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Saturday, November 22, 2014

New York's Voter Turnout in Forty Years of Freefall


Voter turnout in New York State is in freefall.  This years gubernatorial election saw the smallest number of voters make it to the polls in the four decades since the state Board of Elections was formed and began tracking voting.  Few reports have noted the extent of the decline: Cuomo's 52.5 percent of the vote on election night may have seemed like the typical erosion of an incumbent's margin, down from 61 percent in 2010, but it obscures a fall of nearly one million votes.

"New York has always been lousy," says New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) legislative director Blair Horner. "It's getting worse."

It's especially acute in New York City.  Mayor Bill de Blasio's landslide victory a year ago came without the participation of many voters of cycles past.  While de Blasio racked up more votes than his predecessor did in any of his three elections, the turnout for mayoral contests has steadily declined since 2001, now hovering at just over 1.1 million voters.  And, the percentage of city voters turning out for gubernatorial elections has been consistently lower than the statewide turnout.

According to figures obtained from the State Board of Elections, 75.4 percent of registered voters went to the polls to vote for governor in 1974.  Since then, voter registration has vastly outstripped turnout, with the number of registered voters rising from 7.4 million in '74 to 11.8 million today, while the number of voters who show up on Election Day has declined from 5.5 million in '74 to an anemic 3.7 million this year.

Still, these numbers actually paint a rosy picture: political scientists often measure turnout in relation to the voting eligible population (VEP) or the voting age population (VAP), both of which are inevitably larger than the number of registered voters. Dr.  Christina Greer, assistant professor of political science at Fordham University, says that VEP "is the calculation that needs to be used."

Since VEP tells you the number of people who are eligible to vote, registered or not, Dr. Greer says it is "a more accurate measure of... a democratic, participatory election."

Using VEP, as The New York Times editorial board did this week, paints an even more dismal picture.  Taking stock of turnout nationally, the Times wrote, "In 43 states, less than half the eligible population bothered to vote, and no state broke 60 percent.  In the three largest states. California, Texas and New York, less than a third of the eligible population voted. New York's turnout was a shameful 28.8 percent, the fourth-lowest in the country, despite three statewide races (including the governor) and 27 House races."

Governor Cuomo was asked in a post-election interview why he thought turnout was so low in the state he's been re-elected to lead.  On with Susan Arbetter of WCNY's Capital Pressroom, the governor himself declared there was nothing to see here: "The temptation is to view the world through the lens of New York.  Sometimes it's not about us, sometimes it's not about New York....It was an historically low turnout nationwide.  Something like not since 1942...has the turnout been that low."

Greer questions whether the major parties have any genuine incentive to get voters to the polls.  "Yes, in theory, everyone says they want more people to participate," she says. "If we step back and look at counties across the state, how many elected officials who are in their second, maybe third decade, no matter what party, Democrat or Republican, how many of them really genuinely want more people in the political process?  They don't.  Because they're winning their districts solidly. They're keeping their incumbency advantage."

The effects of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United only skew the playing field further, with nominally "independent" groups shoveling $17.8 million into state legislative elections.  Instead of mobilizing new voters, they inevitably focus on energizing the base, and one of the surest ways to do that is by demonizing opponents.  Horner sees the discourse as "increasingly toxic," and says that "For the vast bulk of voters, who are not driven by ideology, they end up looking at the campaign as the choice between two demons.  I think it turns voters off."

As Skurnik puts it: "Voters turn out for exciting, competitive elections.  This New York gubernatorial election wasn't either exciting or competitive."

Unfortunately, as NYPIRG's Horner observes, "You can't legislate competitive elections."  Advocacy groups such as NYPIRG and the Brennan Center have inevitably focused on an array of familiar reforms: Election Day and online registration, early voting, and pre-registration, to name a few.

Nonetheless, as Horner says, "You can legislate a fairer redistricting process, you can legislate campaign finance systems, but in some parts of the state there are more cows than there are Democrats, and in some parts of the state there are more telephone polls than there are Republicans.  In those parts of the state, competitive elections, if they occur at all, occur in the primaries. And most people can't vote."

The Brennan Center's DeNora Getachew sees the whole problem as more straightforward: "The reason that they turnout rates keep falling is that New York has one of the most onerous requirements for voter registration."

The Brennan Center, which advocates for voting rights, has backed the Voter Empowerment Act of New York, which would modernize the state's voter registration procedures.  The bill was introduced to the state Legislature in 2012 but killed by the Republican-controlled State Senate's election committee.  Prospects for reform with a state Senate now firmly under Republican control seem distant at best.

Dr. Greer points to another factor in the decline of voter participation: sheer exhaustion.  Voters have gone, or been asked to go, to the polls several times a year for the last three years, and the ensuing voter fatigue means many are less inclined to bother choosing between demons.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Michigan Bill to Change Open Primaries to Closed Primaries


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

Three Republican members of the Michigan State House have introduced HB 5956, which would convert Michigan primaries from open to closed.  The sponsors are Ray Franz of Onekama, Greg MacMaster of Kewadin, and Bob Genetski of Allegan County.

The bill is in the 2013-2014 legislative session, so there is very little time left for this bill to advance.  Also MacMaster was defeated in the Republican primary this year, and Genetski did not run for re-election, so those two won’t be in the 2015-2016 session.

Franz and MacMaster also introduced HB 5955, which would provide that major parties nominate for Governor and state legislature by party conventions instead of by direct primary.  Already, major parties in Michigan nominate some of the lesser statewide offices by party conventions instead of by primary.

“One of the first things lawmakers are taught is to be open to listening to constituents’ concerns for potential state government reforms that can help make Michigan better,” said MacMaster, R-Kewadin.  “Along with that, of course, is considering your own experiences for possible policy change.  I strongly believe based on what I went through the past several months that there are valid and worthwhile reasons for improving our election process.

“In my opinion, because of crossover voting, the true views and values of Republicans in the 37th District were not reflected accurately,” MacMaster said.

HBs 5955 and 5956 have been assigned to the House Committee on Elections and Ethics for consideration.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Friday, November 21, 2014

The Call to Protect Voting Rights





Congressman John Lewis writes:

I’m deeply saddened.

On Election Day we should have seen Americans across the nation use their most powerful tool in our democracy: their right to vote.  A right that is precious… even sacred.  Instead we saw the first election in 50 years without the critical protections of the Voting Rights Act.

The results speak for themselves.  Voter turnout was the lowest in 72 years.  Reports say voter suppression laws were especially successful at distorting elections in Florida, Kansas, North Carolina, and Texas.  And these laws will only taint more elections going forward.

In 1963, I marched on Washington with Martin Luther King for the right to vote.

In 1965, I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote.

Folks marched for this.  Folks fought for this.  And some even died for the right to vote.

Voting is the people's non-violent way of effecting change.  We must protect this right. We must call on Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act.

Will you stand with me, sign your name, and demand basic voting protections?


CLICK HERE to answer his call.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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A Call to Arms Against Citizen United Decision


This article appeared in the Huff Post Politics by Fred Wertheimer, President, Democracy 21.

He writes, in 1789, the Founding Fathers created a constitutional system of government by the people.  In 2010, five Supreme Court Justices -- Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas and Alito changed it to a constitutional system of government by millionaires, billionaires and corporations.

In the constitutional system envisioned by our founders 225 years ago, individuals get one vote.  In the system created by the Supreme Court in 2010, Sheldon Adelson gets 100 million votes.  Tom Steyer gets 73 million votes.

That's not the way our constitutional system is supposed to work and Citizens must fight back.

The 2014 national election left us with a campaign finance system in shambles.  The political money that flooded the 2014 election was a disaster for ordinary Americans.  Never has so much money from so few people been so pervasive in our congressional elections.

Citizens United Should go down as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever.

Even with the disastrous Citizens United decision, there remain a number of important reforms that can be made within the constitutional framework of this decision.

They include:

- Public financing for presidential and congressional elections
- New disclosure requirements
- Ending individual candidate super PACs
- Strengthening the rules to prohibit coordination
- Restricting bundling by lobbyists
- Creating a real campaign finance enforcement agency

There are other changes that require a new jurisprudence to govern the constitutionality of campaign finance laws.

One such change is a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.  An alternative approach is to develop a new constitutional jurisprudence for upholding campaign finance laws to be ready when the current ideological makeup of the Supreme Court shifts.

Some of these changes are incremental, others are fundamental.  All should be pursued.

In this regard, the wisdom of John Gardner, founder of Common Cause and of the modern campaign finance reform movement, should come to mind: "Reform is not for the short winded."

We know that the American people overwhelmingly object to the rigged influence-money system in Washington.  We know that citizens have never accepted political corruption as a way of life in our country and are not about to do so now.

The challenge that lies ahead is to convert deep citizen concern into powerful citizen action.

Fundamental campaign finance reforms to prevent political corruption and promote fair elections have been won by reform supporters in the past.  They will be won again in the future.

This fight goes on.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Maine Ranked-Choose Voting Effort in 2014


Sen. Dick Woodbury and Rep. Diane Russell have been meeting with a working group convened by the League of Women Voters to develop a proposal for ranked-choice voting (RCV).

CLICK HERE to read the CITIZEN REFERENDUM ON RANKED CHOICE VOTING Language Approved by the Secretary of State.

These two civic leaders have now launched an ambitious campaign to collect up to 75,000 petition signatures to bring RCV reform to a public referendum.

On Election Day, they collected about 36,000 signatures in support of ranked-choice voting.  They are now recruiting volunteers to collect the remainder by the middle of December.

The group, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, must collect 10 percent of the total number of votes cast during the most recent gubernatorial election, or about 60,000, to force a statewide referendum.  If the group wants to put it on the ballot for 2015, the deadline for signatures is Jan. 22, but 2016 is an option as well.

The Maine Secretary of State’s Office estimated that implementing ranked-choice voting would cost the state $837,270 in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, and $714,388 in the following fiscal year.

Those costs would cover printing an additional ballot page, updating and leasing new ballot tabulation machines and related equipment, and hiring two contract workers to oversee the vote-counting process.

If the citizens initiative is successful, Maine would be the first state in the nation to adopt an alternative vote-counting system for state, gubernatorial and federal elections.

Examples of U.S. state and local governments using RCV

• Arkansas (only overseas voters in runoffs): Adopted in 2005, used since 2006.

• Alabama (only overseas voters in primary runoff): By agreement with a federal court, used in special election for U.S. House, 2013.

• California: Adopted in Berkeley in 2004 and first used in 2010 in elections for mayor, city council and other city offices.  Adopted in Oakland in 2006 and first used in 2010 for 18 offices, including mayor and city council.  Adopted in San Francisco in 2012, first used in 2004 and used every November election since then for Board of Supervisors, mayor and four six other citywide offices. Adopted in San Leandro in 2000 charter amendment and first used in 2010 and every two years since for mayor and city council.

• Colorado: Adopted in Telluride in 2008 and first used in 2011 for mayoral elections.  Adopted in Basalt in 2002 and to be used in any mayoral election with more than three candidates.

• Louisiana (only overseas and out-of-state military voters in federal and state general election elections): Adopted and used since the 1990s.

• Maine: Adopted in Portland in 2010 and used in 2011 for mayoral election.

• Maryland: Adopted in Takoma Park in 2006 and first used in 2007, with elections every two years for mayor and city council.

• Minnesota: Adopted in Minneapolis in 2006 and first used in 2009 in elections for 22 offices, including mayor and city council.  St. Paul in 2009, first used in 2011 and to be used every two years mayor and city council.

• South Carolina (only for overseas voters in federal and state primary runoffs): Adopted and first used in 2006 in federal and state primary elections.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

City and State On TECH Conference




City & State convened leaders in New York State and City government to discuss the tech trajectory of New York City.  I was invited and attended this event.

Themes

//How is NYC using technology and data for large-scale projects such as Universal Pre-K, municipal identification, and large public construction projects managed by city entities & agencies?

//Wired NYC: How is New York City Mayor de Blasio & his administration working to enhance access to high-speed internet across the five boroughs?

//Tech in Education: How is New York ensuring technology literacy of students? How can New York make better use of technology solutions to improve how we teach and learn?



City & State Interviews Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer

“Teachers are scared to death sometimes that the kids know more than they do about technology,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, on the need to prioritize professional development in New York City public schools, one of several measures she called for.

Interviewed by NY1’s Courtney Gross, Brewer suggested that New York should follow Chicago’s lead in adding computer science to its core curriculum, and highlighted the urgency of enhancing the “pipe”—fiber and broadband—coming into public schools, as well as the computer hardware available to the city’s students.

The borough president noted, however, that the speed of the procurement process must keep pace with that of technological innovation, and called on New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa to create a task force to oversee funds allocated from the Smart Schools Bond Act, the $2 billion ballot proposition approved by voters earlier this month.



City & State moderates a panel of leaders in business and government on the most pressing issues facing NYC's tech community

Panelists:

- Rachel Haot, Chief Digital Officer, NYS

- Eric Gertler, EVP and Managing Director of the Center for Economic Transformation, NYC Economic Development Corp.

- Anne Roest, Commissioner, NYC DoITT

- Dr. Katepalli R. Sreenivasan, Dean, NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering

The one-on-one interview with the Manhattan borough president was followed by a panel discussion, moderated by City & State’s Ashley Hupfl.

Despite its noted deficiency in city classrooms, advanced technology has already aided the de Blasio administration in implementing one of its signature education initiatives, according to Anne Roest, commissioner of the NYC Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications.

“Finding where the four-years-olds are, so we could do the outreach and get people enrolled, required data,” said Roest of the mayor’s universal pre-K program.  That the process came together in such a short period of time, the commissioner added, “shows the maturity of the data community in the city.”

Roest also said that another high-profile de Blasio program, Vision Zero, was shaped in large part by the collection of data, in this case about car crashes and accidents.

On the state level, New York’s Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot explained how big data played an essential role in the recent re-launch of NY.gov.

One of the main challenges, Haot said, was that “your experience of New York varies widely depending on if you are in a small town or a big city.”

The new website anonymously detects user location to provide personalized data sets, such as emergency alerts, road closures, job listings, career fairs, and local farmer markets.

Enhanced data collection, however, inevitably leads to privacy concerns, which New York City addresses by assigning each data set its own steward.  The need to carefully vet data, however, can be at odds with public pressure for its release.

“It’s really important that we be given that latitude to sometimes take our time and get through the data,” said Roest.

Along with privacy concerns, the “digital divide”—or unequal access to broadband technology—was a focal point of the discussion.

Eric Gertler, executive vice president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, hailed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement this week of the city’s initiative to convert its 8,400 public pay phones into Wi-Fi hotspots as “a huge addition to wireless capabilities in the city.”  Addressing both the “digital desert” and “digital divide,” he said, has been of “paramount importance to the mayor.”

“[Broadband connectivity] is up there with running water, with electricity, and with the highway system in terms of being a true modern utility,” said Rachel Haot.

Gov. Cuomo has committed more than $500 million in his next term toward broadband deployment, according to Haot.&nsp; Coupled with available federal grants, the state could invest as much as $1 billion toward narrowing the digital divide.

In New York City, access to wireless Internet service, which 95 percent of New Yorkers have, is less of a problem than adoption, which between 60-70 percent of the population has done.&nbdp; However, in rural areas across the state, where the incentive for private investment in infrastructure is often lacking, government subsidies may be required to increase access.

“At one time, digital divide meant the difference between rich countries and poor countries,” said Dr. Katepalli Sreenivasan, dean of the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. “I now see it’s used in a very different context.”










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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Monday, November 17, 2014

Nevada Ready for Voter ID Law


Yet another Republican controlled state is looking to impose a voter ID law just in time for the 2016 elections.  The GOP takeover has raised fears of a broader rightward shift for the state, on everything from immigration to Stand Your Ground laws.

GOP state lawmakers in Nevada are readying ID bills for early next year, Secretary of State-Elect Barbara Cegavske said she knew of two separate bills that might end up being merged together.  “They’re writing them now,” said Cegavske, a Republican and a supporter of voter ID. “It just depends on how soon they get them in.”

Republicans took full control of state government for the first time since 1929, meaning a voter ID bill would likely have a strong chance of passing.  Governor Brian Sandoval has said in the past he supports voter ID.

Although Nevada’s session doesn’t begin until February, Cegavske said the bills could appear on a “placeholder” list of upcoming measures as early as next month, indicating their high priority for Republican lawmakers.

A voter ID proposal from the outgoing secretary of state, Democrat Ross Miller, died in the legislature last year.  It would have allowed voters to have their photos taken at the polls if they lacked ID.  This year, Sharron Angle, the Republican tea party favorite who challenged Sen. Harry Reid for his Senate seat in 2010, led an effort to impose a voter ID requirement through a ballot initiative, but failed to gather enough signatures.

Over the last decade, Nevada has shifted from red to purple, driven by a massive influx of Hispanic voters, especially in the fast-growing Las Vegas region.  President Obama won the state in 2008 and 2012, after it went twice for President George W. Bush.

Last week, Cegavske, a state senator, beat Democrat Kate Marshall in a tight race to become the Silver State’s next top elections official.  iVote, a Democratic group focused on secretary of state races, had run ads backing Marshall.

Tod Story, the executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said his group had met with Cegavske during the campaign, in part to express its opposition to voter ID.

“Voter ID requirements significantly undermine the participation of lower-income, elderly, and minority voters,” said Story. “And we need to work to ensure that every individual who’s eligible to vote can exercise that right.”

Cegavske said she’d only support a bill if it didn’t restrict access to the polls, “we want to make sure nobody’s disenfranchised”, but added that she was confident Nevada could get IDs to those who need them.

“We do have a fund in our DMV that provides for the homeless, which is I think very helpful,” she said. “And there are organizations that help seniors out.  So I don’t think we’d be a state that would struggle.”

Think about a underage kid getting a phony photo id to get into a club and a drink.  So how is a photo id at the polling place going to protect voter fraud?  Without a photo id database, if there is no ability to view a stored photo on a device or on the poll book, there is nothing to compare against.

And the signature match only works if the poll worker bothers to make the comparison.

The first case of voter fraud in New Mexico this election has been confirmed by the Rio Arriba County Clerk's Office.  According to the Rio Arriba County Clerk's office, a voter trying to cast an early ballot in Espanola Saturday was told he had already voted three days prior.  The man told poll workers he hadn't voted.  He was then shown the signature of the voter, but he says it wasn't his signature.  Officials say they were able to confirm that the signature on the original ballot did not match the legal voter's signature on file.










NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!

Michael H. Drucker
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