Thursday, October 27, 2016

NYC Council Members Question BOE Boss Ahead of Election Day

The New York City Board of Elections (BOE) is well prepared for the upcoming General Election save for minor hiccups, its Executive Director testified on Wednesday at the City Council.

At an oversight hearing held by the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan laid out the board’s preparations for the November 8th Election Day and fielded a variety of questions from Council members on topics like Voter Fraud allegations, helping homeless New Yorkers vote if eligible, and modernizing the voting process.

It’ll be a herculean task for the BOE as it installs 68,001 individual pieces of equipment at 1,205 poll sites across the City, manned by more than 36,000 poll workers armed with 2,952 tablets to quickly and effectively communicate issues as they come up as well as results at the end of the day. The Tablet Pilot program, Ryan said, is now a full-fledged unit that has been integrated into Election management.

It’s been a busy year for the BOE, which has been dogged for years by issues related to staffing, cronyism, and incompetence. There have been multiple Elections this year already, the Presidential Primary in April, the Congressional Primary in June, and the September State level Primary. It also managed a Special Election for a City Council seat in February. Taking lessons from those Elections, the BOE has stepped up efforts to ensure the November 8th General runs smoothly. It has focused on making Poll sites comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, hiring ADA coordinators for the Election. The BOE has also increased its outreach and recruitment efforts, according to Ryan. Nearly 5,000 Poll workers were recruited just through ads on the City’s mass transit system.

So far, across the five boroughs, between 79% and 93% of poll worker positions have been filled, Ryan said. The BOE has also taken steps to make certain that Polling sites do not run short on ballots, printing more ballots than the number of voters registered and also providing Ballot-on-Demand printing machines at certain sites in case of emergencies. The BOE also distributed 34,145 Absentee ballots for Federal and Military personnel, of which 11,432 have already been returned.

Ryan did point out one setback, and made a public plea for help, as the BOE has a shortage of Korean and Chinese interpreters.

Although the hearing was primarily intended as a briefing on the upcoming Election, it was inevitable that Council members would bring up a recently surfaced video in which a Manhattan Democratic BOE Commissioner said there was Voter Fraud in the City, in part, through the use of IDNYC Municipal Identification cards, which have no relationship with Voting. The Commissioner, Alan Schulkin, called for some form of Voter Identification and also made unsubstantiated claims of fraud against certain communities of color.

Council Member Ben Kallos, Chair of the Committee, posed questions aimed at debunking Schulkin’s claims about Voter Identification requirements. Ryan, in response, reiterated that New York State does not require any Identification for Voting, only a signature. Only in rare instances, first-time voters may be required to produce Identification if their Voter Registration is incomplete.

When Kallos asked if Schulkin’s claims about voters being bussed to multiple polling sites held any water, Ryan said, “Those issues have never come to my attention, not during my time as a commissioner going back to 2010 or in the three-plus years that I’ve been the executive director.” The State Attorney General’s office also said earlier this month that the AG’s office has not received complaints of widespread Voter Impersonation Fraud that Schulkin mentioned.

Schulkin’s comments, however, triggered a larger discussion at the hearing on how the BOE holds its employees and Commissioners accountable for their words and actions. Ryan told the Chair that Schulkin’s personal views as expressed in the video have not had an impact on the execution of Elections. “We have been proceeding with business as usual,” he said. But he also could not confirm whether any action had been initiated against Schulkin by either the BOE or outside authorities. The New York Post reported on Tuesday that Schulkin had been subpoenaed by the State Board of Elections’ investigative unit. Under questioning, Ryan told Council Member Joe Borelli, a Republican from Staten Island, that it would be inappropriate for him to comment.

“With respect to issues related to any of my superiors,” Ryan said, “I would prefer not to engage in that discourse back and forth because at the end of the day I still answer to the ten commissioners...I’m not trying to be evasive, but I don’t think it’s my place to answer those questions.” The BOE has one Republican and one Democratic Commissioner from each borough, named by County Party heads, per a State Law that many want to see changed.

Asked directly by Borelli if the BOE stood by Schulkin’s comments, Ryan said, “The Board of Elections is a quasi-legislative body. It takes official positions when six commissioners vote on official positions. So I’m not going to comment on the musings of any one individual.” He cited two studies, though, one by a Loyola Law School Professor and another by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, that have shown that instances of In-Person Voter Fraud are almost nonexistent.

Council members also questioned Ryan on the BOE’s actions taken against two Brooklyn BOE clerks involved in the massive Voter Purge before the Presidential Primary. Ryan said the two remain on suspension without pay, but the BOE had yet to file a formal report. He promised to share the report once the BOE’s Commissioners have concluded the process. The BOE attempted, however, to at least partially rectify the mistakes the clerks made by restoring 117,656 voters back to the rolls in Brooklyn ahead of the June Congressional Primary.

The line of questioning also got to details of how employees are disciplined. Ryan explained to Council members that the BOE, much like any other agency, has internal processes in place for termination. A Commissioner, he said, could only be removed by the Governor with good cause. An employee, depending on whether they are part of a union or not, would go through a disciplinary hearing and then the ten Commissioners would vote on a final determination. Ryan said he himself holds no Executive authority to fire an employee.

“Right now it seems to me that the lines of accountability...are totally unclear,” said Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, “and that’s not a good system for having people do the job.”

The hearing was collaborative, however. Ryan promised to work with Council Member Ruben Wills on helping homeless residents in his District vote and told Lander that the BOE would look at improvements to it’s Voter Notification processes.

“Our staff has been running ragged basically from February, March,” Ryan said. “We’re gonna lift our heads up after November 8, we’ll get through certification. I’m hopeful that there won’t be any specials between January and September. That’ll give us a window of opportunity to look at all of these additional improvements.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Nonpartisan Elections May be Coming to a Key Battleground State

Virginia Delegate Sam Rasoul has introduced new Legislation that would implement a Nonpartisan, Top-Two Primary similar to California’s Election system passed in 2010 under Proposition 14.

Rasoul argues that the Statewide reform will bring fairer and more efficient Elections to Virginia.

To recap, under the Nonpartisan Election model, all candidates and voters, regardless of Party affiliation, participate on a single ballot in all Statewide Primary Elections, but not the Presidential race. The Top-Two vote-getters, regardless of Party, move on to the General Election in November. Advocates say Nonpartisan Elections create greater accountability among lawmakers at the State and Federal levels.

I would like to see Top-Four, to include any candidates, up to four, who gets 20% of the vote.

“In Virginia, we want to start a critical conversation about just how democratic our process is, especially when 90 percent of legislators are only concerned with the primary electorate and how that really alienates the vast majority of voters in the general electorate. I think public primaries are an important piece of that,” said Rasoul.

Rasoul admits that “there is no perfect solution, or silver bullet” in Election Reform, but sees Top-Two as a step in the right direction. According to Rasoul, the passing of his bill will free voters from being “held hostage to the primary electorate system,” resulting in a better voiced and empowered majority.

Responding to critics who say Top-Two can create Same-Party races and do nothing for Third-Party candidates who already struggle to gain ballot access, Rasoul said in Virginia, “most elections only have one choice to begin with” due to current Primary Election laws and Gerrymandered Districts.

In other words, since the re-election rate is so high for incumbents, 9 in 10 races in the State will never be competitive under the current system and many incumbents sail through to Re-Election without a challenger from an opposing Party. All the incumbent has to do is survive a Primary challenger, if one even emerges.

Rasoul argues that in a hypothetical situation where two Democrats move on to the General Election in a heavily Democratic District, Nonpartisan Elections would give a chance for voters to “grill both of them,” providing more accountability for Legislators to reflect the views and values of the District rather than riding on party affiliation to get the vote.

In the interest of long-term systemic reform, Rasoul is convinced that Nonpartisan Elections would give voice to the commonly overlooked majority of Virginia voters. It is unclear at the moment when or if his bill will be heard.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Texas Voter ID Law Abbott v. Veasey 16-393 Petition

The Supreme Court Abbott v. Veasey 16-393, SCOTUSblog Coverage Petition of the day.

(1) Whether Texas’ Voter-ID law “results in” the abridgment of Voting rights on account of race.

(2) Whether judgment should be rendered for the petitioners on the claim that Texas’ Voter-ID law was enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose.

Oct 19 2016 - Order extending time to file response to petition to and including November 28, 2016, for all respondents.

Oct 18 2016 - Consent to the filing of Amicus Curiae briefs, in support of either Party or of neither Party, received from Counsel for the petitioners.

Oct 17 2016 - Consent to the filing of Amicus Curiae briefs, in support of either party or of neither party, received from Counsel for respondent United States.

Sep 23 2016 - Appendix of Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, et al. filed.

Sep 23 2016 - Petition for a Writ of Certiorari filed. (Response due October 27, 2016)

CLICK HERE to read the 47 page (PDF) Certiorari.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Centrist Project Announces Endorsement of 3 Historic Candidates

Today, The Centrist Project proudly endorsed two great Independent candidates for U.S. House, Martin Babinec of New York (NY-22) and Alan LaPolice of Kansas (KS-1).

They join Independent Margaret Stock for U.S. Senate (Alaska) as their 2016 endorsed slate. Each of these candidates embody their core beliefs, The Centrist Principles. No Independent has been elected to the House in 26 years, but this year, both Babinec and LaPolice are on the verge of winning in these Open-Seat races.

Both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House are in play in November. A tightly divided Legislature means Independents in the middle will have the most power to bring everyone to the table to support Legislation, Cast deciding votes for the Speakers/Leaders, and be the decisive votes on important Legislation.

Will they head to Washington to get Congress working again? It's up to YOU.

Meet the Candidates:

Learn why we endorsed these candidates in their Election Center and read their Blog announcing the endorsements.

We cannot expect better political outcomes unless we can get beyond the pettiness of the two Parties. These candidates are exactly the right kind of smart, thoughtful, public-minded Independents necessary to challenge the broken system.

No matter who wins the Presidency, that person will have a tough time achieving anything with Congress. Breaking the log jam will take fresh ideas from someone not bound by Republican or Democratic dogma.

How do we solve this?

We elect people who actually serve people.

I am a member of the Centrist Project.

I can't tell you enough how much your support means to these candidates. As Independents, they don't have the built-in advantages of the Parties: giant donor lists, campaign staff, and volunteers ready to go, they build from scratch with all of our help. The candidates are most grateful.

“To be recognized and endorsed by the Centrist Project means so very much to me. This is an organization which clearly places the American People as its only special interest and the restoration of rational, representational government as its mission. It gives me great pride to be part of that same cause. They bravely seek out people to stand up and fight for what is right and to that cause, and I am a fierce ally,” said LaPolice.

These are the leaders we need in Washington. Let's all do our part.

CLICK HERE for the Centrist Project's Election Center.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Electionline Weekly Oct-27-2016

Legislative Updates

North Dakota: Secretary of State Al Jaeger has said that he will seek funding from the Legislature in 2017 to purchase new Voting Equipment for the State. "There will be a bill introduced as an agency bill," Jaeger told Prairie Public News. "Along with the Counties, we will educate Legislators as to its need, and how important it is."

Ohio: Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) and Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Westerville) have introduced House Bill 609 that would make Ballot Selfies legal in the Buckeye State. Secretary of State Jon Husted supports the idea. “This law was written before the age of selfies and social media, so it’s clear lawmakers did not intend to limit anyone’s free speech, but instead protect voters from intimidation,” Husted spokesman Josh Eck said in a statement. “The secretary does not believe posting a photo of your vote on social media is a problem and would not have an issue with the Legislature making that clarification in law. He does still recommend boards of elections consult their county prosecutor in the meantime as they would be responsible for enforcing the statute as it currently reads.”

South Carolina: Lawmakers in the Palmetto State have said that they will once again file Early Voting Legislation when the new session begins in 2017. "I'm a strong supporter of early voting simply because it allows citizens to participate in the process as conveniently as possible. We ought not, in my opinion, be putting barriers to voting,” Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) told WLTX. “To be an industrialized country, we have some of the lowest voter participation rates in the world. We ought to all be working to try to improve that. Early voting, in my view, works toward that end."

Legal Updates

Arizona: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments this week over whether or not Elections officials should count Out-of-Precinct Provisional ballots. Plaintiffs argue that not counting the ballots affects minorities more often than white voters.

Colorado: State Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs) and a University of Denver student have filed suit in Federal Court arguing that Colorado’s ban on Ballot Selfies violates their First Amendment rights. "And while exercising free speech, they now have to be worried about being prosecuted for participating in the political process or for encouraging discussion on the important civic choices facing our state," Hill told The Gazette. "We need to stand alongside all Colorado voters by fighting for this reform."

Florida: U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said that there is no evidence that State Elections officials are intentionally moving slowing in verifying some of the 64,000 additional Voter Applications received during the extended deadline. He rejected the Florida Democratic Party’s request to allow people to cast a ballot during Early Voting even if their registration hasn’t been verified.

NORML of Florida has sued the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office because some Mail-in Ballots did not include a question about a State Constitutional Amendment on allowing Medical Marijuana.

Michigan: Michiganders, get those duck faces ready! U.S. District Judge Janet Neff has ruled that the State’s prohibition of Ballot Selfies violates the First Amendment. “The Court agrees with the Plaintiff that the interests in the integrity of the electoral process can be secured in a more reasonable manner than the blanket prohibition on citizens' photography,” Neff ruled. Well, maybe not so fast. The State is appealing the ruling.

Missouri: St. Louis County Prosecutors are investigating allegations of Voter Fraud in Berkeley. The allegations claim that the Mayor and his supporters may have illegally interfered with the Absentee ballot process.

New Mexico. The New Mexico Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a suit that says the State Law prohibiting unaffiliated voters from voting in Primaries violates the State Constitution. “Nowhere in the Constitution is membership in a political party a requirement for voters in the state of New Mexico,” lawyer, J. Edward Hollington, told the Court. According to the lawsuit, nearly 60% of Legislative, County-level and Judicial races were decided in that Primary because there were no General Election contests for those offices.

Ohio: The Ohio Democratic Party and homeless advocates have filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to change State Election Laws that affect homeless voters. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Justice Elena Kagan to stop Secretary of State Jon Husted from carrying out a pair of 2014 Statutes requiring Ohioans to accurately complete five fields of information: name, address, date of birth, signature, and partial Social Security number, on requests for Absentee or Provisional ballots. If a mistake is made, the ballot is thrown out even if Elections officials can identify the voter as eligible. The groups won in Federal District Court and largely lost in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Sept. 13.

Virginia: On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hamilton ordered that the Virginia Voter Registration rolls be reopened with a new deadline of 11:59pm on Friday. The ruling was the result of a suit brought after the State’s Online Voter Registration crashed on the original Voter Registration deadline.

West Virginia: The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Voting Rights Project have filed a Class-Action Lawsuit against Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole for refusing to recognize and permit Online Voter Registration in the County. “Since Karen Cole has refused to process all of these registrations automatically like all of the other county clerks are doing, we don’t know how many people this could affect,” said Jamie Lyn Crofts, ACLU-WV Legal Director. “Thousands of people have been using this online system and we are very worried that people don’t know that they are going to have to complete this extra step ... Many people could be disenfranchised on Election Day because of it.” Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers agreed with the ACLU this week and ordered Cole to accept and process the Online Voter Registrations.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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U.N. Petition to Your Representatives to Protect Climate Policy from Big Polluters

You wouldn’t let the fox guard the henhouse, so why would you allow big polluters and those representing their interests to participate in creating climate change policy? This is the question that many Government delegates are asking as we prepare for the U.N. Climate talks.

Climate change-related events are already devastating communities, and the very future of our planet is on the line. Now is the time for strong action on climate. But the fossil fuel industry is doing everything it can to protect its profits, including making sure its interests are represented in the policymaking arena.

The good news is that just a few months ago, many Government delegates raised the issue of conflicts of interest at the latest U.N. Climate treaty meeting, the first time this issue had ever been discussed in over 20 years of Climate policy. Now we need to make sure that every Government will stand with these leaders to address conflicts of interest in Climate policy.

Call on your Government to protect Climate policy from big polluters and address conflicts of interest at the U.N.

To: Your Government representatives to the U.N.

I stand with the governments calling for an end to big polluter conflicts of interest at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In order for the UNFCCC to create strong climate policy that protects people and the planet from climate catastrophe, we need to remove big polluters from the policymaking table.

I am calling on you to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and stand with the government leaders calling for a conflict of interest policy at the UNFCCC.

CLICK HERE to sign your name to Protect Climate Policy.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Common Cause Restoring Voter Choice Report

The manipulation of Legislative Districts for political advantage in the United States is older than the United States itself. In 1788, the year before the Constitution was ratified, Patrick Henry convinced the Virginia Legislature to alter James Madison’s Congressional District to favor James Monroe. Madison won anyway. More than 20 years later, Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry infamously approved State Senate Districts drawn to ensure Democratic-Republican control of the Bay State and, as a result, gave us the term gerrymandering.

These historical giants left the political stage long ago, but gerrymandering lives.

Gerrymandering skews Democracy in many different ways. This report focuses on one particular effect: diminished voter choice. The most effective Gerrymanders slice and dice communities with surgical precision to make the outcomes of district-wide Elections as predictable and favorable as possible to the Party in power.

In many cases, outcomes are so effectively preordained that competition disappears and voters only see one Major Party on the ballot in November. In the most egregious cases, incumbent protection Gerrymanders result in Districts in which even Major Party Primaries are uncontested. As a result, the Election is over when the filing deadline passes and before a single vote is cast.

This report examines the 2016 Primary and General Elections for Congress and State Legislatures. It concludes that voters in a shocking number of campaigns have been left without choices at the polls this year. In states where Legislators drew maps, voters have fewer choices than in states where maps were drawn by individuals with no personal stake in the outcome. And when voters have real choices on Election Day, our Democracy is strengthened because citizens can hold Elected officials accountable.

CLICK HERE to read the 24 page (PDF) Report.

The report doesn't cover the difficulty for minor and independent candidates to get on the ballot through restrictive ballot access laws.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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