|Engaging New Yorkers to Reform Government||Vol. 2, Issue 8|
IN THIS ISSUE
About Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation
Citizens Union of the City of New York is an independent, non-partisan force dedicated to promoting good government and political reform in the city and state of New York. For more than a century, Citizens Union has served as a watchdog for the public interest and an advocate for the common good. We work to ensure fair elections, clean campaigns, and open, effective government that is accountable to the citizens of New York. We do so by informing the policy debate and influencing the policy outcomes that affect the lives of all New Yorkers. Believing that an informed citizenry is the cornerstone of a thriving local democracy, Citizens Union Foundation – the non profit research, education, and advocacy organization affiliated with CU – publishes Gotham Gazette, a front row seat to New York City policies and politics.
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As you know from our earlier announcement, we have a new leader for Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation, who is Peter J. Sherwin. He replaces Richard J. Davis who has decided to run for the office of Manhattan District Attorney.
During this month in which New York State held its presidential primary, this edition of The Reformer is focused on elections and campaign finance. To learn more, enjoy reading the articles below
On February 11th, a complaint was filed in New York federal district court against the New York City Campaign Finance Board, challenging the constitutionality of new campaign finance and pay-to-play regulations that took effect on February 2nd. Citizens Union advocated for and supported the passage of the legislation that created these regulations in 2007, which provided that contributions from anyone in the doing business database be limited to $250 and not be matched with public funds, among other reforms. (To see Citizens Union’s testimony on the bill, please click here. For more information about the regulations, please click here and here.)
The complaint alleges that certain regulations restrict First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by “unduly infringing upon protected political speech and association,” as well as equal protection of the law. It also states that some regulations diminish “the voting strength of Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.” To read the 96-page complaint, please click here. To see coverage of the lawsuit by the New York Times, please click here. Citizens Union plans to file an amicus brief in response to the complaint.
CU testified at a city council hearing this month on ways to increase voter turnout in New York State by instituting reforms like Election Day voter registration. CU also supports exploring other changes like “no excuse” absentee voting, early voting, and shortening the lead time required for voters to switch their party enrollments as ways to remove barriers to the voting and allow more opportunities for voters to cast their ballots.
New York State is on track to implement new voting machines over the next two years. As part of the State Board of Elections (SBOE) plan to complete implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), every poll site in the state is required to have at least one ballot marking device in time for this fall’s elections so that disabled voters can cast independent and private ballots at their poll site. Voters will still have the option to vote on the old style lever machines. Then in the fall of 2009, an entirely new voting system will finally be used that will replace our decades old Shoup lever voting machines.
In January, the SBOE released an approved list of ballot marking devices that counties could purchase for this fall. The list included the ES&S Automark, the Premier Automark and the Sequoia Image Cast. As a result of a court order, the Liberty Direct Electronic Voting (DRE) machine was later ordered onto the list of approved machines. The New York City Board of Elections met this month and voted to purchase the ES&S Automark as the city’s ballot marking device for this September and November’s elections. The Board selected the ES&S machine in a 6-4 vote, and purchasing contracts are anticipated to be completed in March.
Ballot marking devices are used to allow disabled voters and voters with limited English proficiency to cast their ballots independently and privately. They have the capacity to allow the voter to review and select their choices via audio, and can enlarge print and color tone for voters with visual impairments. In addition, they can be used with sip and puff and two switch paddles to accommodate voters with limited mobility. Ballot marking devices are most commonly used in conjunction with an optical scan voting system that uses paper ballots to tabulate votes.
Decisions about the voting system to be used in 2009 have yet to be made.
Another special election is slated to occur on February 26th in the 48th Senate District in northern New York State. In April of 2007, Citizens Union Foundation released a report, “Circumventing Democracy: The Flawed System for Filling Vacancies for Elected Office in New York.” The report found that nearly a third of state legislators were first elected to office through the special election process. The election this month is but one example of a special election that will likely have low voter-turnout, and whose candidates were selected in a closed party nominating meeting. Later this month, Citizens Union will release recommendations for the filling of vacancies in elected office.
As the budget process unfolds, Citizens Union is watching carefully to see if the budget reforms from 2007 will bear fruit and provide meaningful reform. The financial outlook for the state is gloomy, given decreasing revenue estimates. When the 2008-09 budget was announced in January, a $4.4 billion budget gap had to be closed. As of Feb 12th, revenue estimates have decreased by $384 million, signaling tough decisions to come.
We have now seen two reforms in action: quick-started negotiations last November between the Assembly, Senate, and Governor to discuss expected revenue and expenses, as well as the release of 21-day amendments to the Executive Budget (shortened from 30-days) on February 12th. (To see the 21-day amendments, please click here.) While the timetable has been extended, Citizens Union still has concerns about the openness of the process, as well as the ability of the public and rank-and-file legislators to make informed decisions. Members of the public need a complete picture of where the state gets its resources, how it is spending those funds, and how well those state activities are achieving their public purposes. Unfortunately, the 2007 reforms have not addressed these crucial issues. Citizens Union will soon be providing recommendations on these and other budget areas in a comprehensive position statement on New York State budget reform.
Richard Briffault is the Joseph P. Chamberlain Professor of Legislation at Columbia Law School, where he is also vice dean and director of Columbia’s Legislative Drafting Research Fund. Richard is the author of multiple law review articles regarding campaign finance law and federalism. His principal areas of lecturing and publication are election law, state and local government law, and property law. Richard was a member of Governor Spitzer’s government reform task force during his transition.
In addition to serving on the Citizens Union Board since 1996, Richard has served on a number of commissions including: Mayor Koch’s Early Childhood Education Commission, 1985-86; as counsel to Governor Cuomo’s Advisory Commission on Liability Insurance, as a consultant to the New York City Charter Revision Commission, 1987-89; the New York City Real Property Tax Reform Commission, 1993; consultant, New York State Commission on Constitutional Revision, 1993-94 and as executive director of the Special Commission on Campaign Finance Reform of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, 1998-2000.
For the presidential primaries, Gotham Gazette covered urban issues in the campaign and created issue grids focused on key urban issues so that voters could compare the Republican and Democratic candidates’ positions on issues that affect their neighborhoods and the Big Apple as a whole.
Also, Andrea Senteno reported on New York’s closed primaries.
Please take a moment to renew your membership in Citizens Union. With your support, we will be better able to seize the important opportunities ahead. We will seek more effective government, further limit the role of special interests, and advance the public good in Albany and at City Hall.
When you stand with us for good government, Citizens Union is stronger and more influential. Our recent successes demonstrate the importance of New Yorkers coming together in a nonpartisan call for ethics, integrity, and accountability in government. Help make reform a reality!
- February 19, 2008, Elections Board Could Face Grilling Over Primary Numbers
- February 15, 2008, City Data A Click Away, New York Metro
- February 8, 2008, Feedback Loop: Melinda Katz’s Effective Fundraising Using Story of Her Effective Fundraising, The Politicker
- January 28, 2008, Gov-Panel Integrity Challenged, NY Post