Coalition of 90 groups is demanding voting reforms in 2019

Legislative Gazette file photo

With a new Legislature about to be seated in Albany, a coalition of more than 90 groups is asking the governor and lawmakers to reform the state’s voting laws this coming session.

The Fair Elections of New York campaign sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and all 213 members of the Legislature calling for new voting rights as well as a public campaign financing system for statewide offices.

The coalition — which includes unions, good government groups, think tanks and political parties — is asking for a 6-1 small donor public financing system for all state races, including district attorneys statewide; lower contributions limits, and closing the LLC loophole. They want
a “functional, fair administrative agency” like the Connecticut’s Citizens Elections Program to oversee the state’s elections.

“New York State should be a model of American democracy. Instead its electoral system lags far behind. Too often, it’s an embarrassment,” Michael Waldman, President of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, said.

In addition to a taxpayer-funded campaign system, the coalition wants to give parolees the right to vote, create an early voting system in New York; allow voter registration on the day of elections; and pre-register 16- and 17-year olds.

Te letter, dated November 26, 2018, states that “A small minority of ultra-wealthy interests are doing all they can across the country—in state legislatures and in the courts—to weaken rules that support democracy and collective action …. This is a national crisis, and New York state can be a leader in stopping it.

The coalition is optimistic because — beginning in January — both the Assembly and state Senate will be controlled by Democratic conferences who have pushed for these and similar changes in previous legislative sessions.

The coalition also points to the ouster of several former Democratic senators who helped keep the Senate in Republican hands for several years. Those rogue Democrats were voted out of office during the fall elections, signaling a public desire for more progressive voting laws and campaign finance reforms.

“New Yorkers spoke loud and clear about their desire for fair elections by voting out corporate IDC members, and electing new Senate leaders who are unafraid to stand up to big money interests,” said Jessica Wisneski, deputy director of Citizen Action of New York. “We need to make democracy reform the first order of business in 2019. That means passing a small dollar public financing program, so power is taken out of the hands of corporate CEOs and returned to where it belongs: with the people,”

The Fair Elections group believes that New York residents who have been recently released from prison, or are out on parole, should be given the right to vote.

The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement Group (CAIC), a signatory on the letter, have championed this reformation.

“It is inherently inequitable, unfair and allows an exorbitant amount of power to be concentrated in the hands of the very few wealthy and well-connected. This is at the great expense of every day New Yorkers, and even more so for low-income and people of color, who face daily crises around housing, education, health, transportation, a racist criminal justice system, and poor working conditions,” the letter reads.

The groups also proposed the option of pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. California, Colorado and Florida are among the states that have already established this system. Teens can register online in advance to have their voting status become automatically active on their 18th birthday.

The coalition includes groups such as 32BJ SEIU, the Alliance for Quality Education, the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizen Action New York, Democracy Matters, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, Make the Road New York, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the New York Immigration Coalition, the New York State Nurses Association, Public Citizen, Reinvent Albany, the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, True Blue New York, and the Working Families Party, to name just a few.