Thursday, February 11, 2016

NYC Council Speaker Mark-Viverito Advocates Voting Reforms

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D) outlined her voting reform agenda in her State Of The City address today.

Ease the Voting Process:
Unfortunately, many people do not exercise their right to vote. In the 2014 midterm elections, New York State ranked 49th in the nation for voter participation, only 29% of eligible voters voted. In New York City, only 20% of eligible voters cast ballots, hitting an historic low. Part of the blame for low voter turnout rests with New York State’s antiquated voting laws, which have failed to keep up with improvements to registration and voting accessibility seen in other jurisdictions.

The most significant reforms are only possible at the State level, and today, the Speaker called on the State to take the bold steps necessary to modernize New York’s registration and voting policies, including implementing automatic registration, preregistering youth, establishing early voting, allowing for same-day voter registration, and facilitating absentee voting.

The Council will call on the State to enact:

The Voter Empowerment Act (A.5972 Kavanagh/S.2538B Gianaris), which would enact reforms including automatic agency-based registration, online registration as a universal option, pre-registration of 16- and 17-year olds, and moving the registration deadline closer to Election Day.

• Early voting, which would allow voting prior to Election Day.

• A constitutional amendment to allow same-day voter registration.

• A constitutional amendment to allow no-excuse absentee voting, so any registered voter can vote absentee in-person or by mail.

At the City level, the Council will also work to ease the process of registering and voting by pursuing new initiatives:

The Online Voter Information Portal and App will be a one-stop shop for voter information, where users can find the absentee ballot application; track their absentee ballot’s status; look up their voting history, registration status, party enrollment, and sample ballots; find polling hours, their polling place, and the voter guide; and sign up to be a poll worker.

Voter Notifications through Email and Text Messaging will provide voters with the option of receiving e-mail and/or text message notifications about elections, including much of the information contained in the Online Information Portal and App. Text messages have been used to engage voters and drive turnout in the Council’s participatory budgeting efforts.

• Notice on Former Poll Sites will require formerly used poll sites to have posted notices directing voters to their new site.

In order to empower New York City’s youth and increase their participation in government, the Council will:

• Fund civic engagement programs, so that high school and college students move from civic theory to civic action, advocating for their points of view on real-world issues affecting their communities.

• Expand Student Voter Registration Days in New York City’s high schools, with the goal of registering 10,000 students to vote. This will expand the Council’s current initiative that funds student voter registration and engagement at 56 high schools to 125 high schools.

• Establish the New York City Social Justice Postgraduate Fellowship, an exciting new program to place diverse and talented graduates of professional and graduate schools in full-time, year-long positions in City government. This Fellowship will harness the passion of young New Yorkers, including social workers, lawyers and policy analysts, who want to make a difference in their communities.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Ban on States and Localities Taxing Internet Access

The Senate on Thursday sent a bill to the President's desk making permanent the ban on states and localities taxing Internet access.

The passage of the provision, which was wrapped into an unrelated customs enforcement bill, marks the end of a years-long struggle to put the 1998 ban on the books for good and remove a sunset date. Nearly every major telecom trade group applauded the move, and the White House said President Obama would sign it soon.

"Nothing's ever permanent around here but you know if you do permanency, you don't have these cliffs to deal with that periodically have vexed Congresses for a long time," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after the vote.

The customs enforcement bill passed the House last year. A deal struck earlier this week allowed the bill to move forward after being held up for months over the Internet tax ban. In exchange for letting the bill move forward, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised members that "sometime this year" the Senate would consider the separate Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow states to collect online sales tax on purchases made from a retailer based outside the state.

I would challenge the Marketplace Fairness Act in court, as I did with the original Quill Case, I was part of this case for another mail order company, that started this issue.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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13 States Consider Ranked Choice Voting in 2016

FairVote produced this chart.

With a new year comes a new legislative session in state houses around the U.S. 2016 has seen state legislators nationwide use this opportunity to empower voters by introducing bills that create new uses of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) at the state and local levels.

Just one month into this year’s session, at least 27 Pro-RCV bills have been introduced in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

Arizona: HB 2283

District of Columbia: B21-0002 A Washington bill that has passed one chamber would allow localities to resolve voting rights challenges with a multi-winner version of RCV.

Georgia: SB 102 Call to join the five jurisdictions already providing ranked ballots to overseas and military voters.

Hawaii: SB 623 Would have RCV used in elections for state-level offices.

Indiana: SB 277

Maine: (See The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting)

Maryland: MC 15-16, SB 762 Lawmakers are discussing legislation that would enable local governments to use RCV. Another Maryland bill would establish an interstate compact to use fair representation voting methods such as ranked choice voting for congressional elections.

Massachusetts: HB 575 Call to join the five jurisdictions already providing ranked ballots to overseas and military voters.

Minnesota: HB 1280 lawmakers are discussing legislation that would enable local governments to use RCV.

New Jersey: A1762 Lawmakers are discussing legislation that would enable local governments to use RCV.

New York: SB 2738, SB 2741 Lawmakers are discussing legislation that would enable local governments to use RCV. New York again will debate legislation to establish RCV for New York City’s citywide Primary elections that passed the State Senate last year with a large bipartisan majority.

Rhode Island: HB 7311, a three page (PDF) Would have RCV used in elections for state-level offices.

Bill in Vermont calls for the state to join the five jurisdictions already providing ranked ballots to overseas and military voters.

FairVote anticipates even more bills that advance RCV will be introduced later this year in other states and in Congress.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Arizona House Passes Bill Eliminating Future Presidential Primaries

Thanks to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News for this post.

On February 10, 2016, the Arizona House passed HB 2567, which eliminates the Presidential Primary for years after 2016. The vote was 37-22.

The Prime Sponsor: Representative David M. Gowan Sr. (R), LD 14

It also requires the National Chairperson of each qualified party to inform the Secretary of State by September 1 of the identity of that party’s Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees.

Requires, on completion of a political party national convention and the nomination of its candidates for President and Vice President, the chairman of the national political party to provide the following to the SOS by September 1 in the presidential election year:

a. Each nominee’s name, residence address and mailing address.
b. The name of the political party that nominated the nominees.
c. The exact manner for printing the nominees’ names on the ballot.

Exempts political party nominees for President and Vice President from statute pertaining to compliance with primary election law as prerequisite to printing names
on the ballot.

Not every qualified party that nominates Presidential candidates actually has a National Chairman.

There are many one-state political parties in the United States that participate in the Presidential election in a single state.

CLICK HERE to read the two page (PDF) bill.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Feb. State Legislative Update

Arizona: By a 34-23 vote, the House approved legislation that would make it a felony to return someone else’s absentee ballot with exceptions for family members, those in the same household and professional caregivers.

Colorado: The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee approved two elections-related bills this week. SB 16-107, which was unanimously approved, would require mandatory minimum training for voter registration circulators. SB 16-122 will reduce the required number of voting services and polling centers to be open the first week of early voting. It also no longer requires polling centers to be open the first Saturday of early voting.

Connecticut: Secretary of State Denise Merrill is pushing legislators to support a bill that would automatically register voters in the Nutmeg State.

Idaho: Secretary of State Lawerence Denney has proposed legislation that would allow residents in Idaho to register online to vote. The proposal would include verification through the Idaho Transportation Department’s driver’s license records.

Maryland: By a 29-18 vote, the Maryland Senate followed in the footsteps of the General Assembly to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) veto of legislation that would restore the voting rights to ex-felons who are no longer incarcerated, but may still have elements of their sentence they need to fulfill such as probation or financial restitution. The law will go into effect on March 10 and approximately 40,000 released felons will be eligible to vote in the state’s April primary.

Rhode Island: The House unanimously approved legislation to allow Rhode Island voters to register online to vote. There is currently no Senate version of the bill, although one is expected.

South Dakota: Sen. Craig Tieszen (R-Rapid City) has introduced legislation that would forbid the use of a mail-forwarding service as an address for voter registration. According to the Rapid City Journal, the bill targets nomadic recreational-vehicle owners, known as RVers, and others who use mail-forwarding services such as Americas Mailbox near Rapid City, whose address is listed by nearly 3,500 registered voters.

Washington: For the fourth time in four years, the House has approved the Washington Voting Rights Act. The bill now moves to the Senate. The Democratic-controlled chamber passed House Bill 1745 on a 50-47 vote, and the measure now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it is not expected to gain traction.

The measure opens the possibility of court challenges to cities, counties and school districts to push them to switch from at-large to district elections in areas where large minority groups are present. Under the measure, before someone can file a legal action, the political entity must be notified of the challenge to their election system, at which point they'll have 180 days to remedy the complaint.

Also in Washington, legislators have introduced bills for automatic voter registration for citizens who have already met voting requirements through such processes as getting enhanced driver’s licenses or getting health insurance through the state health exchange.

West Virginia: On a strict party-line vote, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would require voters to show a photo ID in order to vote. Acceptable IDs would include a driver’s license or state ID card, a passport, a state or government employee ID card, a student ID, a military ID or a state concealed-weapons permit.

Wisconsin: According to the Green Bay Press Gazette, lawmakers are fast-tracking a bill to eliminate the Special Registration Deputy program. The program allows help for voters have moved, changed names or are new to voting. The bill was approved in the Senate along party lines. According to Wisconsin Public Radio, Democrats support online voter registration but do not support the elimination of the deputy program.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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The Republican Party Left Off a Sacramento County Elections Mailer

Hundreds of calls have poured into the Sacramento County, California elections office from registered voters who are concerned their chosen political parties may be left off the ballot.

The calls came in response to 80,000 mailers that began arriving in mailboxes this week. The letter explained their voter registration status as choosing "No Party Preference" and how it let them choose which Presidential Primary she could vote in.

One voter, Barbara Wells said, “The way I was reading this letter, I would have to chose one of the following options if I wanted to be able to vote,” she said. But out of the three options, the Republican party was not one of them.

The letter triggered hundreds of confused calls to the County Elections office.

“I would say most of them are confused,” said County Voter Registrar Jill LaVine. “It’s like, ‘Wait a minute, you don’t have all the parties listed on here. Why can’t I choose the party I want to be in.”

The letter, it turns out, is no error. Since Wells is registered as a nonpartisan voter, she can only vote in the Democratic, American Independent and Libertarian Presidential primaries, the three parties that have allowed crossover voting.

The Republican, Green, and Peace and Freedom parties, all do not allow non-partisan voters.

That decision affects nearly 1 in 4 voters who have chosen the "No Party Preference" option in California.

“If their party is not there, they still can vote in that party, but they’ll have to re-register in that party choice,” LaVine said.

So if Wells wanted to vote in the Republican Presidential Primary, she would have to register as a Republican.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Voting Reform Prominent in Two Executive Addresses

The New York Law Journal recently published an article by Jerry Goldfeder and Myrna Perez on recent voting reforms discussed by President Obama and New York Governor Cuomo.

They wrote:

The early days of 2016 ushered in addresses on the State of the Union and State of the State where our respective chief executives called for election law reforms. As each underscored the importance of expanding the franchise, President Barack Obama and Governor Andrew Cuomo referred to markedly different legislative environments. The president lamented the efforts across the country to roll back voting rights, as well as partisan rancor and division stymieing congressional action. Gov. Cuomo, on the other hand, lauded the state Legislature for its leadership and ability to come together.

President Obama vowed that over the course of 2016, he would travel the country pushing for reforms to reduce the influence of money in politics and to modernize our elections. His words of encouragement would be welcome to New Yorkers who heard the governor’s State of the State address. That said, it is, of course, too early in the year to know what, if any, election reforms will succeed, but both the president and the governor seem intent on making the effort.

CLICK HERE to read the five page (PDF) article.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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