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NEW YORK

Candidates

Jackie Gordon for Representative

MARCH 2020

• New York: Democratic Attorney General Tish James has asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, to issue an executive order mandating that all New Yorkers be sent mail-in ballots so that they can vote from home in New York's April 28 presidential primary. A special election for the state's vacant 27th Congressional District is also set for the date.

New York: A state court has struck down the third-party ballot access restrictions and campaign finance regulations imposed by New York's State Public Campaign Financing Commission, which Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic legislature created after they were unable to agree on new reforms. The court held that the law creating the commission had itself violated the state constitution by improperly delegating legislative authority, siding with the progressive Working Families Party, which had sued over the commission's rules that would have made it harder for it to maintain access to the ballot.

Under the previous law, parties only had to win 50,000 votes in the most recent gubernatorial election to be automatically awarded a spot on the ballot over the next four years, and because New York's "fusion voting" lets candidates win the nomination of multiple parties, third parties play a prominent role in New York. However, the commission's now-invalidated rules required parties to meet a threshold every two years starting after 2022, and that benchmark would also increase: to either 2% or 130,000 votes in the preceding presidential election or gubernatorial contest, the latter of which takes place in midterms.

The WFP argued that Cuomo was retaliating against the party for backing a primary challenge against him from the left, prompting the organization to file suit alongside some legislators from both major parties.

This lawsuit also invalidates the campaign finance reforms the commission adopted, which set the donation limit for individual donors giving to statewide candidates at $18,000—considerably lower than the current $70,000 cap but still much higher than federal donation limits of $2,800 per election. The limits for state Senate and Assembly had also been lowered to $10,000 and $6,000, respectively. However, the commission hadn't reduced the limit for party committees, which can receive a hefty $117,300 from a single donor that they can then give to candidates.

The commission's public financing rules had set up a system where donations up to $50 were matched at a 12:1 ratio, those between $50 to $150 were matched 9:1, and those from $150 and $250 were matched 8:1. While that meant a $250 donation could qualify for an extra $2,300 in matching funds, the new system imposed a sharp limitation by only applying to donors who live within the district that a candidate is running for. That curtailed the effectiveness of this new program, particularly for campaigns in less affluent districts, and all of the campaign finance measures fell far short of what good government groups have advocated for.

Democratic state Attorney General Tish James, a Cuomo ally, has not yet said whether she will appeal the ruling.

JANUARY 2020

New York City, NY: Democrats, who hold nearly every seat on New York's City Council, have introduced a bill that would grant voting rights in local elections to noncitizens with lawful permanent resident status, which could give between 500,000 and 1 million people voting rights if it passes, according to proponents. With a majority of council members sponsoring the bill, it stands a good chance of becoming law.

A handful of small localities across the country have granted voting rights in local elections to noncitizens with permanent resident status, but a similar move by New York City would dwarf all the others in terms of impact. Furthermore, because of its prominence in the media, a successful implementation of this policy could influence other jurisdictions to adopt it as well.

Proposals like this have a long history in U.S. politics. For much of the 19th century and up until around 1920, many states granted a measure of voting rights to noncitizens who had permanently immigrated to the country. It's also the norm in many European democracies: In the European Union, EU citizens have the right to vote in elections for local government and the European Parliament in whichever member country they reside, and noncitizen residents have some degree of local voting rights in more than a dozen European nations.

New York: Democratic lawmakers have unveiled a bill that they're calling a state-level version of the federal Voting Rights Act, intended to restore some of the protections that the Supreme Court's conservative majority stripped away in its infamous 2013 ruling gutting a key part of the federal VRA.

That decision did away with the system known as "preclearance," whereby states and local governments with a history of discriminatory voting practices (mostly in the South) had to obtain approval from the Justice Department to enact any changes to voting laws or procedures.

The New York bill would revive that preclearance regime by mandating that all localities in the state obtain approval from the state attorney general for any changes to elections or voting, with a requirement that they demonstrate such changes won't have a discriminatory impact on any racial, ethnic, or language minority groups.

The bill also makes it easier to wage litigation against "at-large" voting systems in local governments that dilute minority voting power. Such litigation would prompt those localities to switch from electing bodies such as city council on a citywide basis to electing them by district, which would give minority groups a better chance to elect their preferred candidates.

Democrats hold full control over state government, meaning there is a good chance this proposal will become law.

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New York: Federal district court Judge Alison Nathan recently ruled that New York's state Board of Elections was unconstitutionally violating voters' rights by designating certain voters as "inactive" and removing their names from poll books used to verify a voter's registration status when they show up to vote. Nathan ordered election officials to make sure that lists of inactive voters be made available to poll workers.

The state moves voters to "inactive" if a single mailing is marked as "undeliverable" by the post office or if officials have reason to believe the voter had moved. However, because the U.S. Postal Service and the National Change of Address database has many inaccurate records, thousands of voters who hadn't moved were placed on the inactive list. When they would show up to vote on Election Day, some weren't given the chance to vote a provisional ballot or were told by poll workers to go to another polling site, but if that alternative ended up being the wrong polling site, their ballot went uncounted.

Nathan's ruling will help mitigate this problem, though to resolve it fully, New York will need to implement same-day voter registration. An effort to do so is in the works, but because it would require an amendment to the state constitution, same-day registration could not take effect prior to 2023.

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New York: State Senate Democrats have passed a bill along party lines to enact automatic voter registration, just as they did in 2019. Although last year's effort failed to win passage in the Assembly due to an alleged drafting error, modified legislation stands a good chance of passing in the lower chamber as soon as next week. If it becomes law, automatic registration in New York would enlist agencies beyond just the Department of Motor Vehicles, which is critical for the state with the country's lowest proportion of drivers per capita.

Senate Democrats also passed a raft of other bills that would expand early voting locations and voting access, require polling places on college campuses, and mandate early voting locations in each county's most populous municipality as well as early voting sites in medium-sized localities. Another measure gives local governments the option to operate mobile early voting locations for part of the early voting period instead of its entirety.

Democrats hold an even larger majority in the state Assembly, and if the lower chamber passes these bills, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo would likely sign them into law.