As part of its comprehensive 2016 legislative priorities report book presented to the state legislature yesterday, the NYC Council recommends the following proposals to the state legislature:
New York City Council Election Reform Priorities
VOTER EMPOWERMENT ACT OF NEW YORK (A5972) The City Council supports legislation to streamline the voter registration process. The Voter Empowerment Act would create automatic voter registration of eligible consenting citizens at designated government agencies; institute online registration and online access to registration records; permit the pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds; permit automatic transfers of registration of New Yorkers who move within the State; and move the deadlines for registration and party enrollment closer to the date of the election. The abovementioned reforms would make voter registration significantly more convenient for New Yorkers and increase their chances of participating in elections. CONSOLIDATE FEDERAL & STATE PRIMARY ELECTIONS The 2009 Military Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act requires that absentee ballots for uniformed service members and U.S. citizens residing outside the United States be mailed no later than 45 days before a federal election. While New York is in compliance with the MOVE Act for 25 federal elections, state election law does not currently meet these requirements. By stipulating that primary elections for state and local offices shall be held in September, current state election law potentially disenfranchises overseas and military voters and forces local boards of election to administer multiple primary elections, which depresses voter turnout and costs local governments millions of dollars in unnecessary costs. Therefore, City Council urges the State Legislature to enact legislation consolidating primary elections for federal, state, and local offices in the month of June, thus protecting the franchise for our men and women in uniform and American citizens living abroad.
INSTANT RUNOFF ELECTIONS (A5571) The City Council calls upon the State Legislature to pass legislation that would create an instant runoff voting system for citywide primary elections. The 2013 municipal election cycle contained three election dates: the primary election on September 10th, the runoff election on October 1st, and the general election on November 5th. The runoff election was required under state law, which requires a runoff primary election for a citywide elected office when no candidate for that office receives 40 percent of the vote. Because no Democratic candidate for Public Advocate received more than 40 percent of the vote, a runoff election was held at a cost of $13 million – more than the cumulative budget of the Public Advocate’s office over 4 years. Moreover, the possibility of a runoff election for any office that year led to the use of lever voting machines during the primaries out of concern that the NYC Board of Elections would not have enough turnaround time to use the electronic scanners. An alternative to this wasteful use of resources would be to institute instant runoff voting, whereby voters rank candidates for office in the order of their preference rather than casting a ballot for a single candidate. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate who receives the fewest votes is eliminated and those ballots are counted as votes for the candidate ranked second. If no candidate has a majority at that point, the process continues until a candidate has a majority of votes. This system would eliminate the need for a separate runoff election and has been endorsed by many good-government groups as more efficient and democratic.
EARLY VOTING (A8582A/S3813B) The City Council urges the State Legislature to pass legislation establishing early voting in New York State. During the last several presidential elections, many polling sites across New York City were plagued by long lines and other irregularities, resulting in the disenfranchisement of voters who left their poll sites without voting. The reason for many of these irregularities is that presidential elections have a significantly higher turnout than other elections, causing poll sites to become overwhelmed. One of the most often cited recommendations to deal with this issue is to establish early voting, since doing so would reduce the number of people voting on election day, thereby reducing overcrowding. In states that have early voting, as many as 50 to 60 percent of voters have chosen to vote early, thus helping to avoid many of the problems experienced by our own city during high-turnout elections.
CLOSE NEW YORK STATE’S LLC LOOPHOLE FOR CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS Pursuant to a 1996 opinion of the NYS Board of Elections, limited liability corporations (LLCs) are – for the purposes of campaign contributions – treated like individuals and thus allowed to contribute more than 12 times more to political campaigns than their corporate and partnership counterparts. This loophole reduces the effectiveness of the State’s campaign finance laws. The City Council 26 supports efforts to close this loophole, thereby strengthening the State’s campaign finance system and creating a more fair and transparent election system.
STATE LEVEL PUBLIC CAMPAIGN FINANCE The current New York State campaign contribution limit for an individual giving to a candidate running in a primary and general election for statewide office is up to $65,100, and between $8,800 and $18,000 for a candidate running for state legislative office, as compared to $5,400 for a candidate running for federal office. The New York State contribution limit for direct corporate contributions to candidates is $5,000, as compared to an absolute ban on such contributions under New York City and federal law. New York State’s current contribution limits, combined with the lack of a public campaign financing system, have the potential to hinder electoral competition and increase the risk or appearance of corruption by allowing wealthy individuals and corporations to spend large amounts to fund political campaigns. Public campaign financing provides candidates with resources to run competitive races, improves election transparency through more stringent disclosure requirements, and reduces the risk of corruption and the appearance of impropriety by decreasing the potential for undue influence from wealthy contributors. The City Council urges the State Legislature to establish a public campaign finance system for state elections.
SAME-DAY VOTER REGISTRATION (A5891/S2391) New York State consistently has one of the lowest voter turnout rates, ranking 49th among states in the 2014 midterm elections. Among other obstacles, missing registration deadlines can cause potential voters to lose their opportunity to vote. Evidence shows that same-day voter registration, already enacted by 15 states and the District of Columbia, increases voter turnout. For example, 4 of the top 5 states for voter turnout for the 2012 presidential election had same-day registration. Furthermore, from 1980 to 2012 the average turnout rate for presidential elections in states with same-day registration was 10.3 percent higher than that of states with registration deadlines. The City Council supports enacting same-day registration in New York to increase voter participation.
NO-EXCUSE ABSENTEE VOTING A 2010 U.S. Census Bureau survey cited “no time off/too busy” as the most common reason for not voting. Currently, New York State limits voting by absentee ballot to a small group of voters who are unable to vote on Election Day: those who will be out of town, ill, disabled, detained in jail or hospital, or have primary caretaker responsibilities of someone who is disabled. Allowing no-excuse absentee voting would increase voter participation by creating a voting period of more than one day and the convenience of voting from home. Therefore, the City Council supports allowing no-excuse absentee voting.
A copy of the complete report, provided by Politico NY, can be accessed at: