Public Advocate Releases Voting And Election Reform Platform

December 23rd, 2020

Press Release

Following the Tuesday special election in City Council District 12, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams released a platform today for improving election administration and expanding voting rights in New York. The city and state have seen perennial problems with election administration which date back across many years and election cycles, and which were on display for the entire nation during the 2020 general election. The additional challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated existing issues, and systemic reforms in election administration, as well as legislative solutions to expand and protect access to voting, are long overdue. On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo finally signed legislation from Assembly Member Latrice Walker and State Senator Mike Gianaris to institute automatic voter registration in New York, and additional legislative and agency-level actions must be urgently addressed.

"Voting is one of the most direct ways for people to raise their voices and create change, yet our electoral systems are often stubbornly resistant to change and silencing of voices." said Public Advocate Williams on releasing the platform. "Enacting these reforms is crucial to our city and state fulfilling their obligation to make voting as easy, accessible, and safe as possible, for as many people as possible. New York's electoral systems must be based on civic responsibility, not political gamesmanship, to be able to meet the needs of New Yorkers who deserve to be able to vote for a government that reflects and represents our communities."

Among the proposals identified within Public Advocate Williams' reform platform are:

Reform the Board of Elections Contracting Process

In the 2020 Election, the company contracted by the BOE caused severe issues when it sent out 100,000 incorrect ballots. They must be held accountable, but there must also be larger reform. On the front end, transparent competitive bidding processes must be  used. On the back end, there must be robust oversight and quality control mechanisms in place so that such errors never  happen again.

Implement Ranked-Choice Voting Effectively

Ranked Choice Voting will change the way we elect leaders for the better, helping to make sure that all communities and all voters are better represented - voters knew this in 2019, when the vast majority elected to adopt the practice in New York City. The system has since come under many largely unfounded attacks, but the greatest threat to its successful implementation at this point is the city's own inaction.  It is critical that the City carries out a robust and culturally competent public education effort that ensures voters have all the information they need to cast a ballot effectively. This outreach must occur in languages that match the diversity of New York City communities. The City Council must pass Int. 1994 (Ampry-Samuel) to help the Campaign Finance Board implement a robust citywide campaign. Our office will work to hold all responsible to account so that the necessary work is done by city agencies and community based organizations, and will be actively engaged in reaching New Yorkers in advance of the upcoming special elections. Ranked Choice Voting is as important a democratic reform now as it was when New Yorkers overwhelmingly voted to implement it over a year ago, and the city has an obligation to fulfill the will of the voters and ensure that this new form of voting is put in place in a way that is clear to voters and operationally sound.

Improve Voting By Mail

The  state should implement a "No-Excuse" vote-by-mail system, and pay for and provide pre-paid postage on all absentee ballots  so that no ballot can be rejected for lacking stamps. The BOE must work to increase its counting capacity so that  accurate election results can be delivered to the public in a  significantly more timely fashion.

Improve In-Person Voting and Staffing

The Board of Elections must ensure the number  of ballot-on-demand printers at polling sites meets the needs of each district's population. It must require all  centers and institutions that receive taxpayer funding to be poll  sites, in order to create better distribution of voters at poll sites  across the city and shorter wait times.

Increase Voting Accessibility

The BOE must make improvements  regarding accessibility for New Yorkers with disabilities including failsafe mechanisms for private and efficient absentee voting for those with vision and motor-related disabilities, as well as implementing better in-person  accommodations including ensuring functional, ADA compliant,  accessible entrances and voting machines. They should also strengthen early voting by further expanding the number of sites  and allowing voters to cast ballots at any early voting site in  their borough.

Ensure the Right to Vote for Incarcerated New Yorkers

New York State must join Washington DC, Maine and Vermont in ending the disenfranchisement of incarcerated people, and of New Yorkers on parole who currently  require a conditional voting rights pardon from the Governor  in order to vote. The City must expand the voting infrastructure in its jails so that people held in pretrial detention  are able to exercise their right to vote, and improve data collection and coordination between  agencies to ensure all eligible New Yorkers, including those who  are incarcerated, have the right and access to voting. 

Ensure the Right to Vote in Municipal Elections for Immigrant New Yorkers

The City must enact the Our City, Our Vote bill, of which the Public Advocate is a co-prime sponsor, to restore the right of non-citizen New Yorkers who have Green Cards and work authorizations to vote in municipal  elections. There is strong precedent for such action, as these  New Yorkers were previously able to vote in School Board  elections from 1969 to the dissolution of the School Board  system in 2002.

Protect the Rights of Non-Major Political Parties

In a transparent political maneuver, Governor Cuomo  and other state leaders recently increased the vote threshold  needed for a party to maintain automatic ballot status by 160%  and increased the threshold for qualifying for a ballot line via  petitions by 200%. The original thresholds must be restored. It is  also critical that New York maintains fusion voting, which allows  candidates to run on multiple party lines and accumulate their  vote totals.

Re-Structure the Board of Elections

Under the current system, Democratic and  Republican county party leaders, who are unelected and  unaccountable to the public, pick the commissioners who run  local Boards.In order to rebuild  trust in our core democratic process, we need to end the  practice of partisan appointments at the NYC BOE. The Governor  and the State Legislature must take action to restructure the  BOE as an independent, non-partisan body that emphasizes  professionalism above all else.

Institute New Board of Elections Leadership

While system-wide reforms are needed,  as an immediate first step, Executive Director Michael Ryan must  resign. In addition to overseeing numerous operational collapses,  Executive Director Ryan was found by the Conflicts of Interest  Board to have used his position of influence for his own personal  gain at New Yorkers' expense.

The recommendations presented by Public Advocate Williams will require both city and state action, across partisan lines and within nonpartisan institutions. The Office of Public Advocate will continue to work with elected officials and advocacy groups to advance legislative and policy changes while engaging and mobilizing the community toward these goals.

The full platform is available here.

"Voting is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy and the right of every citizen," said Lurie Daniel-Favors, Esq, Interim Executive Director, the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College. "Public Advocate Jumaane Williams's platform makes voting easier and more accessible for all New Yorkers. The ten-point plan suggests reforms that will simplify the process and protect and expand voting rights for all, particularly the most vulnerable. CLSJ affirms the platform and urges regulators to codify the suggestions at the local, City, and State levels."

"It's abundantly clear that despite its progressive reputation, New York has lagged behind much of the country in making voting more accessible, elections more efficient, and the process more transparent," said L. Joy Williams, President of the Brooklyn NAACP. "The reforms presented by the Public Advocate are essential to correcting years of anti-democratic policies and systems that have disenfranchised New Yorkers, especially in communities of color."

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