Saratoga Springs: Charter Change Recount Loses Court Battle

In the Times Union,  Wendy Liberatore reports “(a) bid to recount the votes cast in the city’s referendum on charter change has failed.

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Nolan ruled on Feb. 6 that “the petitioner presents no facts to support or justify” a recount of the November 2017 vote because there is no law that requires the Saratoga County Board of Elections to do so when the vote margin is slim.

Gordon Boyd, a member of the now defunct Charter Review Commission, was looking for a recount after the proposal to update the city’s 100-year-old commission form of government was defeated by 10 votes.”

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Mayor Wants City Charter Revision to Tackle Campaign Finance; Census 2020 On Agenda

William Neuman in the NY Times writes: “Mayor Bill de Blasio will use the first State of the City address of his second term to announce a plan to change the City Charter as a way to improve the city’s campaign finance system.

Mr. de Blasio, who was plagued during his first term by ethical questions over his political fund-raising and the favors he did for deep-pocketed donors, will announce his plan on Tuesday night in his annual address, according to his press secretary, Eric F. Phillips.”

The Mayor is also expected to announce plans for Census 2020 outreach efforts.

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Heastie: Moving State Primary From Sept. 11 Likely

Nick Reisman reports in NY State of Politics: ” (t)he Legislature is likely to once again move the state and local primary day from Sept. 11, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Monday.

Lawmakers have in previous years moved the state primary to the Thursday of that week when it falls on the anniversary of the terror attacks. This year, Sept. 11 is also the final day of Rosh Hashanah this year.”

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Schneiderman Leads Coalition of 19 AGs Opposing Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

Press release:

Citizenship Question Would Directly Threaten States’ Fair Representation in Congress and Electoral College, Billions in Critical Federal Funding, By Undermining Census Participation among Immigrants – Causing Population Undercounts in State and Cities with Large Immigrant Communities, Like New York

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, leading a coalition of 19 Attorneys General and the State of Colorado, today urged the U.S. Department of Commerce to reject the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 decennial Census, which would directly threaten states’ fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College, as well as billions of dollars in critical federal funds for programs like Medicaid.

Under the Constitution, the Census Bureau has an obligation to determine “the whole number of persons in each state.” Yet the addition of a citizenship question to the Census is expected to depress participation among immigrants, causing a population undercount that would disproportionately harm states and cities with large immigrant communities. Non-citizens are counted in the Census for the purposes of federal funds, apportioning of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, and the drawing of state and local districts.

“Fair representation is at the heart of our democracy. Yet DOJ’s effort to add a citizenship question to our Census directly targets state like New York that have large, thriving immigrant populations – threatening our representation in Congress and the Electoral College and billions of dollars in federal funds on which New Yorkers rely,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “With fear on the rise in immigrant communities, it’s no surprise that many families would be frightened to participate in a Census that asked about citizenship. Our coalition will continue to fight back against these sorts of draconian polices that seek to punish states like New York that embrace and celebrate our diversity.”

The letter was led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and signed by the Attorneys General of New York, Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, and the Governor of the State of Colorado. The letter is available here.

On December 12, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau include a citizenship question on the 2020 census form sent to every household in the United States, even though the Census is supposed to count all persons—citizens and non-citizens alike. The Department of Justice argued that the collection of such information was necessary to ensure proper enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Yet as the Attorneys General explain in today’s letter, the Justice Department’s proposal would have precisely the opposite effect by driving down participation in immigrant communities—a concern that is even more acute in today’s political climate. The resulting undercount would deprive immigrant communities of fair representation when legislative seats are apportioned and district lines are drawn.

To the extent that the Voting Rights Act requires a calculation of the number of eligible voters in a given jurisdiction, the Census Bureau provides an adequate—and far less intrusive—source of citizenship information based on sampling, including the American Community Survey.

The letter emphasizes the irreparable harm that will result from inaccuracies in the 2020 Census caused by the inclusion of a citizenship question. The decennial census is used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives, and to determine the total number of delegates each state receives in the Electoral College. As a result, an undercount of population in states that are home to large immigrant communities will impair fair representation, a principle fundamental to the fabric of our democracy. In addition, hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds are directly tied to demographic information obtained through the census, including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and Title I funding for local educational agencies. Consequently, inaccurate counts can potentially deprive states of much-needed funds designed to protect low-income and vulnerable communities.

The letter also explains that the threat to the accuracy of the 2020 Census is magnified by the extreme lateness of the Justice Department’s proposal. The Census Bureau is considering the addition of a citizenship question only three months before it is required to send a list of final questions to Congress. This short timeframe is not nearly enough to adequately test the full impact of the citizenship question, as required by the Census Bureau’s standards on data collection. These concerns are heightened by the Bureau’s already precarious fiscal position. The Bureau is dramatically underfunded, and the additional of a citizenship question would significantly increase the overall cost of completing the Census.

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Jeff Wice On Redistricting In the New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Furtive Artists of Power Politics: Mapmakers” (news article, Jan. 30):

Never before have so many states faced court challenges to redistricting plans based on the 2010 census as we have before the courts today this late in the decade. While states will always retain experts to redraw legislative maps, fair, objective and prioritized rules can help limit partisan and racial gerrymandering.

The New York City Charter provides a strong model for redrawing city council districts by keeping like-minded communities together; avoiding bizarrely shaped districts; and making sure that travel within the district is convenient without having to cross into another district.

No legal court challenges were brought to plans enacted by the city after the 2003 and 2013 City Council redistricting cycles partly as a result of a methodological process that balanced the law with community concerns. It’s not that difficult a task for others to follow to avoid litigation.

JEFFREY M. WICE, NEW YORK

The writer is a fellow at the Rockefeller Institute of Government. He served as redistricting counsel to two New York City Council redistricting commissions and to both chambers in the New York Legislature.

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Governor Announces Funding For Early Voting in His 30-Day Budget Amendments

From a Governor’s press release:

Every New York County Will Offer Early Voting in 12 Days Leading Up to Election Day

Part of Governor’s Democracy Agenda to Strengthen the Electoral Process and Ensure All New Yorkers Have the Opportunity to Be Heard at the Ballot Box

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a 30-day budget amendment will be advanced to fund voting reforms, including early voting across the state. This action will provide approximately $7 million in the FY 2019 Executive Budget for New York counties to offer early voting in the 12 days leading up to Election Day.

 “Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, and no one should have to choose between exercising their sacred right to vote and going to work, school or personal commitments,” Governor Cuomo said. “By offering early voting across the state, we are further breaking down barriers to democracy and helping to ensure that all New Yorkers’ voices are heard.”

To make it easier for New Yorkers to vote, Governor Cuomo is advancing legislation to institute early voting in the State. The legislation will require every county to offer residents access to at least one early voting poll site during the 12 days leading up to Election Day. Voters will have at least eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends to cast early ballots. Counties must have one early voting poll site for every 50,000 residents and the bipartisan County Boards of Elections will determine the specific location of early voting polling places, subject to standards of accessibility and convenience.

This action is part of Governor Cuomo’s Democracy Agenda – a bold set of reforms to ensure elections remain free and transparent and to modernize New York’s antiquated voting system.

Under current law, New York is one of only 13 states where early voting is not available and an excuse is required to request an absentee ballot. New Yorkers can vote via absentee ballot only if the voter meets certain qualifications such as being absent from his or her county on Election Day or being unable to get to the polls due to a disability.

Research shows that work, school, and personal commitments can prevent voters from participating in United States elections. Early voting would ameliorate these inhibitors and lead to shorter lines on Election Day, early detection and correction of registration errors and greater access to voting. Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia already allow voters to cast ballots in person before Election Day. 

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Citizens Union Calls for Special Election Reforn

Press release:

Citizens Union is pleased the needed special election to fill 11 seats in the State Legislature has been scheduled by Governor Cuomo. We maintain that critical reforms need to be put into place, especially since special elections have the lowest voter turnout rates of any elections in New York. New Yorkers are both unable to participate in the process of nominating special election candidates and are not turning out to essentially ratify the choices of party leaders.

Special elections for state legislators are called at the discretion of the Governor. This year he chose to delay holding special elections for the 11 empty seats until after the budget season, leaving several districts without representation during a critical time in the legislative session.

Last year Citizens Union released an update to its report Circumventing Democracy, which found that at least 29 percent (61 members) of all 213 legislators seated in 2017 were first elected in a special election, up 6 percentage points from 2015. In the New York State Assembly, one-third of the entire body, or 49 of 150 legislators, were first elected in a special election. In the New York State Senate, 19 percent, or 12 of 63, of its members were first elected in a special election. Party leaders select the candidate of their choosing for special elections behind closed doors, circumventing primaries that are open to everyday registered party members, and denying them the ability to elect their party’s nominee.

Citizens Union urges the New York State Legislature and Governor to prioritize one of the following reforms to open up the process to voters of selecting the candidates that will fill vacancies in the State Legislature:

  • Holding a party primary election at least thirty days in advance of the special election, or
  • Holding one non-partisan special election along the lines of the current process for filling vacancies in the New York City Council in which the ballot is open to all who can petition on to it.

Resource: Circumventing Democracy: The Flawed System for Filling Vacancies for Elected Office in New York

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