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. And individuals on parole now have their right to vote restored once they are released from prison. Two other crucial reforms are about to be implemented: Online Voter Registration and Automatic Voter Registration.
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.
Legislative Agenda – Elections and Voting
In 2023, Citizens Union will focus on increasing voter participation through structural reforms, improving election administration by reforming boards of elections, and strengthening competition in New York’s political system.
Citizens Union supports the following reforms to elections and voting. To see Citizens Union’s full 2023 policy agenda click here.
Increase voter participation and expand voting rights
- Move local city elections to even-numbered years – CU priority
- Maintain the statutory interpretation of illness for requesting absentee ballots to allow more people to vote absentee – CU priority
- 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
- Improve pre-voter registration by requiring high schools to make forms available to all students
- Ensure proper implementation and compliance of:
- Online voter registration (EL § 5-800)
- Automatic voter registration (EL § 5-308)
- NYC Non-citizen Voting (Local Law 11-2022, Municipal Voting Law)
- On-campus poll sites (EL § 4-100(5-a))
Improve election administration in New York State
- Remove the control of political parties over election administration – CU priority
- 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 – CU priority
- 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
- Centralize policy-making decisions and election results data with state election officials
- 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
- Create a voluntary municipal poll worker program 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 the process of filling vacancies in the state legislature by implementing nonpartisan special elections or increasing voter participation
- 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