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Citizens Union believes our democracy is strongest when more of us are participating. That’s why we’ve fought for – and won – reforms that expand and protect the right to vote in New York State. 

Throughout the 20th century, Citizens Union has been at the forefront of crucial voting reforms. Early electoral reform efforts we advanced and won included signature identification of voters (1914), ending slate voting by allowing voters to support candidates from different political parties on one ballot (1915), and instituting permanent personal registration (1957), which overturned the requirement voters re-register before every election. Decades of advocacy to make the New York City Government more democratic also led to the first enactment of proportional representation in the City Council (1936) and the abolishment of the undemocratic Board of Estimates (1988). 

Since 2019, New York has been slowly reforming its regressive voting laws that depressed voter participation. After decades of advocacy, New Yorkers can now use early voting days, pre-register to vote at 16, access absentee ballots more easily, and check in at poll sites on electronic poll books. Individuals on parole now have their right to vote restored once they are released from prison, and students in many colleges have access to poll sites on campus. Several crucial reforms are in different stages of implementation, including Online Voter Registration, Automatic Voter Registration, and even-numbered year county and town local elections.

In New York City, voters now use Ranked Choice Voting to choose their local elected officials, from the mayor to their Council Member. Citizens Union has long advocated for Ranked Choice Voting because it gives voters more choices and saves taxpayer money by avoiding costly runoff elections. It was successfully implemented for the first time in the 2021 municipal election cycle.

2024 Reform Agenda – Elections and Voting

Increase voter participation and expand voting rights

  • Move local elections from odd-numbered to even-numbered years across New York 
  • Improve voter engagement practices in CUNY and SUNY colleges
  • Allow any NYC voter to vote in any early voting site in their borough – comply with EL § 8-600(3) regarding countywide voting centers 
  • Amend the constitution to allow same-day voter registration 
  • Amend the constitution to allow no-excuse absentee voting
  • Maintain and strengthen Ranked Choice Voting in New York City
  • Improve agency-based voter registration in city government and ensure compatibility with automatic voter registration and online voter registration
  • Ensure proper implementation and compliance of:
    • Automatic voter registration (EL § 5-308)
    • Early mail voting (EL § 8-700-712)
    • On-campus poll sites (EL § 4-100(5-a))
    • NYC Non-citizen Voting (Local Law 11-2022, Municipal Voting Law

Improve election administration in New York State 

  • Remove the control of political parties over election administration
    • Repeal the constitutional requirement for equal bipartisan representation in election administration, which empowers political parties to nominate elections boards
    • Eliminate statutory provisions that extend equal bipartisan representation to all election administration staff 
    • Allow local authorities greater scrutiny of nominees proposed by county parties, including the authority to hold hearings for nominees and refuse to appoint a nominee 
  • Professionalize election administration offices and staff
    • Implement an open, competitive, merit-based hiring process for all election administration staff and certain functions at polls 
    • Set appropriate professional qualifications for all election officials and staff 
    • Enact mandatory and ongoing trainings for election commissioners, by the SBOE
    • Allow local election commissioners to be removed with good cause by the appointing authority or by the SBOE 
  • Standardize election data and administration 
    • Generate more uniformity in procedures across county boards
    • Centralize statewide election results data  
    • Require local election boards provide better information on performance and metrics 
  • Transition to a more efficient and accountable election administration structure  
    • Establish an elected Secretary of State model, tasked with administering elections
    • Establish a single officer with executive authority to manage board offices, hire staff, and administer elections, who is appointed by local authorities but structured as an independent position
  • Expand the pool of qualified poll workers
    • Implement split shifts for poll workers in New York City, as authorized in EL § 3-400(7)
    • Facilitate recruitment of youth and young poll workers 
    • Develop a program for municipal employees to serve as poll workers in New York City

Increase competition in New York’s political system 

  • Enact a top-two election system (“open primary”) to replace the current closed partisan primary system
  • Reform how vacant seats are filled to eliminate delay and to increase voter choice 
  • Expand candidate ballot access by reducing signature requirements and simplify petitioning procedures
  • Expand party ballot access by lowering the vote threshold to become a party in New York and exclude presidential elections from the test, thus reversing the changes made in 2020

 

Recent Activity – Elections and Voting

 

Voting Rights, Disability Rights, Civic, and Community Groups Support Bill to Move City Election to Even-Years

May 21, 2024 – Citizens Union, the Let NY Vote coalition, and two dozen advocacy groups signed on to a memo in support of S9126 (Skoufis), which would align city and other elections with presidential or gubernatorial elections. This change would strengthen our democracy by significantly increasing the number of people who vote for local offices and reducing racial and age-based gaps in voter participation.
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Citizens Union and the Let NY Coalition calls Governor Hochul and Assembly Speaker Heastie to include election reform priorities in the 2024 state budget

March 22, 2024 – Citizens joins the Let NY Vote coalition in a letter urging the Assembly and the Governor to join the Senate in ensuring legislation to establish he elections database and join ERIC remain in the final budget.
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Memo of Support, S6173B (Skoufis)/A7052 (Sillitti), requiring New York join multistate voter list maintenance organizations

February 7, 2024 – Memo supporting legislation requiring New York to join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) or another multistate voter list maintenance organization
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Testimony for the 2024 Joint Legislative Budget Hearing

February 6, 2024 - Citizens Union appreciates the opportunity to submit testimony regarding Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposed Executive Budget for State Fiscal Year 2025. We will focus on the proposed funding for the  Public Campaign Finance Board, the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying, and the State Board of  Elections.  
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Citizens Union Supports Disqualifying Candidates Who Engaged in Insurrection from the Ballot in New York State 

January 25, 2024 - Citizens Union released a statement urging the State Legislature to create a viable mechanism for disqualifying candidates under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. This issue has been raised in a number of states, including Colorado and Maine, that have disqualified former President Donald Trump from appearing on their state’s ballots. The New York State Board of Elections is meeting on February 6th to finalize the state’s ballot for the upcoming presidential primary election. 
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Citizens Union Applauds Governor Hochul For Signing Legislation To Move Local Elections To Even-Numbered Years

December 22, 2023 - Citizens Union's statement following the Governor signing into law bill S3505B (Skoufis)/A4282A (Paulin). This marks a momentous achievement in the ongoing effort to bolster civic participation in New York. Aligning local elections with high-profile races will lead to increased voter turnout, particularly among young people and people of color.
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Let NY Vote Members Urge Governor Hochul to Sign Bill Moving Local Elections to Even Years

November 20, 2023 – Dozens of member organizations and partners of the Let NY Vote coalition sent a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul, urging her to sign S3505B/A4282B into law. This bill will move some local elections to even years, giving underrepresented New Yorkers a more meaningful voice in their elections and government. The bill passed the State Senate and State Assembly in June 2023, and it is the only election reform passed by the legislature that has yet to be signed by the Governor.
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Citizens Union Analysis of the November 2023 Election Finds Significant Voter Turnout Drop in Off-Year Local Elections

November 15, 2023 - In last week’s elections, voter turnout decreased significantly across New York State, including in areas with important local races, according to an analysis from Citizens Union. The analysis compared voter turnout in key races for county and city offices in 2023 with voter turnout in overlapping areas in November 2022, finding that turnout in last year’s elections was higher by 42 percent to 169 percent. According to unofficial election night results, only 18 percent of eligible New York voters cast their ballots in the November 2023 general election. This highlights the need to shift local elections to even-numbered years and consolidate them with federal or statewide races, which see higher voter turnout. 
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Citizens Union Applauds Governor Hochul for Signing Legislation Strengthening Our Democracy and Protecting the Right to Vote

September 20, 2023 - Citizens Union has issued to following statement from executive director Betsy Gotbaum in response to Governor Hochul signing a package of bills aimed at strengthening our democracy and protecting and expanding voting rights:
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Good Government Groups Urge Governor Hochul to Sign Into Law S3505B/A4282A, Which Moves Certain Local Elections to Even-numbered Years

Citizens Union, Common Cause/NY, and Reinvent Albany sent a letter to Governor Hochul to urge her to sign into law S3505B/A4282A, which would move certain county and town elections in New York to November of even-numbered years. This legislation will strengthen local democracy in the state by bringing more people to vote for local offices, leading to a more representative voting population and a stronger mandate for elected officials.
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Citizens Union Responds to New York State Senate and Assembly Passage of Legislation to Move Certain Local Elections Held Outside of New York City to Even-Numbered Years

June 13, 2023 - Citizens Union releases the following statement from Executive Director Betsy Gotbaum following the passage of S3505B (Skoufis)/A4282A (Paulin), which moves certain local elections outside of New York City to even-numbered years.
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Citizens Union Applauds NYC Campaign Finance Board for Recommending Moving Local Elections to Even-Numbered Years in 2022-23 Voter Analysis Report

May 1, 2023 - Citizens Union has released the following statement from executive director Betsy Gotbaum in response to the New York City Campaign Finance Board recommending moving local elections to even-numbered years in their 2022-23 Voter Analysis Report. Citizens Union issued Moving Elections to Even-Numbered Years in January, a report detailing the benefits of aligning New York City elections with gubernatorial or presidential elections
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Memo of Support: A3291, Absentee Voting When There is Risk of Contracting or Spreading a Disease

April 5, 2023 - Memo of support for A3291 (Dinowitz), which would make permanent the definition of “illness” for the purpose of applying for an absentee ballot to mean instances when there is risk of contracting or spreading a disease that may cause illness to the voter or other members of the public.
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Let New York Vote Coalition Urges NYS Legislature to Include Voting Rights and Election Funding in One House Budgets

Feburary 28, 2023 - The Let New York Vote Coalition submitted a letter to NYS Legislative leaders, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Heastie, outlining our coalition’s budget priorities in FY 2023-24.
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Citizens Union Calls on New York City to Move Municipal Elections to Even-Numbered Years

January 27, 2023 - Citizens Union issued a report outlining the benefits of moving New York City’s municipal elections to even-numbered years. This move would bring elections for city offices in line with gubernatorial or presidential elections. Municipal elections in New York City, which are currently held in odd-numbered years, have consistently seen lower voter turnout than elections held in even-numbered years. Consolidating municipal elections with presidential or gubernatorial elections will increase voter turnout, giving more New Yorkers a say over who governs them at the local level.
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CU Report: Moving Municipal Elections to Even-Numbered Years

A new report by Citizens Union aims to examine the potential benefits and impacts of moving New York City's municipal elections "on-cycle" to even-numbered years, to coincide with the presidential or gubernatorial/midterm elections. We analyze how consolidating elections would affect overall turnout, demographics of the electorate, and administrative burdens and costs. The report also looks into the experience of cities that have moved their local elections on-cycle in recent years, like El Paso, Phoenix, and Baltimore, and charts a path to change the election year in New York.
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Citizens Union Responds to Senate Passage of Legislation to Reform the Operations of New York’s Local Boards of Elections

January 10, 2022 - Citizens Union releases the following statement from Executive Director Betsy Gotbaum following the passage of a package of legislation to reform the operations of New York’s local boards of elections by expanding voting rights and reforming our election system
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