has applications available in English and Spanish. The New York City Board of Elections provides forms in Chinese, Korean, and Bengali as well.

The New York City BOE, along with a few other counties, has an online portal where voters can apply for an absentee ballot (this may be advisable for anyone concerned the BOE may not mail them the application as mandated by the governor). Applications are also being accepted by email, fax and by phone by calling 1-866-VOTE-NYC (1-866-868-3692).

Boards of Elections began accepting requests for absentee ballots on May 24. A request for an absentee ballot must be postmarked by June 16. Though, again, Boards are supposed to be mailing every eligible voter an application without them having to request one.

Governor Cuomo signed legislation on June 7 to extend the deadline for filing an absentee ballot application in person or postmarking an absentee ballot by mail to June 23, election day. Voters can also designate another individual to file their absentee ballot. The deadline for choosing that individual is June 23. If a ballot is mailed, it must be received by June 30 for it to be counted. These deadlines and the unusually high volume of absentee voting expected could mean some races are not called for days or weeks after June 23.

Friday, May 29 is the deadline for anyone not already registered to vote who wishes to participate in the June primaries to register, either in person or via mailed form, with postmark no later than that day and received by the BOE by June 3. The BOE will also process changes of address if they are received by June 3.

The deadline for changing party affiliation, however, passed February 14.

The fall elections, including the general election for president, are set for November 3, with an early voting period beginning toward the end of October.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated.

The Deadline to Register to Vote in June is Friday - and Other Key 2020 Primary Election Info Wed, 27 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
What New York City Voters Need to Know About the June Primary Elections voting in new york during coronavirus

What voters need to know to vote in June (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

The images of Wisconsin voters standing in line last month starkly illustrated how COVID-19 has triggered a health emergency for our democracy. Here in New York, elections have been postponed or canceled in response to the pandemic. We are taking the first steps towards voting in a new way, via mail-in absentee ballots. With all of these rapid changes, it is no wonder voters are confused about what steps they can take to cast a vote safely and help maintain the health of our democratic system.

In response to these unprecedented circumstances, the Mayor’s DemocracyNYC Initiative and the NYC Votes/Campaign Finance Board have convened a consortium of community-based organizations, good government groups, and advocates to get the word out about voting safely to the hardest-hit communities. Our goal is to make sure voters in these underrepresented communities have the information they need to make use of absentee voting as a safe and effective alternative.

Here is the critical guidance New Yorkers need to safely exercise their right to vote -- and to keep our democracy healthy -- on June 23.

First, all eligible voters may cast a ballot by mail. To do so, city voters must request an absentee ballot by June 16. The Board of Elections will mail voters an absentee ballot application this month with a postage-paid return envelope. But there is no reason to wait. We encourage as many voters as possible to request an application online. Requests can be made online at a new website created by the city’s Board of Elections: The application is now available in Spanish, Chinese, Bengali, and Korean.

Absentee ballots will not be mailed out to all voters; only voters who request an absentee ballot will receive one. Thanks to an executive order from Governor Cuomo, anyone who wants to vote absentee due to the coronavirus pandemic should indicate “temporary illness” as the reason for requesting a ballot.

Voting by mail is a safe and effective way to exercise the right to vote during this public health crisis. Governor Cuomo’s executive order allowing all voters to cast a mail-in ballot means New Yorkers will not face the awful choice between voting and protecting their own health that voters in Wisconsin were forced to make.

As New York contemplates re-opening, in-person voting will be available for the voters who need it. The best way to vote in-person is during the early voting period, June 13-21, when fewer people will be at the poll sites. For the health and safety of everyone, especially poll workers, those who can should vote by mail-in ballot.

The second critical point is that primary elections are happening, whether the Democratic presidential primary is held or not (that matter is currently being decided by the courts). Important primary races for Congress, State Legislature, and municipal offices will be decided on June 23. The vast majority of neighborhoods across the city will have at least one primary contest on that absentee ballot.

To vote in most primary elections, voters must be enrolled in the party holding the primary under rules set by the parties. The state’s look-up tool ( is the best way to check whether your voter registration and party affiliation status makes you eligible to vote in a primary.

While the path is clear to vote safely by mail in June, we are concerned that New Yorkers will not have that option in November. Governor Cuomo’s order making the risk of contracting coronavirus a valid excuse for voting absentee will expire after the primary election. These changes should be considered for future elections to allow safe and secure voting in November.

Voters should not have to choose between health and enjoying the privileges of citizenship. In time of crisis, it is critical New Yorkers participate in choosing who will lead our city in the coming months and years of rebuilding. We urge all eligible voters to request a mail-in ballot and be a part of making those critical choices on June 23.

The undersigned civic leaders are launching a nonpartisan outreach campaign this week to guide New York voters through the 2020 elections. New Yorkers can request an absentee ballot for the June primaries online at To request a ballot by phone, or for help with voting questions, call the Board of Elections hotline 866-VOTE-NYC (1-866-868-3692).




Wayne Ho

President & CEO

Chinese-American Planning Council (CEC)

Betsy Gotbaum

Executive Director

Citizens Union

Prof. Ester Fuchs


Columbia University, WhosOntheBallot

Edward Cuesta

Executive Director

Dominicanos USA

Eliana Santos


Dominicanos USA

Laura Ladd Bierman 

Executive Director

League of Women Voters of NYS

Karen Cummings

Community & Govt Affairs Liaison


Laura Wood

Senior Advisor & General Counsel

Mayor's DemocracyNYC Initiative

Bitta Mostofi


Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs

John Park

Executive Director

MinKwon Center for Community Action

Amy Loprest

Executive Director

NYC Campaign Finance Board

Dr. Sarah Sayeed

Chair & Executive Director

NYC Civic Engagement Commission

Megan Ahearn

Program Director


David Estrada

Executive Director

Sunset Park Business Improvement District

Jarret Berg



Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

What New York City Voters Need to Know About the June Primary Elections Mon, 18 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
City Registers Nearly 30,000 Teens to Vote During 2020 Civics Week city registers 30

 Students participating in Civics Week (Mayor's Office)

In March, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, New York City held its second annual “Civics Week,” which sought to pre-register and register high school and college students to vote.

Given the law passed last year by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, 16- and 17-year-olds are now allowed to pre-register to vote, with their registration kicking in as soon as they turn the voting age of 18 and making high schools more ripe for registration efforts.

Gotham Gazette reported on this year’s efforts at the time, but the city had yet to tabulate all the registration information from the many participating schools, and the coronavirus outbreak then complicated everything. But the city has now shared that during its 2020 Civics Week, 29,642 students were registered or pre-registered to vote. In 2019, 18,233 students were registered, making for a 60% increase this year.

According to the city, hundreds of volunteers from city agencies, community groups and nonprofits, and the offices of more than 40 elected officials were out in hundreds of high school and college classrooms helping students register.

Civics Week was introduced by Mayor Bill de Blasio as a collaboration among his new DemocracyNYC initiative, the mayor’s Public Engagement Unit, and the Department of Education, among others, according to Lindsay Acker, Field Director for DemocracyNYC and the Public Engagement Unit. The week is “dedicated to giving our students the tools they need to be active, productive participants not just in our economy, but in our democracy,” according to the city website.

“Civic engagement is important now more than ever. I was proud to help pass New York State's law allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote because we must empower and encourage our youth to register to vote and be active in our democracy,” said Brooklyn Assembly Member Joe Lentol, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Their voices will determine the laws of tomorrow. The success of the student voter registration drive highlights the importance of this program and that of participation in our democracy."

Laura Wood, Senior Advisor and General Counsel for DemocracyNYC, called the Civics Week student voter registration drive “a great opportunity to empower youth” and credited the big jump in registrations through a “tremendous city-wide coordination and outreach effort” with partnership among City Hall, the DOE, elected officials, community-based organizations, and also the city’s Campaign Finance Board, which runs a robust voter outreach effort called NYC Votes.

For those eligible to vote this year, their registration comes just in time to participate in the 2020 presidential election, as well as other general election races for Congress and the State Legislature happening this fall. And many may be eligible to vote in party primaries set for June, depending on their party registration and relevant races in their home districts.

According to the state bill that made 16- and 17-year-old pre-registration law, “age 16 is a sensible time for the DMV and high schools to collect information for voter pre-registration, as it is the time when a significant amount of people have their first interaction with the DMV, and it is an age where school is still compulsory in New York. Pre-registration allows this information to be collected at a convenient time for the individual rather than making them return to the boards of elections or a state agency when they reach eligible voting age.”

“It cannot be overstated how vital it is to our democracy that young New Yorkers make their voices heard,” said Manhattan City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Five years ago, my office launched Student Voter Registration Day, and thanks to Mayor de Blasio’s DemocracyNYC initiative, opportunities for youth civic engagement only continue to grow.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way New Yorkers are participating in democracy. Several elections, including the state’s presidential primary, were originally postponed from April to June, then canceled, while many elections remain on the ballot, including congressional and state legislative primaries, as well as a primary for Queens Borough President and a vacant City Council District 37 seat in Brooklyn.

The Democratic presidential primary was controversially canceled after all candidates conceded to former Vice President Joe Biden and state lawmakers included language in a state budget bill allowing the Board of Elections to cancel it, citing the pandemic, though the decision is being challenged in court. The Republican presidential primary had already been canceled after no challengers to President Donald Trump made the New York ballot.

Governor Cuomo has now ordered that all eligible voters be offered the chance to vote absentee in the June primaries, while poll sites will be open in some capacity. Other changes are being debated.

“The coronavirus pandemic has transformed every facet of American life,” said Wood. “The 2020 elections are no exception - from registering to vote to election day. The crisis means that moving to an online voter registration system is sensible and timely, and we hope that the city Board of Elections moves quickly to adopt the Campaign Finance Board's system.”

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

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City Registers Nearly 30,000 Teens to Vote During 2020 Civics Week Thu, 30 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Push for Online Voter Registration Bill as Coronavirus Prevents Registration Drives voting

Coronavirus complicates voter registration efforts & voting itself (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

A bill before the state Legislature expanding online voter registration in New York City has taken on particular urgency amid the coronavirus pandemic, its sponsors say, as in-person voter registration drives become impossible and New Yorkers are told to avoid leaving their homes but for essentials and emergencies.

The New York City Board of Elections currently only allows an individual to register to vote online through the Department of Motor Vehicles website. But any potential voter must first have a DMV-approved identification. In New York City, at the end of 2018, 3.8 million people had driver’s licenses in the city, which has a population of over 8.5 million, though many are under voting age of course. Driver’s licensing rates tend to be higher in rural and suburban counties, compared to the city’s dense and transit-rich boroughs.

The New York City Council attempted to open up the voter registration process through legislation under which the city’s Campaign Finance Board created an online voter registration portal that was ready last year. But the Board of Elections imposed additional burdens on the process, making it even more onerous than registering by mail, amid contradictory opinions about whether the city had the authority to create such a portal.

A bill sponsored in the State Legislature by Senator Zellnor Myrie of Brooklyn and Assemblymember Michael Blake of the Bronx, both Democrats, would give the Campaign Finance Board the express permission to launch that portal. It has passed the Senate’s election committee, which Myrie chairs, but has not yet moved to a full chamber vote or anywhere in the Assembly. Both legislators say it is particularly important that it be approved as the coronavirus crisis brings the state to a virtual standstill.

“We need to find every possible way to make sure democracy stays intact,” said Blake, in a phone interview. “We need to make sure that people are able to exercise their democratic rights. And just because someone is unable to go outside and live their lives should not mean that democracy should stop.”

The pandemic has already led to upheaval in the state’s democratic processes. Two special elections in New York City, for a Brooklyn City Council seat and Queens Borough President, as well as the statewide presidential primary were all postponed to June 23 to coincide with the congressional and state legislative primaries. Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended ballot petitioning and reduced the threshold for getting on the ballot.

Along the lines of the online voter registration push, there are calls for expanding automatic absentee and mail-in voting.

“Moments such as this, the crisis and challenge should lead to us having creativity,” Blake said. He said he has been raising his bill as well as expanded voting measures with leaders in his chamber. “We don't know when this will end. So what we should be doing is doing everything possible to make sure people are part of the process. You're using your phone to get news updates, you're using your phones to check on your loved ones. You should be able to use your phones and laptops to be registered.”

The registration deadline for new voters to participate on June 23 is May 29, and the deadline for the November 3 general election is October 9.

In a statement, Senator Myrie said, “If there ever was a time to bring New York’s democracy into the 21st century, it’s now. While we know there are a lot of issues on the table right now, our commitment to this issue hasn’t changed and we will continue to work with our colleagues to get it done.”

The Legislature is doing modified, social-distance appropriate voting in Albany this week as legislators and Governor Cuomo attempt to finalize a state budget by the April 1 deadline of the new fiscal year. As usual, many policy issues are on the table as well as fiscal ones.

Myrie and Blake aren’t the only ones pushing for their bill to become law. Jessica Rosario, a 21-year-old junior at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, has launched an online petition calling on the governor and Legislature to approve the bill and is working with other youth activists to organize a virtual day of action. “We're supposed to be socially distant but I think that we could still be socially aware at the same time,” she said in a phone interview.

She noted that the only other means of registering if you don’t have a DMV identification is if you print out and mail a form to the Board of Elections. “I don't know about anyone else but I'm in Queens, and I don't really feel like it's safe to go out if you don't have to for food or medical purposes,” she said. “And not everyone has a printer. Not everyone has that access.”

“I feel like it's never been more important than right now for things to move digitally. We have education moving digitally, people working remotely. Why not create a digital space for democracy?”

If the bill should pass, the Campaign Finance Board would be able to launch its portal almost immediately. The bill would then become redundant in 2021, when the state Board of Elections is meant to launch a statewide registration 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. “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 NYC Campaign Finance Board's online registration system is a sensible, secure and timely alternative to paper applications and in-person registration efforts during this unprecedented public health crisis, “ said Luis Feliz Leon, a spokesperson for DemocracyNYC, a de Blasio initiative aimed at improving voter participation in the city. "We hope the City Board of Elections will work with the CFB to accept voter registrations submitted this way."

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note - this article has been updated with comment from a spokesperson for DemocracyNYC. 

Push for Online Voter Registration Bill as Coronavirus Prevents Registration Drives Mon, 30 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Pre-Registering 16- and 17-Year-Olds to Vote the Focus of Second Annual City ‘Civics Week’ voter reg day

The city focused on student voter registration (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

As fears of the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) mounted, but before Mayor Bill de Blasio made the monumental decision to close the city’s schools for at least five weeks, New York City government held its second annual Civics Week to encourage civic participation and voter registration among students.

After a new law passed last year to allow it, the city focused this year’s Civics Week on pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, beginning with such a voter registration drive for high school students at William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City, Queens, on Monday March 2.

While the city has made efforts for Student Voter Registration Day in the past and launched Civics Week to help correct some troubling trends both here and nationally, the new state law allowing voter pre-registration of those who will soon be voting age added a new element to the larger project.

Civics Week was introduced by de Blasio as a collaboration among his new DemocracyNYC initiative, the mayor’s Public Engagement Unit, and the Department of Education, according to Lindsay Acker, Field Director for DemocracyNYC and the Public Engagement Unit. The week is “dedicated to giving our students the tools they need to be active, productive participants not just in our economy, but in our democracy”, according to the DemocracyNYC website.

In a press release from May 2019, the City announced that during last Civics Week, 18,233 students were registered to vote. According to a March announcement from the mayor’s office launching this year’s Civics Week, “in just the past two years, DemocracyNYC, the Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit and the Department of Education registered nearly 30,000 students.”

This year’s Civics Week included a mass effort to register potential student-voters in high schools and colleges across the city. High schools are now a larger focus of the effort given the pre-registration law passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo last year. For those eligible to vote this year, their registration comes just in time to participate in the 2020 presidential election, not to mention other federal and state-level elections coming up in April and June primaries and the November general election. There’s also an election for Queens Borough President, where a special election was just cancelled, but a primary is set for June, with the general in November to select a replacement for the final year of what was now-District Attorney Melinda Katz’s term.

“Ahead of such a busy election year, we are proud to be empowering thousands of youth that will be 18 on Election Day. We are also excited to take the pre-registration law that went into effect this year and execute it on the ground,” said Acker.

“Our students are the future leaders of our City, and what we do now to empower them to vote will strengthen our democracy for years to come,” de Blasio said in a statement. “I encourage all students to register and show up at the polls on Election Day because their voice matters.”

According to the Civics Week announcement from the city, events throughout the week included “youth voter registration drives, participatory budgeting for their schools, public speaking competitions, and town halls on issues that matter to them and their communities.”

The New York City Department of Education also provided schools with curriculum resources for students grades K-12 to help them learn about civics and how to participate in a democracy.

The curriculum seeks to celebrate youth voice, encourage civic empowerment, and highlight the importance of registering to vote, according to the DOE. The DOE did not provide more detailed information on the curriculum when asked by Gotham Gazette.

“Understanding the importance of registering to vote starts so much earlier than 16, 17, 18,” said Brooke Wallace, New York program director at Generation Citizen, a nonprofit that runs “action civics” programming in schools in six states including New York. “It starts in middle school and even earlier to understand the importance and to understand all the powers of their voice and input at a young age, and how they can make a difference in their community civically.”

The curriculum seeks to put democracy into different contexts, allowing for students with different experiences to understand how they can use their voice in their own communities.

“At the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, we prioritize community empowerment because we know how critical education about your rights and exercising your voice through civic participation is to realizing a more inclusive, equitable, and just world for all of us,” said Bitta Mostofi, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, in a statement. “Through this Civics Week initiative, we are helping to prepare young New Yorkers from diverse families to fully participate in decisions that will impact their lives and their communities.”

According to the state bill that made 16- and 17-year-old pre-registration law, the lead sponsors of which were State Senator David Carlucci and Assemblymember Charles Lavine, “The age 16 is a sensible time for the DMV and high schools to collect information for voter pre-registration, as it is the time when a significant amount of people have their first interaction with the DMV, and it is an age where school is still compulsory in New York. Pre-registration allows this information to be collected at a convenient time for the individual rather than making them return to the boards of elections or a state agency when they reach eligible voting age.”

Wallace of Generation Citizen had the opportunity to sit in on a couple of the classroom sessions where teachers were implementing the civics curriculum provided by the city and was hopeful about what she saw.

“I saw that teachers were able to really customize and tailor the curriculum for their classroom, which I thought was really powerful and impactful. I thought that it was really well done the way that the DOE and DemocracyNYC provided a lesson as a guide for teachers, but then teachers were able to say, ‘Oh, I know my students are interested in X, Y, and Z,’ or ‘I need to do more framing and really make the lesson impactful and exciting,’” Wallace said.

According to Aker, the voter registration drive for Civics Week and representatives from DemocracyNYC and the Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit were in over 1,000 classrooms across all five boroughs throughout the week.

Officials are still going through forms that were submitted during voter registration to do quality control, so final numbers on students registered are not available yet, according to Luis Feliz Leon, communications director for DemocracyNYC.

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

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Pre-Registering 16- and 17-Year-Olds to Vote the Focus of Second Annual City ‘Civics Week’ Mon, 16 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Deadline for New York Voter Party Enrollment Change is Rapidly Approaching student voter reg

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

New York State voters who wish to cast their ballots in the upcoming April presidential primary and combined June congressional and state primary elections have until February 14 to enroll in the party of their choice.

New York holds closed primaries, where only voters registered with a party affiliation can vote for their party’s nominee to the general election. This system is designed to prevent so-called “party raiding,” where members of one party vote in another party’s primary elections to skew its results. But that also means that unaffiliated, sometimes called independent, voters without a party membership cannot vote in the primaries.

Many New Yorkers found that out the hard way in April 2016 when party-unaffiliated voters seeking to cast a ballot for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign complained of being turned away from the polls on primary day.

There were as many as 2.8 million independent registered voters in the state as of November 1, 2019, according to the latest State Board of Elections data; there were 6.5 million Democrats and 2.83 million Republicans statewide at the time as well.

Up until recently, New York also had one of the longest deadlines for changing party affiliation before being eligible to participate in the next party primary. Previously, registered voters without a party affiliation (or in a party they wanted to leave for another) who wanted to vote in the April 28, 2020 presidential primary would have had to file an application to change their enrollment by October 11, 2019. If they missed that deadline, their enrollment change would not have gone into effect till after the November 2020 general election, effectively shutting them out of the primary. But that was shifted to the February deadline, much to advocates’ approval.

Last year, the state Legislature under full Democratic control for the first time in a decade, took steps to correct the party-change deadline problem. A bill, signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in September, changed the enrollment deadline to February 14. Any enrollment changes and new enrollments filed before and on that day will take effect immediately, allowing people to vote in the April 28 presidential and June 23 congressional and state primaries.

This could allow many more New Yorkers a say in the competitive Democratic presidential primary, where the state’s April vote may or may not be important to crowning a victor in the crowded field. New York doesn’t vote until after many other states. But the changed deadline also gives more time for voters seeking to participate in what will be a long list of competitive Democratic or Republican legislative primaries come June.

“While the federal administration continues to look for new ways to disenfranchise voters across the country, in New York we are making monumental changes to break down more barriers to the ballot box and encourage more people to exercise this fundamental right,” Cuomo said in a statement when he signed the bill. “This measure will make it easier for New Yorkers to have their voices heard in presidential, congressional and state primaries, which builds upon the many reforms we've made to strengthen New York's election system and increase voter access once and for all.”

Subsequent party enrollment changes, filed between February 15 and June 30, will take effect on June 30, roughly a week after the congressional and state primary election.

New York voters can find relevant deadlines, forms, and processes at the State Board of Elections website registration page, and can check their current registration status, including party enrollment, via the BOE here.

Eligible New York voters who are not registered at all have until April 3 to register in order to participate in the April 28 presidential primary, and until May 29 to register to participate in the June 23 primaries.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Deadline for New York Voter Party Enrollment Change is Rapidly Approaching Fri, 31 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Decades of Voter Registration Data Shows Tall Task for New York GOP's New Chair party registr

(photo: @NewYorkGOP)

The number of registered Republican voters in New York has been in decline, but that’s not news to the New York Republican State Committee, or its new leader. Neither is the fact that Republicans haven’t won a statewide election in New York since 2002, and in 2018 the party lost its last stronghold of state-level power when the state Senate was flipped by Democrats.

As the New York GOP held its annual convention in Albany on July 1 and ushered in a new state party chair, Nicholas Langworthy of Erie County, Langworthy and other Republican leaders pledged “the comeback starts now.”

One plank of Langworthy’s plan, which he outlined as he sought to win the state chair position from Ed Cox over the past several months, was to increase Republican voter registration across the state, in part by redeveloping a party infrastructure in all 62 counties.

But the task in front of Langworthy is especially large, brought into stark relief not only by the statewide drought and the fact that Democrats didn’t simply take the state Senate, but control 40 of the chamber’s 63 seats, but also by the realities of the voter registration numbers in New York.

As of February 1, among total registered voters in New York, the state Board of Elections shows that there were 6,396,223 registered Democrats and 2,826,284 registered Republicans, along with 738,747 voters registered with any of the other parties in the state (Green, Working Families, Conservative, Independence, etc.), plus 2,734,508 “unaffiliated” voters who are registered to vote, but not with a political party. (All numbers reflect both active and inactive registered voters.)

A look at how the state got to this point, starting about 20 years ago when Republican Governor George Pataki was beginning his second of three terms, shows the task in front of Langworthy and other New York Republican leaders. Pataki is the last Republican to win statewide in New York, winning his third term in 2002 -- but even then, Republicans were well behind Democrats in terms of voter enrollment in New York.

2 republicans vs democratsSince 1999, the percentage of Republicans among New York’s registered voters has declined from 29 percent to 22 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of registered Democrats has increased from 47 percent to 50 percent.

According to state Board of Elections numbers from April 1999, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 4,999,541 to 3,078,574.

At that point, Republicans outnumbered unaffiliated voters by nearly 1 million; 3,078,574 to 2,138,100.

Twenty years later, as of February 1 of this year, nearly as many voters are registered as unaffiliated as there are Republicans; with 2,734,508 unaffiliateds and 2,826,284 Republicans.

And if combined with the 485,037 voters registered with the Independence Party – a fringe party often mistaken by those registering to vote who want to be “independent” or unaffiliated with a party – unaffiliated voters outnumbered Republicans in New York as of February.

Over the last two decades, New York state’s voter rolls have increased by over 2 million, even as the state’s population has only increased by around 600,000. But despite this influx of new voters, the Republican Party has lost a net 250,000 members, while Democrats have gained 1,396,682 voters and there are 596,408 more unaffiliateds.

1 partisan share

Langworthy, the committee’s incoming chair, said enrollment is the party’s greatest challenge. Stopping the decline and shrinking the gap with Democrats is one of his top goals as chair.

“We are going to go across this country and find the best practices on voter registration and bring them to this state of New York,” he said during a GOP news conference in Albany on May 21, when it was formally announced he would be the next chair of the party. “It has to be done. We're going to close this gap. It's something that's going to take everyone's help to do.”

Langworthy didn’t specify what practices the party would use to close the gap, but he did mention the importance of reaching out to different groups of voters, especially communities of color, as a means for increasing membership.

“I will personally along with members of our party, staff, and membership will go out there and recruit,” Langworthy told Gotham Gazette following a June 18 news conference calling on the resignation of Mayor Bill de Blasio due to his focus on his presidential campaign. “We're going to do heavy outreach in Latino organizations and Asian-American organizations and African-American organizations, bringing all of our coalition groups to let them know that they are welcome in the doors of the Republican Party.”

3 republicans vs independents

He added that his larger mission is for Republicans to start winning again, namely through the 2022 gubernatorial election, when Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, plans to seek a fourth term. 

“My mission and goal is to get us to the point where a Republican occupies the second floor of the state Capitol,” Langworthy said at the May news conference, referring to the location of the gubernatorial offices. “And that will be our mission critical to put the infrastructure in place across this state in order to win a statewide election and put the Republican Party back in the win column there for the first time since 2002.”

Langworthy’s predecessor, Cox, announced in a press release on May 20 that he would join President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign as part of the finance team, and congratulated Langworthy on becoming the next chair after the two had a hard-fought battle for county leader votes.

Cox echoed Langworthy’s vision for Republicans to become the winning party and said Trump can make that happen.

“I think this president can bring in those Democratic voters and realign the party system where the Republican Party will be the majority party in the United States,” Cox said at the May press conference.

by Caitlyn Rosen & Joey Fox

by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

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by Caitlyn Rosen, Gotham Gazette

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Decades of Voter Registration Data Shows Tall Task for New York GOP's New Chair Mon, 08 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000