Monthly Archives: May 2015

Sullivan County Second Home Owners Voting Rights Upheld

The Times Herald-Record reports that a “state appeals court on Thursday overturned a 2013 Sullivan County Supreme Court decision and ruled that the votes of 29 second-home owners in the western Sullivan hamlet of Lake Huntington should have been allowed.” A local town supervisor challenged the votes of Summer residents, arguing that they really resided in New York City. While the State Supreme Court agreed, an appeals court didn’t.

This case will likely have implications where Summer residents use their local residences for voting purposes and get more involved with local issues, especially where zoning and housing come into play.

A cop of the decision can be found here (with thanks to Commissioner Doug Kellner):

SullivanElections Decision

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More On District Populations, Voting & Eligible Voters (by Clyde Haberman via Steve Romalewski)

Earlier today, I posted a column on New York’s rotten borough legislative districts by our colleague Dr. Benjamin. Attorney Jerry Goldfeder posted a thoughtful comment. Following that, Steven Romalewski, director of the mapping service at the CUNY Graduate Center for Urban Research, added a 2012 New York Times article,  to further  look at  the gap that exists between those who live in some neighborhoods and those there who may vote. Clyde Haberman’s informative  2012 column can be found here.

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Prof. Gerald Benjamin: New York’s Rotten Boroughs, and Fixing Them

As the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to hear Evenwel et al v. Abbott et al, (Case 14-940) we want to share thoughts on district populations and voting in New York with readers. Evenwel  addresses whether a three-judge district court correctly held that the “one-person, one-vote” principle under the Equal Protection Clause allows States to use total population, and does not require States to use voter population, when apportioning state legislative districts. Our colleague Professor Gerry Benjamin provided NY Election News with a column he published last year focused on giving Assembly districts  with fewer actual voters far more representation in the Assembly than places with far more actual voters.

New York’s Rotten Boroughs, and Fixing Them

by Gerald Benjamin*

What would you say if I told you that in voters in some assembly districts downstate had four times the representation as those in one upstate district? Let me predict. “No. Not possible even in the gerrymandered New York State legislature. It’s against the constitution.”

Yet here are the actual numbers of votes cast for five assembly seats for 2012, with their locations and the names and political parties of those who won election in them:

AD 49 (Brooklyn) – Peter Abbate (D)        13,537

AD 39 – (Brooklyn) – William Colton (D)   14663

AD 47 – (Queens) Francisco Moya (D)      19,312

AD40 – (Queens) Ron Kim (D)                        19870

Four AD Total –                                                        67,382

AD – 135 (Monroe) Mark Johns (R)             68,267

For centuries in British politics, rotten boroughs were de-populated districts that sent representatives to parliament, leading to unfair representation. Modern rotten boroughs in New York are places with fewer actual voters that send representatives to the State Assembly, leading to unfair representation. Assembly districts 39, 40, 47 and 49, some of New York’s modern rotten boroughs, all are on Brooklyn and Queens. Assembly District 135 is in western New York, in suburban Rochester; voters there have one quarter the representation of those in these four downstate districts.

Of course, legislative districts are designed to have more-or-less equal voting age populations to meet federal constitutional requirements. But downstate rotten boroughs consistently have far few actual voters.   Thus the ironic effect of one-person-one-vote – decided by the U.S. Supreme Court a half century ago to undo entrenched biases in representation against more heavily populated areas – is to give places with fewer actual voters far more representation in the Assembly than place with far more actual voters.

This is no anomaly. In 2010, with the gubernatorial election at the top of the ticket, the number of voters in the election for one upstate Assembly seat exceeded the total for five seats in the city. The ratios are different in bigger Senate districts, but the pattern is the same: over representation of New York City voters when compared to those upstate.

New York State is widely regarding as having a voter turnout problem; our state ranked 44th in the nation in voting participation in the 2012 presidential election. But our research shows that voter non- participation in New York is mostly an urban problem; the more populous the county, the lower the turnout. One reason for low rotten borough turnout is that lots more people in New York City than upstate are not citizens or otherwise ineligible to vote. Yet even accounting for the lower numbers of those eligible, downstate urban turnout is far lower than rural and suburban turnout upstate.

Not incidentally, downstate rotten boroughs are also not competitive. William Colton had no opponent at all; Peter Abate faced no Republican, and got 95% of the vote. Francisco Moya ad Ron Kim won by margins of 49 and 36 percentage points, respectively. In contrast, Republican Mark Johns, facing former Democrat incumbent David Koon in a rematch in 2012, again won by a vote of 51% to 49%.

Politicians in competitive districts are motivated to bring voters out. Not so in non-competitive districts, where it is entirely comfortable to leave well enough alone.

Downstaters hold sway in statewide politics in New York, either Democrats based in New York City or Republicans with appeal in suburban counties. The last person elected governor from north and west of Albany was Nathan Miller in 1920, almost a century ago. Legislative rotten boroughs reinforce this downstate dominance.

Federal courts have found to be constitutional voting systems for local governments that emphasize representation of citizens who actually vote. For example, the cumulative voting method now used in Port Chester produces a village board that reflects the demographic, geographic, partisan and ideological diversity of the community. It allows each voter the number of votes equal to the number of positions to be filled; he or she can use all of these on one candidate, or distribute them among the candidates.

It is unlikely that we will elect ever our state assembly without using single member districts. And if we use districts, using population to design them is entrenched. But maybe after members are elected, each one should have his or her vote in the Assembly itself weighted based on the actual vote cast in the Assembly district. That way, those with higher vote totals in their district would have added influence in state decision making, while members elected from rotten boroughs would have some incentive to encourage more potential voters in their districts to actually vote – to protect or enhance their own power in the body.                                                                                     #

  • Gerald Benjamin is Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Research Regional Engagement and Outreach at SUNY New Paltz. Research assistance for this essay was provided by Terence Gagstetter, CRREO Intern, SUNY New Paltz

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Bronx DA Indicts Former Assembly Candidate Hector Ramirez

The Bronx Chronicle Reports that “Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson arrested former Assembly candidate Hector Ramirez along with another individual, Ana Cuevas. They were arraigned, entered pleas of not guilty, and were released on personal recognizance bonds of $25,000 and $10,000, respectively, on Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Ramirez was represented by attorney Angel Cruz and Ms. Cuevas was represented by Larry Sheehan.

The charges are related to the 2014 race in the 86th AD where Ramirez was accused of election fraud involving absentee ballots. Ramirez was narrowly defeated by the incumbent Assemblyman Victor Pichard. Pichardo won 86th Assembly District Democratic primary in a Bronx Board of Elections supervised manual recount by TWO votes over two-time challenger Hector Ramirez.”

The indictment is here:

NYS Board Of Elections CoChair Doug Kellner comments on this development:

(1)  The alleged absentee ballot fraud that is the subject of the indictment came to light because the contest was so close that there was extraordinary scrutiny of each absentee ballot application. I have a hard time believing that this type of ballot fraud is unique to New York and is not more common than thought in jurisdictions that have a much higher percentage of vote-by-mail ballots.

(2)  Unrelated to the fraud allegations, this contest was significant because it was only the second time in New York history where a manual hand count of all of the ballots changed the outcome of the contest after the machine count had been canvassed.  In this 2014 Democratic Primary for Member of Assembly in the 86th Assembly District in Bronx County, there were 4158 ballots cast.  After the canvass of absentee, military and affidavit ballots, and the recanvass of the machine results, Hector Ramirez was leading by six votes.  The New York City Board conducted a manual count in accordance with § 4-14.1 of its Canvass Procedures, which requires a hand count where the margin is less than 0.5%. Based on the manual count, Victor Pichardo was declared the winner by a final vote of 1888 to 1886.

In both cases, the ES&S DS200 machines functioned properly, but there were ballots with marks outside of the voting target that affected the interpretation of the ballot according to New York’s rules regarding voter intent.

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Dan Janison: Why Reform Efforts Fall Short In New York

Newsday’s Dan Janison discusses why an endless string of criminal cases against New York elected officials spurs reform efforts and why many of them fail. At the top of his list was the effort to change the way judges are nominated, citing a lawsuit challenging the judicial nominating process. In a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision, the current scheme of nominating conventions was upheld, holding that party conventions have long been a “accepted manner of selecting party candidates.”

In a concurring opinion with that decision, Justice John Paul Stevens quoted the late Justice Thurgood Marshall’s line ” the Constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws.” No comment.

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Supreme Court To Hear One Person, One Vote Challenge

The  U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from a three judge court in Evenwel v. Abbott, a one-person, one vote case involving the counting of non-citizens in the creation of electoral districts. Rick Hasen provides an excellent overview of the case at his

This case could have implications in New York. Depending on how the Court considers and decides this case, New York’s 2010  prisoner reallocation law could be at risk. That law required the removal of state prisoners from prison addresses and reallocated them, whenever possible, to their home census block address prior to incarceration.

Evenwel won’t be heard until sometime later this year (or early next year) and there is no immediate impact. Nationally, anything can happen.

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A Look Back: New York in the 1980s

New York Election News-Redistricting, Census 2020 & Election Law

A congressional district population trend map showing changes by district during the 1980s surfaced today. This circa 1986 map was produced by redistricting expert Kim Brace and caught the attention of Members of Congress looking to the 1990 census in every way.

You can see it here:

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