IDC Campaign Account Ruled Illegal By State Supreme Court

From Thursday’s news, David Lombardo reported in the Times Union “(a) fundraising agreement between a statewide third party and the state Senate’s now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference has been deemed invalid by a state Supreme Court justice.

The 2016 arrangement with the Independence Party boosted then-IDC Leader Jeff Klein’s ability to raise and spend campaign money, as the new account was able to accept six-figure campaign donations and transfer unlimited amounts to candidates. The increased fundraising muscle was flexed in 2016 and had been expected to play a pivotal role in September, when the eight former members of the conference may face Democratic primaries.”



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50 Years Later: Remembering Robert F. Kennedy And The Continued Fight For Equal Representation

By Jeffrey M. Wice

It’s now been fifty years since our nation lost Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He was a leader on so many important issues — from human rights and peace, to hunger and poverty in America. As we approach the 2020 Census and the next round of redistricting of Congress and state legislatures, it is worth reflecting on the role Kennedy played in fair districting. It mattered in Kennedy’s time and it matters today.

Drawing electoral lines for political representation purposes has long given rise to controversy in the United States, from criticism of oddly shaped districts for partisan purposes (often referred to as “gerrymandering”), to drawing lines that favor rural over urban constituencies. While fairness in voting goes to the heart of democratic representation, for decades state legislatures largely were given free rein over mapping decisions without oversight from the judiciary.

For example, in 1946, the United States Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Illinois’s congressional districts after a Northwestern University professor alleged they were malapportioned. In Colegrove v. Green, Justice Felix Frankfurter opined, “Courts ought not to enter this political thicket. The remedy for unfairness in districting is to secure State legislatures that will apportion properly, or to invoke the ample powers of Congress,” 328 U.S.549, 556 (1946).

It wasn’t until 1962 that the Supreme Court reversed its direction in Baker v. Carr. In the Baker decision, authored by Justice William J. Brennan, the Court found that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause warranted judicial review of electoral district line drawing. According to Brennan’s reasoning, each vote cast in an election should be given approximately equal weight, 369 U.S. 186 (1962).

In the early 1960s the Kennedy administration supported judicial intervention to remedy malapportioned districts. When the Supreme Court agreed to hear Gray v. Sanders, a constitutional challenge to Georgia’s county-based primary system that favored rural areas, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy chose it as the one case he would argue before the Court.

Gray v. Sanders focused on the state’s use of a county-unit vote-counting system for primary elections. Candidates receiving the highest number of votes would receive all of the county’s unit votes. To win, a candidate would have to receive a majority of the county unit votes statewide. Rural counties usually came out ahead even though they comprised only one-third of the state’s population at the time. Plaintiff James O’Hear Sanders, who lived in a largely populated county, argued that the county unit rule gave his vote less weight.


At oral argument in the United States Supreme Court on January 17, 1963, Kennedy was accompanied by several family members, but reportedly had no counsel seated with him and only a handful of talking points. Kennedy went straight to the importance of weighing votes, pointing out, “We used to have, and I repeat used to have, a saying in my City of Boston which was vote early and vote often.” In explaining what was at stake in Grey, he continued, “If you live in one of the small counties in the State of Georgia, all you have to do is vote early and you accomplish the same result.” In short, whether it’s voting twice, or having your one vote worth two votes, the perverse impact on equal representation is the same.

The Justice Department’s position that Georgia’s scheme violated equal representation prevailed in the Court. Writing for an eight-justice majority, Justice William O. Douglas stated:

Once the geographical unit for which a representative is to be chosen is designated, all who participate in the election are to have an equal vote — whatever their race, whatever their sex, whatever their occupation, whatever their income, and wherever their home may be in that geographical unit. This is required by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, 372 U.S. 368, 379 (1963).

It is significant that the attorney general of the United States chose to make an equal protection case his only argument before the Supreme Court when these cases were in their nascent stages. Later, as New York’s junior senator, Kennedy opposed a constitutional amendment to overturn Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court decision requiring that state legislative districts must be generally equal in population.

On the heels of Gray, the Court rendered key decisions in a series of landmark cases. In Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 553 (1964), Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S.1 (1964), and Avery v. Midland County, 390 U.S. 474 (1968), respectively, the Court held that both chambers of state legislatures, congressional districts, and local legislative bodies had to be apportioned on an equal population basis.

During the 1980s, the Supreme Court took up cases that dealt with racial and partisan gerrymandering. It set standards for Voting Rights Act compliance in Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986), by creating standards to determine when minority vote dilution occurs. In Davis v. Bandemer, 478 U.S. 109 (1986), the Court opened the door to judicial review of partisan gerrymandering claims, finding them justiciable, but upheld the Indiana districting at issue on the grounds that it was not “sufficiently adverse” to violate the Equal Protection Clause.

Today, the Court is being asked to go further in ensuring equal representation, including by setting a new standard limiting partisan “gerrymandering.” In addition to making many districts noncompetitive by drawing lines to favor one political party over another, gerrymandering has been cited as a factor in less bipartisan cooperation and greater gridlock in legislative bodies, Gil v. Whitford (No.16-1161), Benisek v. Lamone (No. 17-333).

Looking back fifty years after Kennedy’s death, we are left to wonder what might have been different had he lived and been elected president. There are so many “what ifs” that can’t be answered. But we can take a moment to reflect on how Robert F. Kennedy chose to make the fair representation in Gray his fight before the Supreme Court so long ago, how far our nation has come in addressing the matter, and how much further our nation has to go toward achieving the goal.



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Senate Elections Committee Meets Monday, June 4

Room 805 LOB

1:00 PM to 1:00 PM

Meeting Agenda


Enacts the “tax returns uniformly made public act”

SPONSOR Brad Hoylman

Enacts the voter empowerment act of New York

SPONSOR Michael Gianaris

Requires propositions authorizing creation of a state debt to contain an estimate of the debt service payable and publish an explana…

Provides that absentee ballots for all elections shall be made available in Braille, upon request of a blind or visually impaired voter


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Governor Cuomo and State Board Of Elections Announce Regional Exercises To Strengthen Cybersecurity Of NY’s Election Infrastructure

Press release:

First-of-Its-Kind Tabletop Exercise Sponsored by State Board of Elections and U.S. Department of Homeland Security; in Partnership with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, State Police, and State Intelligence Center


Series of Regional Exercises Statewide Will Focus on Cybersecurity Preparedness and Response to Threats to Election Systems



Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the State Board of Elections—in concert with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security—will host a first-of-its-kind series of tabletop exercises focused on protecting the integrity of New York’s electoral systems against cyber-attacks. Partnering with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, State Police, and State Intelligence Center, the tabletop exercises will identify areas for improvement in cyber incident planning, preparedness, and response through simulation of realistic scenarios attempting to undermine voter confidence, interfere with voting operations, and affect the integrity of elections.


“We have witnessed firsthand the devastating consequences a compromised election has had on our nation and New York will not stand idle and allow our democracy to be infiltrated once again,” Governor Cuomo said. “The people of New York deserve an open, transparent election process they can trust, and these exercises are an integral part of restoring voter confidence and the integrity of our election infrastructure.”


State and local officials, led by the State Board of Elections and new DHSES Cyber Incident Response Team, will utilize information gleaned from six regional tabletop exercises with state, local, and federal stakeholders to identify risks and develop necessary steps to safeguard the election process against a cyber-attack. Exercise dates and locations are below:


  • May 31: Albany County – Times Union Center
  • June 6: Monroe County – Board of Elections
  • June 7: Onondaga County – Syracuse University, Dineen Hall
  • June 11: Nassau County – Morrelly Homeland Security Center
  • June 12: Orange County – County Department of Emergency Services
  • June 18: Broome County – Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena


The regional tabletop exercises will cover all of New York’s county election jurisdictions. The exercises will be substantively similar, with several scenarios contoured for each region. The scenarios will be based on a combination of real world events and potential risks facing our election infrastructure. This includes possible social media manipulation, disruption of voter registration information systems and processes, voting machines, and the exploitation of board of elections business networks.


These tabletop exercises are part of the Board’s cybersecurity plan that was approved on May 3, 2018, to further strengthen cyber protections for New York’s elections infrastructure through the Board’s Secure Elections Center. The plan, dubbed ARMOR has four elements: 


  • Assess the risk to State and County Elections Systems;
  • Remediate the vulnerabilities;
  • Monitor ongoing Operations; and 
  • Respond to incidents.


Senator Fred Akshar, Chair of the Senate Elections Committee said, “These exercises demonstrate the State’s commitment to protect New York’s voters and ensure New York State continues to take precautionary measures to safeguard our voting systems. State, local and federal partners are actively collaborating to protect and assure the resiliency of New York’s elections infrastructure.”


Assemblyman Charles Lavine, Chair of the Assembly Election Law Committee said, “New York State has a responsibility to ensure those entitled to vote can remain confident in the integrity of New York’s election systems.  Working together with our partners, we will continue to strengthen and secure the cyber environment in New York and ensure public trust in the voting process.”


Todd D. Valentine, Co-Executive Director of the State Board of Elections said, “So far there have been no credible reports of disruptions in our electoral systems, but we cannot be complacent.  We have worked diligently since 2016 to develop a robust plan and these tabletop exercises are a vital part of sharing information with state and local officials.”


Robert A. Brehm, Co-Executive Director of the State Board of Elections said, “From some of the most stringent security protocols in the nation for voting systems to taking steps to meet the challenges that cyber threats pose, the Board welcomes this opportunity to build upon its already strong relationships with local, state & federal partners to best position itself to protect the election infrastructure of the state.”


Dr. Peter Bloniarz, Executive Director of the New York State Cyber Security Advisory Board said, “Cyber security is an “all hands on deck” effort that takes teamwork and partnership between all levels of government.  Under Governor Cuomo’s direction, his administration has worked collaboratively with State and County Boards of Elections and federal authorities to prepare to meet today’s cyber threats.  Lessons learned from these tabletop exercises will help New York continue to be vigilant in protecting its election infrastructure.” 


Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Roger L. Parrino, Sr. said, “When citizens walk into the voting booth, they want to know that their vote counts. It is the duty of the government to ensure that every vote and voter is secure, the process works, and the system is protected from outside influence.”


State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II said, “In America, voting is one of our most cherished rights. The State Police and our agency partners within New York State recognize that it is important to protect the sanctity and integrity of that privilege.  As threats to our Cybersecurity become more plausible, collaboratively we need to be proactive in protecting that infrastructure. By bringing everyone to the table, these exercises will better prepare us to respond to such attacks. More importantly, by working together, we can help to prevent these types of attacks on our cyber systems.”


Bob Kolasky, Acting Deputy Under Secretary of the National Protections and Programs Directorate at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said, “These exercises show the seriousness with which federal, state and local officials take the threat to election infrastructure, and the level of cooperation taking place to address it. State and local officials in New York have taken a number of steps to improve the security of their elections, and the Department of Homeland Security stands ready to support their efforts through exercises, information sharing, and by providing our technical cyber analysis and expertise.  We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure the security and integrity of future elections in New York.”


Matthew Masterson, Senior Cybersecurity Advisor at DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate said, “The Department of Homeland Security values our partnership with New York State as we work together to improve the security of the election process. Today’s training is just one example of the New York State Board of Elections commitment to the process to secure elections against cyber and other threats. We will continue to support the Board of Elections’ work to ensure the election process is secure and the residents of New York votes count.”


These exercises align with initiatives announced in Governor Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State address, which includes a four-pronged approach shared by the State Board of Elections to further strengthen cyber protections for New York’s elections infrastructure:


  • Create an Election Support Center;
  • Develop an Elections Cyber Security Support Toolkit;
  • Provide Cyber Risk Vulnerability Assessments and Support for County Boards of Elections; and
  • Require Counties to Report Data Breaches to State Authorities 


Although the tabletop exercises will not be open to the public, there will be limited press availability before each event. For more information, contact John Conklin or Cheryl Couser in the New York State Board of Elections Public Information Office at (518) 474-1953 or; or Kristin Devoe at the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services:



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Breaking News: Election Petition Witness-Residency Rule Requirement Held Unconstitutional

In a breaking development, US Magistrate Steven Gold has held that the witness-residency requirement of Election Law § 6-140(1)(b) is unconstitutional. A copy of the decision can be read here: 61 Memorandum and order

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Progressives Draft Convention Resolution To Allow Unaffiliated Voters In Democratic Primary

In an April 25 Gotham Gazette posting, Samar Khurshid reported “a group of progressive activists is pushing for the state party to change its rules and open up the primary to unaffiliated voters.

New York Progressive Action Network, a grassroots coalition affiliated with Our Revolution, which grew out of Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, is drafting a resolution that its members hope to introduce at the State Democratic Party’s nominating convention in May, the group’s co-chair, George Albro, told Gotham Gazette on Tuesday.”

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Court: No Special Congressional Election To Replace Louise Slaughter

A group of voters  recently filed a lawsuit  claiming Governor Cuomo was denying them the right to representation by not calling a special election to replace the late Louise Slaughter. A  court recently denied the claim. A copy of the decision can be read here:

Slaughter Election Law Case_04_27_2018_12_35_42_010

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