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New York City Council Comittee on Governmental Operations on The November 6th General Election and Proposed Reforms for Better Elections December 5, 2012 Good morning. My name is Neal Rosenstein. I am the Government Reform Coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). NYPIRG is a statewide, student directed, not-for-profit research and advocacy organization that is involved on a wide range of issues, including government accountability and election reform. It’s a pleasure to be speaking before you this morning on a subject so vital to our democracy. We commend the Chair and members of the Committee for their efforts and oversight of the city’s elections and look forward to your passage of legislation on long-needed improvements to the city’s role in the administration of elections, the performance of the New York City Board of Elections and to needed changes to the state’s Election Law. Along with our advocacy efforts, NYPIRG has a long history of monitoring conditions at the polls. We’ve issued reports about Election Day conditions in New York City that highlighted poorly trained poll workers and chaotic conditions at poll sites. Each year, the staff from our 20 campus-based offices across the state is trained to identify trouble spots and assist students and other voters with any problems they might encounter. Our campus chapters also take the lead on our hands-on efforts. This year we submitted applications from well over 30,000 New Yorkers registering or updating their records, including 20,000 students and 10,000 Straphangers. NYPIRG had the honor of registering more voters on National Voter Registration Day this year than any other organization in the country. I also have the pleasure to serve as co-facillitator of the New York State Coalition for Voter Participation and Fair Elections, a diverse group composed of civil rights, good government and advocacy groups concerned with the electoral process. Our office in Albany issues numerous reports on election reform issues and we play an active role in pressing for reforms at the city and state level. NYPIRG also runs an Election Day voter helpline with our colleagues from Common Cause/NY. During the Presidential Election, we logged more than 1,000 calls from voters searching for accurate information and complaining about conditions at the polls on Election Day. By far, the most common complaint was long lines, sometimes in excess of three hours. But we also received calls of inoperable scanners throughout the day, chaotically organized poll sites, innapropriate and illegal demands for ID and other problems. We have attached a spreadsheet detailing the complaints we received.
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Voter Registration, Voter Education, Election Day Operations & the Administration of Elections: Our Election System is in Need of Serious Reform New York State had a Voting Eligible Population (VEP) of 13,111,4691 in 2010, the last year final figures are available. VEP is highly accurate and only includes citizens over 18 who are not incarcerated for a felony or on felony parole. However, only 10,680,536 New Yorkers were listed by the NYS BOE as Active Voters for the same time period. That’s means 2,430,933 eligible citizens were either not registered to vote or on inactive status2. Only preliminary VEP is available for 2012. However, we do know that overall participation decreased in the city compared to four years ago. But registration and participation numbers have not dramatically changed since the last Presidential in 2008. In that year only 59.6% of the state’s VEP participated in the election3. Concurrently, 40% of eligible citizens did not participate. That includes unregistered citizens, those who were unable to go to the polls and those who were so disengaged or turned off by the political process that they chose not to participate. This is a serious problem in need of serious solutions. The problems New York faces on with our dismal voter participation rates don’t end with fixing our dismal system for registering voters. This Election Day, too many of New York’s beleaguered voters stood in line for hours and faced problems at the polls in order to cast their ballots. These chronic problems at poll sites require strong and immediate action from city, state and local governments, as well as from Boards of Elections. While many board staff and poll workers worked tirelessly before and on Election Day, the problems many voters faced are systemic. They were not caused by Hurricane Sandy, the Governor’s Executive Order, redistricting or conducting New York’s first Presidential Election on optical scan, We need to focus on reforms to our voter registration, voter education, Election Day operations and the administration of elections or these same problems will occur over and over again. To be fair, the media, and many in the public focus primarily on the troubles voters may have faced on Election Day. It’s important to recognize that the majority of city voters did not have any problems. Some lines are unavoidable in high turnout elections, dedicated poll workers show up and work18+ hour days and staff and voters coped with many last minute changes to election sites and procedures.
United States Election Project, 2010 General Election Turnout Rates: http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2010G.html 2 New York State Board of Elections, Enrollment by County: http://www.elections.ny.gov/EnrollmentCounty.html. The report lists 1,126,208 Inactive voters, meaning there were 1,304,725 unregistered eligible voters in the state. The two numbers together equaled the state’s total VEP of 13,111,469. 3 United States Election Project, 2008 General Election Turnout Rates: http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2008G.html Page 2 of 25 NYPIRG/NYC Council BOE Oversight: 12.5.12
Failures at Multiple Levels Meant a Worse Voting Experience in New York City Both the Board and Albany have failed to enact many significant internal and legislative reforms. That makes it easy to blame the Board of Elections for the problems that many voters faced on Election Day and to point a finger at Albany and decry their lack of action. Such finger pointing and Board bashing is a favorite position of Mayor Bloomberg for example. The reality is that the Mayor can and should be doing more to improve voting conditions in the city than his public condemnations. The same holds true for Speaker Quinn and the Council. We acknowledge that the city has made important contributions to the Board over recent years and most recently in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and the Council has begun to consider important legislative reform we address later in our testimony. But the sad fact is that the problems faced by city voters have been know for years. The Board, along with the Mayor and the Council all bear partial responsibility for not doing a better job at both running elections and enfranchising the eligible electorate of New York City. Five Election Failures of the New York City Board of Elections…and Mayor Bloomberg and the Council The Mayor’s opposition to giving time off to non-essential city workers to help staff the polls has meant worse poll site conditions across the city. Poorly trained and under-performing poll workers cause a significant number of the problems faced by voters on Election Day. It’s clear the current system for recruiting poll workers needs change. For more than a decade, Mayor Bloomberg has refused to support or advance a city policy that would allow municipal employees time off on Primary Day to work the polls (most already receive General Election Day off.) The next time voters are stuck on a non-moving line with a poll worker unable to efficiently do their job they should hold the Mayor and Council accountable for failing to support or enact such a program. We urge that current proposed Council legislation to start a municipal poll worker program be strengthened and passed into law before next year’s election. The BOE’s administrative refusal to eliminate Voter Cards at sign in tables meant (& means) unnecessarily long lines and wait times for every voter. The archaic system of filling out a Voter Card for each voter is completely irrelevant now that we’ve moved to optical scan. The cards used to serve as an informal audit of vote totals at an ED, a function now basically obsolete with optical scan ballots that have numbered stubs to record how many ballots were distributed. Neither do the cards serve any antifraud purpose that couldn’t be replaced with a system that doesn’t require a handwritten component. NYPIRG suggested the elimination of the Cards to the Board’s Counsel last February to no avail. It is our understanding that no county outside of New York City still uses the Voter Card system. This is not the only time the Board’s legal advice has been questionable at best. (Other instances have included opposition to the Board’s new closedown procedures, delays in improving ballot design, participation in the statewide voter registration database and their current opposition to some of the important reform bills in front of this committee.) The next time voters are stuck on a non-moving line with a poll worker unable to efficiently and quickly fill out those cards, they should blame the Board.
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Voters shouldn’t get better service at a Starbucks than a poll site. Too many problems on Election Day are caused by poorly trained poll workers. The Board is simply not up to the job of providing enough well qualified poll workers and well run sites across the city on Election Day. We’ve heard horror stories of training sessions with dozing poll workers and meaningless poll worker testing protocols so it’s no wonder some sites literally break down on Election Day. NYPIRG heard reports throughout Election Day of poll workers who were simply not up to the task. In my own Brooklyn neighborhood, sites like MS 51 were the scene of long lines and chaotic conditions, while sites just blocks away were very busy but well organized. It’s time to professinalize training at the Board with outside consultants who will be held accountable for their performance instead of using in-house and patronage appointees. The Council should use their Terms and Conditions power over the budget of the Board to direct training resources only to professional trainers with overhauled training classes and demand performance reviews. The next time a voter faces chaotic sites, long lines and poll site employees and conditions that would drive a business bankrupt, they should blame the Board for its lousy training standards. The Mayor’s opposition to effective voter registration programs in city agencies means a decreased voice for the city on the state level and less diverse rolls. Mayor Bloomberg has long opposed having workers in city agencies covered by Local Law 29 (Pro-Voter Law) answer questions from clients who wish to fill out a voter registration form. City workers in Motor Voter agencies are required to do so, as are workers in DMV and many state agencies. The Mayor’s opposition not only means fewer voters are registered, but that the city’s voice in statewide elections is diminished and our rolls are less representative. To make matters worse, the Mayor’s Pro Voter agencies have also all failed to physically integrate voter registration forms onto their intake forms as required by the law, further decreasing the effectiveness of the program. The Council issued a scathing report on compliance in 2003, it’s time to follow-up and put pressure on the city administration to comply with the law. The next time we bemoan the city’s voter registration and participation rates, the Mayor is partly to blame. Doctor Zizmor shouldn’t have more ads in the subways than the Board of Elections. The city needs to do more to educate voters about the Board’s poll site locator and sample ballots along with election dates, voter rights and the resources like the BOE’s phone app. The lack of a more widespread voter education campaign by the city in the subways and busses in conjunction with the BOE or the Campaign Finance Board is baffling. For every voter unnecessarily forced onto an affidavit or faced with confusion about where they vote or the ballot on Election Day, the city is partly to blame. Albany is the Ultimate Solution…and the Problem There are a multitude of possible reforms that can be made to the state’s Election Law. Unfortunately, there has been little indication that the State Legislature considers the current situation a crisis, let alone a problem worth confronting and dealing with. Most consider the Republican State Senate as the principal and primary roadblock to reform. But let’s not forget that little improvements came out of the 2009-1010 session when
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Democrats controlled both houses. It is our hope that the new governing coalition in the Senate will be open to reforms. New York was the last state to fully implement HAVA. (While, that delay led to some improvements in the selection of new voting systems it is important to note this was not the intention of the delay, merely a beneficial side effect.) HAVA was indicative of the Legislature’s inability to responsibly govern and required action by the Justice Department and Federal Court. Similarly, just last year legislative inaction created an imbecilic two primary election system in New York, displaying a stunning disregard for voter participation, strained election budgets and the residents of the state. The one recent bright spot on the state level has involved the first steps by the Governor to automate voter registration through an overhaul of motor voter services offered by the states DMV offices. Since urban areas like New York City have far lower rates of citizens interacting with DMV offices we hope this Committee will also consider weighing in with the Governor’s (and Mayor’s) office on executive actions that could be taken to expand this program quickly to a broader range of state and city agencies. Unfortunately, instead of addressing our electoral crisis, the State Legislature has failed to act. Albany prefers to take on the persona of an ostrich, burying its head in the sand, unwilling and unable to address serious shortcomings in state election law. Since the vast bulk of laws that oversee and impact elections fall under the state’s jurisdiction, that bodes ill for the continued health of our democracy. Fortunately, the city has some authority to improve elections without action from Albany. The Council’s Role & the Election Reform Package Six bills currently in front of the this committee address discreet shortcomings in the administration of our elections and propose meaningful reforms. We urge their passage and measures to strengthen them. Meaningful structural reform of the Board of Elections can only originate in Albany, but the Council can and should do its part. While the Council’s oversight role is essential, your ability to legislate local reforms can play a vital role in improving voter participation and conditions at the polls. It’s time for this committee to continue your work on the bills, discuss them with the Mayor, BOE and other interested parties and for the Speaker to show her support for this legislation or explain her opposition. NYPIRG and our fellow civic groups Citizens Union, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of the City of New York have endorsed a specific list of amendments to the legislation that we believe will maximize their impact. We’ve previously submitted and re-append that document to this testimony. But we’d like to first highlight the reasons why we think it’s important each of these bills is passed and some of the more significant amendments we’re recommending.
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Voter Education and Participation Legislation Bring voter education into the information age. Intro 613 (Councilmember Dickens) – would require email notifications of election dates, registration deadlines and sample ballots to registered voters who voluntarily sign up for such updates. Let’s face it, many New Yorkers have made the transition to the information age and are wired via computers, tablets, tweets, texts and smart phones. This common sense legislation would direct and empower the Campaign Finance Board to notify interested voters of important election dates. It should prove to be a cost-effective and efficient method to let voters know about registration deadlines, poll site hours, links to sample ballots, poll site finders and the city’s voter guide. However, to take full advantage of email notifications, Albany should amend the city’s voter registration form to include an optional box for email addresses. The Legislature has the clear authority to modify voter registration forms but since their political will to do so is uncertain – it should also be explored whether the State or City Board of Elections can include a box on the non-form portion of the application. We suggest the Council follow-up with the State Board and request a written response regarding whether they or a local board can include an email box somewhere on the voter registration application. We hope the Council will also work with the Board and CFB about their outreach for emails and policies regarding them and to ensure email boxes are included on all other election related forms like poll worker applications and contribution forms used by the Campaign Finance Board. Provide detailed and non partisan information to city voters heading to the polls. Intro 769 (Councilmember Eugene) – would expand the city’s Voter Guide to include more city races and state and federal elections so voters are more informed about all contests on the ballot. The city’s Voter Guide is a fantastic resource for city voters. We also must remember that not all voters feel comfortable or have the resources to access election information via the Internet or new technologies. While the expansion of the Voter Guide will undoubtedly mean providing a higher level of support for the Campaign Finance Board, we believe the funds would be wisely spent. Since it is unlikely that Albany will ever create such a resource for voters, the case for city action to provide its voters with vital election information is strong. We urge the passage of this legislation. Should the Voter Guide contain all the proposed races? While some voters might question the need for including Delegates to the Judicial Nominating Conventions, there are virtually no sources of non-partisan information on races such as these available. One suggestion is that the Board could compile information on minor races, but only publish them in an online version of the Guide. Parents of school kids deserve to be included in government registration programs to help expand and diversify the city’s voter rolls. Intro 728 (Councilmember Greenfield) – would require voter registration forms to be provided to parents enrolling children in school.
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This proposed legislation is a no-brainer. Agency Based Registration is a proven method of registering eligible voters. The passage of the National Voter Registration Act (Motor Voter) recognized that government can and should play a pro-active role in reaching out to eligible voters. Unfortunately, the most advanced and integrated Motor Voter registration program is offered in the Department of Motor Vehicles. Practically every New York City resident takes the bus or subway, but we all certainly don’t own cars or possess a drivers’ license or interact with other Motor Voter agencies. That’s why reaching out to parents make so much sense. The city’s Pro-Voter Law wisely expanded agency registration to additional city agencies, but it’s clear we can do more. Parents of school kids have a special interest in the workings and budgets of our city, state and federal government. Many of them may be new citizens or young adults who have not yet participated in the electoral process. Distributing registration forms makes perfect sense. We suggest that the legislation be amended in several ways, including coding forms (as they are for CUNY distribution efforts), and ensuring that forms are collected and transmitted on a timely basis to the Board of Elections. Election Administration and Accountability Legislation Increase the number and quality of poll workers by offering time off for city employees working the polls. Intro 721 (Councilmember Lappin) – would establish a poll worker program that will give incentives to municipal employees to work on Election Day in order to enhance the pool of competent and able poll workers. Clearly, many of our poll workers are hard working, dedicated and we owe them our thanks. But the old system of relying on political parties to provide poll workers simply doesn’t work anymore. A significant number are now recruited through other means, but it’s clear that the city can still use more and better trained poll workers. Intro 721 would begin to comprehensively address this problem by institutionalizing a recruitment program in city agencies and we urge it’s passage. NYPIRG believes this is the most important piece of election legislation currently in front of the Council. So many of the problems voters face on Election Day could be avoided with an influx of new, qualified poll workers. Since most city workers already get General Election Day off, we have urged the Council to extend this initiative by providing time off for non-essential employees on Primary Day in exchange for their working at the polls. By working with the city’s public sector unions to ensure a system that they would be able to support, granting time off would provide a steady and talented pool of poll workers and improve voters experience at the polls. It is our understanding that state law requires Boards to accept poll workers forwarded to them through the patronage process up to July 15th, but they typically ignore the cutoff date because workers are in short supply. Instituting comp time for city employees on election days should eliminate the poll worker shortage, and result in the recruitment of better-qualified poll workers. Our testimony will detail other ways to address the poll worker problem later on. The BOE should ensure that testing standards for poll workers are vigorously enforced by professioanlizing training and that they do not accept recommendations for poll
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workers after the cut-off. Doing so would reduce the need for patronage appointments, a reduction that would be made up by qualified city workers. Council oversight of poll worker appointment practices would help identify the extent of this problem. We also suggest an entity like VAAC undertake a study that clearly identifies when and how poll workers were recruited and trained for this past election if the Board fails to do so on its own. Coding of registration forms distributed by city agencies will lead to better implementation. Intro 760 (Councilmember Williams) – would require the City Board of Elections to report for particular city agencies the number of New Yorkers who completed voter registration forms while seeking city services. NYIRG is proud of the role we played in helping draft Local Law 29. This important initiative seeks to broaden the registration opportunities for citizens interacting with city agencies. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to determine how well specific agencies are doing complying with the law and distributing forms. Coding forms and requiring the Board to report on forms received is a simple and efficient way at helping determine how effective these efforts are and to identify areas for improvement. We suggest this excellent proposal be extended to cover all city agency registration programs, including those distributed under National Voter Registration Act mandates. Central to the coding system’s effectiveness is the Board of Elections protocols for entering and recognizing the codes. While the Board has improved its data entry procedures to report more coded forms, it still relies on a human worker entering the code into the Board’s system. This poses particular problems creating uniform compliance across five borough offices, especially when large numbers of forms are entered close to the deadline by hard-pressed staff and temporary workers. We urge that the Board be required to update their scanning software and protocols to automatically recognize a coded form. This is a simple fix that will benefit the Board and oversight. As previously noted, equally important is for provisions of the Pro-Voter law requiring agencies to physically integrate voter registration applications with their intake forms to be enforced by the Mayor. It is our understanding that this charter requirement is largely ignored and participating agencies instead use generic City Board forms. That’s unfortunate, since agencies could easily print their own unique code on forms they have integrated onto their intake forms. if We urge that VAAC monitor current agency compliance with this requirement since agency printing will ultimately mean an easy and effective method of distributing coded forms. We find the Board of Elections opposition to this bill ill informed and misleading. It is an example of ill-conceived bureaucratic instincts of the BOE trumping the goal of accountability. Passage of 760 would not require any additional expense since forms are already mandated to be distributed. Indeed, if agencies followed the law regarding the printing of forms, expenses would actually be reduced for the Board. The public deserves ongoing and standardized accountability from the Board of Elections. Intro 778 (Councilmember Lander) – would require the City Board of Elections (the Board) to report data required by the Mayor's Management Report to the
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City Council. This will better measure the Board's performance against key metrics for evaluating its administration of elections. Public confidence in our elections is not possible without public confidence in the Board of Elections. Just as New Yorkers deserve to know if response time for fire engines or ambulances has gone up or down, we also deserve to know how many poll workers are trained and deployed by Assembly District. How many affidavit ballots were rejected and for what reasons, how long did it take for Board employees to respond and fix broken scanners are other examples. While the Board has improved on its reporting, it has varied wildly over the years. Accountability and confidence in the Board will only come once standard metrics are developed and the Board is required to report them to the Council and the public that funds them. The Board of Elections Preparedness for the 2012 General Election Poorly run poll sites can lead to direct voter disenfranchisement. This year too many sites: had long lines that forced some voters to leave before casting a ballot; had chaotic and disorderly sites; had ballot marking devices hidden in a corner without assigned trained staff to assist voters with their use; had scanners break down throughout that day; were inaccessible to voters with disabilities; and did not have translated ballots available to voters according to law. Fortunately, most voters don’t have such problems on Election Day, but too many do. With customer service like this, if the Board of Elections were a business, they’d be facing bankruptcy. For too many, this was a rough election. With redistricting and the relative new introduction of optical scan voting systems it’s probably safe to say that over half the electorate voted via a new technology or at a new poll site or ED. That already meant we could expect many very long lines at poll sites, too many problems with optical scan ballots and too many affidavits this Election Day. Problems were compounded by the impact of Hurricane Sandy on voters and poll workers and the Governor’s wise, though late decision, to extend affidavit ballot rights to voters from the affected counties. However, while many board staff and poll workers worked tirelessly before and on Election Day, the problems many voters faced are systemic. They were not caused by Hurricane Sandy, the Governor’s Executive Order, redistricting or conducting New York’s first Presidential Election on optical scan, We need to focus on reforms to our voter registration, voter education, Election Day operations and the administration of elections or these same problems will occur over and over again. We urge that the Board take the following steps to improve their administration of elections: Eliminate Voter Cards at sign in tables. The Board discussed this notion at last week’s Commissioner meeting and once again failed to take action. While we share concerns about any possibility of voter fraud, the archaic voter card system is an unnecessary obstacle to efficient lines and serves virtually no purpose. The current system for example could easily be replaced with pre-printed cards that would provide the same level of security against individuals entering poll sites with Xeroxed copies of
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ballots to be inserted into scanners. As previously noted, the current system is a virtually meaningless relic of our lever machine voting systems. Contemporaneously post calls and responses to the Vote-NYC helpline on Election Day to increase transparancy, information and confidence in the Board. We urge that the Board adopt a system that contemporaneously reports problems reported to its Vote-NYC system on the web. The Board should then provide real-time response times and what Board actions were taken to resolve each complaint. The information is already entered into a Board database on Election Day – we are simply urging it be made public. At a minimum, the data could be released once polls close. By sharing this information with the public, we’ll have a better picture not only of any specific problems that might have occurred at a specific site, but also the extent of problems across the city on Election Day. That could lessen unwarranted criticism of the Board based on limited reports and would also allow for year to year comparisons of conditions at poll sites and greater accountabilty concerning specific complaints about poll workers, delays in fixing scanners and other problems. Do a better job reaching out to the public. The Board should have a prominent link on their homepage inviting voters to sign-up for email messages. They also need to take full advantage of their existing technological initiatives. For example, though I had the Board’s excellent app downloaded to my smartphone, I received no Election Day notices via its ‘Alert’ function even though my poll site was relocated. Similarly, we commend the Board for its Facebook page, but believe it could have been better utilized. There are few updates or responses to voter complaints posted. It is our understanding the Board even failed to send emails to their own pollworkers after the Governor’s executive order on affidavits was issued. Even allowing for post Sandy administrative challenges, this was a lost opportunity and poor management. Web cast their meetings and proceedings. The Commissioners of the Board of Elections continued refusal to web cast their meetings is troubling. Transparency should be a hallmark of election administration or public confidence suffers. We hope the Board will build on some of its recent improvements by implementing web casting in the new year. This is a simple problem with simple low-cost solutions available as VAAC and the CFB have clearly demonstrated. Fortunately, New York has not been the scene of the blatant disenfranchising assaults on voting rights we’ve seen in many states across the country. Yet, poorly trained poll workers that lead to long lines, improper requests for ID and unnecessarily high rates of affidavit ballots cast are serious problems that lead to lost votes and decreased participation. Some additional problems that can be traced to the BOE include: The Board was unable to provide ballots in Bengali this year. This is a serious concern that impacts on the rights of many voters and it is unclear if the Board did everything in its power to ensure their systems could be adapted for Bengali this year. The Board’s inability, year after year to provide fully accessible polling sites. This ongoing violation of voters’ rights is unacceptable. We hope the Council will weigh in to help ensure that these problems are resolved in time for next year’s important municipal elections.
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Notable Board of Election Improvements We’ve noted a number of our concerns and criticisms of the Board (and city.) However, NYPIRG has also been impressed by the positive changes and initiatives we’ve seen undertaken by the Board this year and since the last Presidential Election. These include: A pre-election mailing to voters. State law nonsensically requires a letter telling voters where their poll site is located to be sent out in August. For years, we’ve been urging a supplemental mailing before the General Election when voters will make the most use of it. Council Member Brewer, the city and Board made sure that such a mailing did happen this year. That meant shorter lines for many, fewer affidavit ballots, less chaotic poll sites and a smoother election for many. Election apps and an updated web site. The Board deserves credit for developing a handy phone app that voters can use before, or at, the polls. Together with the Board’s vastly improved web site, this improved access to poll site info and sample ballots meant better-informed voters on Election Day. Sample ballots online. The Board, city and Council worked together to get this done. Not only does it mean more informed voters, but sample ballots also help speed up Election Day lines when voters are already familiar with their ballot. Election night reporting enters the 21st century. NYPIRG is no fan of speed over accuracy, the wireless transmission of election data or the inadequate state audit laws for optical scan machines. But the Board’s new closedown procedures that enlist police to transport memory sticks for unofficial election night totals is ultimately good news for public confidence in returns and election results. Improved ballot design. The Board rightly took criticism for its Primary Day 7 point font ballot design and they made some important modifications that meant a slightly larger font on November 6th. But the Board needs to take a harder look at printing multiple ballots in different languages as a way to satisfy Voting Rights Act requirements and create more space for better ballot design. We fear that the Board’s reluctance to trust their own poll workers in a more complex ballot distribution process may be to blame. A better poll worker pool would be aided by passage of Intro 721, the Council’s poll worker bill. Passage could ultimately lead to further improvements in ballot design even if Albany continues to fail to act on statewide reform. Improved communication. We believe the Board’s top management has improved communication with voters and the civic community. That’s good news and the Board deserves credit for it.
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Specific Recommendations for NYC Board of Elections, City Legislative, State Legislative and Constitutional Reform Unfortunately, the most effective electoral reforms for New York State have the least chance of being enacted into law in the near future. Yet, because there are so many shortcomings in our present system of running and administering elections, there are an abundance of reforms, major and minor that should be considered. NYPIRG believes it makes sense to consider a variety of approaches – both incremental and structural, given the political gridlock in Albany. Some of the suggestions we have made for city action can also be taken at the State level, but uniform standards and improvements across the state are needed. NYPIRG makes the following recommendations for Better Elections in New York City and State: I. Voter Registration Enact same day registration. The state’s antiquated system of voter registration is a relic of a bygone era. It serves little purpose other than to help self perpetuate the reelection of incumbents and limit voter participation. New York should join those states offering Same Day Registration through the passage of an amendment to the state’s constitution. We also believe the city should enact its own same day registration system for municipal elections and that such a system would be legal. Each year, just as interest in elections and candidates begins to peak, potential voters find that the deadline for registering to vote has already passed. Here in New York, campaigns for statewide and local offices barely attract public attention before October. By the time voters begin to focus on the election, the deadline has already passed. That doesn’t make sense, especially when there are proven systems to do away with the voter registration barrier. A system of “Same Day” registration would dramatically increase voter participation in a state where participation has fallen to shockingly low levels. Electoral participation experts have long concluded that registration “black-out” periods lower voter turnout. One needs to look no further that the states that have same-day or no registration to show how well the system works (participation rates in “same-day” states are traditionally among the highest in the country, including for 2012. This year, California and Connecticut joined the Same Day Registration list for future elections.) Establish a “Universal Registration” program for eligible city residents. Universal, automated registration enrolls voters when they move or interact with a government database. Under such a system, the state and municipalities like New York City would identify eligible voters through a centralized agency database and place them on the rolls. Duplicate registrations would be avoided by running potential new voters against the existing county and/or state databases of registered voters. Potential universal registrants identified through databases would include those with citizenship information. Similarly, voters who move within the county/NYC would have their registrations updated. We support Assembly Member Kavanagh’s Voter Empowerment Act that would establish such a system as well as strengthen the state’s National Voter
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Registration Act (NVRA) programs. In the interim, the Mayor should direct city agencies to provide updated voter address information to the Board of Elections. Early voting should be explored for New York State. While we are enthusiastic about the potential to increase the opportunities for voters to participate in elections and the possibility of reducing lines and congestion on Election Day, we are still awaiting additional analysis of how effective early voting was in increasing actual turnout. NYPIRG might endorse some form of early voting for New York. However, any provisions for early voting should be extended to more than one site per county. In a large urban county such as Brooklyn, early voting would undoubtedly benefit some, but if limited to one site would be relatively negligible in addressing the goal of reducing congestion at the polls. Any model should require at least one site per Assembly District or similar unit in large counties. One hesitation to supporting early voting is that NYPIRG believes there is an advantage to having voters cast their ballots on Election Day. Voters ‘waiting’ until Election Day have the benefit of additional information about candidates and races. Much of the media fails to focus on local races until just before the election. Direct state agencies to electronically capture and transmit voter registration data. The NVRA requires that the Division of Motor Vehicles, social service agencies and offices that primarily serve persons with disabilities provide voter registration services. Such services include the distribution of voter registration forms and assistance with their completion. However, only the DMV has integrated the voter registration form into its own computerized applications for licenses. Interested drivers simply fill out a few additional questions regarding their registration status and the DMV then enters and forwards the information to Board of Elections. The program has recently been extended to a client’s interaction with their ‘account’ on the DMV’s web site or via terminals in DMV offices. These extremely efficient methods of automatically and digitally transmitting voter registration data to Boards of Elections should be adopted by all state agencies covered under the NVRA within a specific date. This step will help ensure that the state’s diverse voters have proportionate representation in statewide elections. The current system favors those with interaction with DMV offices and must be expanded. Require city and state utilities and franchises to distribute voter registration forms. The city and state should require franchises that have direct contact with the public to provide a voter registration form to all new clients – and with change of address requests. Utilities and franchises like Verizon, Time Warner Con Edison and LIPA should be required to distribute voter registration forms and this should be negotiated in any new contracts. Their contact with the public is universal. Often, utilities are the first to know about new residents and would be ideal conduits of registration forms and information. Increase participation and decrease affidavits by re-defining the entire state as a single election jurisdiction. With the creation of a statewide database of voters, there is no legitimate reason for the definition of election jurisdiction to remain at the county level. The preservation of the powers of county BOEs to control voter registration comes at the detriment of voters who move across county lines and unnecessarily find
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themselves unable to vote on Election Day. We should have a single expansive set of standards for registering voters at the state level that preserves the ability of local Boards to raise concerns about eligibility. The federally mandated creation of a statewide registration list should spur the New York to rethink its current definition of jurisdiction. We note this change might require constitutional change. Amend the State Constitution to enable easier access to absentee ballots. The State Constitution and Election Law currently place unnecessary restrictions and burdens on New Yorkers applying for an absentee ballot. Increased access to absentee ballots would likely mean increased voter participation from voters with work, school or childcare commitments who wouldn’t currently qualify under current law. In an age where some states such as Oregon successfully moved to conducting entire elections on paper, it’s time to rethink our own state’s policies with an eye towards expanding absentee voter opportunities as a method of increasing voter participation. While NYPIRG does not have a position on moving to a vote by mail election, Oregon’s past experience shows that widespread use of mailed-in ballots has not resulted in fraud, but has increased overall turnout to among the highest in the nation. NYPIRG supports the passage of a constitutional amendment that would allow for “noexcuse” Absentee Ballot legislation to be debated and passed. While we support liberalizing the use of absentee ballots, we also see a tremendous civic value in preserving the concept of an Election Day. Important information often comes out close to the date of an election. As previously noted, the media often does not even focus on statewide or local races until the week before Election Day. For that reason, any movement towards “no-excuse” absentee voting, or liberalization of the absentee ballot process should preserve the right of a voter to cast their ballot at the polls on Election Day. We also see a distinction between early voting and increasing the opportunity to apply for an absentee ballot. Create a single statewide primary election for federal, state and local races. As previously noted, the dual primary system in New York is a waste of money and virtually guarantees reduced turnout at the polls. NYPIRG supports a single June primary recognizing that changes in petitioning deadlines should also be considered to facilitate that process. Stop the attacks on college student voting by rogue Boards of Elections and Commissioners. This year, students faced obstacles to registration and/or voting in Dutchess and Cortland counties. We are also looking into potential problems at SUNY Albany and in Westchester at SUNY Purchase. Language that clearly establishes a student’s right to register and voter from their college community if they so choose should be enacted to stop these annual assaults on election rights. II. Voter Education & Participation Initiatives Provide voters with better information before Election Day via Email and web sites with sample ballots and poll site finders. Boards of Elections across the state have a poor record when it comes to providing voters with important election information via electronic means. In the absence of satisfactory voluntary progress by the Board of
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Elections, the state should amend voter registration applications to offer voters the option of signing up to receive email notices with important election dates, links to a voters’ sample ballot for their election district, poll site information as well as voting rights and other information on the state’s website. As previously noted, though Boards currently have the power and authority to include such a box, none have done so to our knowledge. On a normal basis, such information would be useful and lead to betterinformed voters showing up at their proper EDs on Election Day. Similarly, counties across the state should mirror what New York City has done by providing poll site finders and sample ballots via their web sites. Practically all the information is already digitized through the use of ballot marking devices and optical scanners. The State Board of Elections should have the responsibility and resources to make sure local Boards comply. Additionally, a box on the form allowing voters to request accommodations (e.g., ASL interpreter) as is done in Wisconsin, a box allowing voters to request voting information materials in the accessible formats mentioned above and a box allowing voters to request such materials in languages covered under the Voting Rights Act should be required on voter registration forms and available for voters to indicate on-line. Better mailings and poll site notices should supplement currently inadequate state law. State law only requires that poll site notices be sent to voters in the summer. One mailing before the state and local primary is not helpful for most voters come November (or for voters participating in the June federal primary.) Voter confusion about poll sites is one of the primary reasons for long lines on Election Day and the use of affidavit ballots. Additional, clearer, and timelier mailings are needed so voters are not confused and useful information and materials are not overlooked. The state should mandate a mailing before each Primary & General Election and require consultation with literacy experts and the civic community to make sure they’re eye catching and clear. As previously noted, we commend the city, Board and Council for this year’s supplemental mailing. This reform should be made permanent on the state level. The state should also publish a voter guide similar to that in California informing voters of candidates’ positions on issues. The CFB’s Voter Guide is a tremendous success and provides information to voters on candidates and voting procedures in a useful and non-partisan manner. The state should mirror such a guide for candidates and ballot questions. Such a guide should be sent to all registered voters in advance of Election Day and made available by electronic means. A New York State Voter Guide would shorten lines on Election Day as a result of better-informed voters and help ensure that voters are informed about candidates and propositions when they cast their ballots. As previously noted, we also support currently proposed Council legislation in the interim that would expand your voter guide to include state and federal elections. III. Election Day Operations & Voter Participation Simplify ballot design for voters. Voting is a right that shouldn’t require a magnifying glass. Common sense legislation awaits approval by the legislature to create guidelines for better ballots. NYPIRG supports this legislation as well as the clear elimination of the state’s full-face ballot requirement. If a corner diner can clearly offer more than 100
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choices and categories of food, so should our ballots clearly explain the procedures and choices on a ballot. Miniscule fonts, unnecessary graphics and unreadable directions result in spoiled ballots and longer wait times. Ultimately, the State Board of Elections should employ usability experts in ballot design and any templates created by the SBOE for local use should be made available for public review (Ass. Kavanagh’s current proposal does not include this.) Institute undervote protections for voters. The state should mandate that undervote protections be instituted for voters across the state that would notify voters using a scanner that they had not cast a ballot on identified races. Such protection exists for voters using ballot marking devices. NYPIRG believes one of the State Board of Elections worst decisions regarding Optical Scan was their decision to eliminate undervote notification for voters. Undervotes happen frequently, when voters consciously or mistakenly fail to mark their ballots for certain races. Optical scan systems marketed in New York promoted the fact that they would alert voters if they had missed voting on a particular race. But the State Board pulled a ‘bait and switch.’ After the contracts were signed and regulations approved, they moved to block and then eliminated provisions that would have required voters to be notified they missed a race and pushed permanent changes in state law. They even refused to allow local boards like New York City to activate this feature on ballot scanners. The rationale for undervote protections, particularly in a confusing full-face ballot state like New York, is that voters’ attention will be called to each individual unvoted race on the ballot. This is an excellent tool to make sure that voters fully exercise their franchise. While we recognize that many voters will intentionally leave a race without casting a vote, a far better option is to allow the voter to fill in an “intentional undervote” or “none of the above” box for each particular race in which they choose to not cast a vote. That would help prevent unintentional delays in the voting process without potentially disenfranchising voters. Alternatively, local Boards should simply ensure sufficient numbers of tabulators and poll workers are present at poll sites to ensure the timely submission of ballots. Lower rates of undervotes were the primary reason many advocates like NYPIRG preferred optical scan over ATM style machines. If we can institute an efficient way to notify voters about undervotes through notifications on scanners that further reduce these rates, then we should be exploring this option. If a voter failed to cast a vote for President or a proposal on the reverse of a poorly designed ballot, technology should alert them to that fact. NYPIRG believes that unintentional undervotes account for more lost votes than overvotes and that the state’s decision will mean hundreds of thousands of cases where citizens’ voices and votes are lost annually. We have called for VAAC to conduct a study in the past to compare undervote rates on ballots cast on ballot marking devices that alert voters to undervotes to those on hand filled ballots. We repeat that suggestion today and urge that the Council consider such a study as well. We believe that would clearly show the extent of the undervote problem. Change the make-up of poll sites. Our current poll sites are based on twentieth century voting practices and often lead to chaos on Election Day. We need to reimagine the poll site with merged ED sign in lists and dedicated poll workers for ballot marking devices and affidavit assistance. Electronic poll site locators should be
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eventually required at poll sites to supplement the often unwieldy and cumbersome street finders. The New York City Board of Elections has designed a simple web interface for voters to inquire about their proper site that could serve as a model for a hand held PDA device. Data would be downloaded before the election eliminating the need for a wireless or wired connection to Board databases. A survey of best practices from other states for directing voters to the proper ED and of electronic sign-in capability should form the basis of changes in New York. We have suggested that VAAC undertake such a survey. If they or the Board do not, we hope the Council will urge them to do so. Poll workers. While the majority of voters undoubtedly have acceptable and smooth running poll sites, too many do not. Voters should come first on Election Day. Unfortunately, for too many, the patronage structure of the Boards puts party loyalty first and public service second. Focusing on changes to the practice of recruiting and training poll workers will mean better elections in the city. As previously noted, we need better poll workers or conditions at poll sites will continue to be unacceptable for many of the state’s voters. While the entire patronage system for poll worker hires can only be legally changed by an amendment to the state constitution, there are a number of reforms that can and should be made under the current system to loosen the grip of patronage, lead to better poll site conditions and ultimately better participation for voters. We urge the following reforms to the poll worker process: 1. Increase the number and quality of poll workers by offering time off for City (and state) employees working the polls. The old system of relying on political parties to provide poll workers simply doesn’t work anymore. Too many positions at the polls remain unfilled every election and the quality of many poll workers needs improvement. Since most city workers already get General Election Day off, the city should provide time off for non-essential employees on Primary Day in exchange for their working at the polls and should open up talks with state unions in time to implement the change before the 2014 elections. Granting time off on Primary Day would provide a steady and talented pool of poll workers, especially if instituted with the steps below. 2. Professionalize poll worker training so unqualified and untrained staff don’t work the polls. Every year we hear horror stories of trainings with sleeping workers, answers provided to trainees taking the poll worker tests and ineffectual trainings. Currently, trainers are employed through patronage without adequate quality controls. The current system should be eliminated and professinalized with outside trainers with a mandate to fail unqualified workers and who would be subject to a review of their performance. To push this process along we urge that the Council use its budgetary power of Terms and Conditions to earmark funding go only to professional outside trainers that have procedures for accountabilty and success for their sessions. 3. Contemporaneously post calls and responses to the Vote-NYC on Election Day to increase accountabilty for poorly trained and unqualified poll workers. We urge that the Board adopt a system that contemporaneously
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reports problems reported to its Vote-NYC system on the web. The Board should then provide real-time response times and what Board actions were taken to resolve each complaint. If a poll worker is improperly demanding ID, refusing to provide an affidavit ballot or is just plain rude or seemingly not up to their task the public has a right to know how the Board has addressed the issue. Complaint information is already entered into a Board database on Election Day. By sharing this information with the public, we’ll have a better picture not only of any specific problems that might have occurred at a specific site, but also the extent of problems across the city on Election Day. That could lessen unwarranted criticism of the Board based on limited reports and would also allow for year to year comparisons of conditions at poll sites and greater accountabilty concerning specific complaints about poll workers and other problems. 4. Mandate that the Primary and General Election are days off for SUNY and CUNY. College students and staff could provide a talented and well educated pool of poll workers. CUNY (and SUNY) could help ensure a new generation of poll workers by implementing this step. Consideration should also be given to allowing seventeen year olds to serve as certain poll workers such as translators and information clerks. (Guaranteed days off would also enable college students who have chosen to register from a previous non-college address the time necessary to return to that location to vote without going through the often disenfranchising absentee ballot process.) 5. Enforce the July 15th cut-off date for the patronage appointment of poll workers. State law requires Boards to accept poll workers forwarded to them through the patronage process up to July 15th, but it is our understanding that they typically ignore the cut-off date because workers are in short supply. Instituting time off for city employees and closing SUNY and CUNY on election days (above) should eliminate the poll worker shortage, and result in the recruitment of better qualified poll workers. The need for patronage appointments could be reduced or eliminated. In coordination with such reforms,the Comptroller should not approve poll worker pay for patronage employees referred after July 15th. 6. Enforce a policy that those who miss training or fail the poll worker test won’t work the polls. In past years, thousands of poll workers failed to attend annual training and hundreds who attended training, but failed the simple poll worker test, got to work at the polls. These workers shouldn’t be hired. Fortunately, those numbers have dramatically decreased, but as noted above the quality of the trainings and testing procedures are questionable. Better trainers may mean more workers once again failing tests. Instituting time off for city employees and closing SUNY and CUNY on election days will ensure an adequate and qualified pool of workers on Election Day. Better poll site notices are needed to reduce potential confusion and affidavits on Election Day. A prominent notice at the entrance to each poll site and at each ED table should inform voters how they can access their proper site and ED/AD number via phone numbers, websites, phone apps and other technologies from the State and local Board of Elections. The preponderance of cell phones and smart phones that have
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access to the web, and wireless capable tablets and laptops provides an easy opportunity for voters to access important information on Election Day. Such a system would have the benefit of reducing lines of voters awaiting poll workers to look up their proper ED/AD info at the polls. In addition, poll sites should be required to post a large map identifying the borders of EDs of area poll sites to assist voters without smart-phone technology to identify their proper site and table. We understand that some signs may have been created here in the city, but the BOE should look into having more signs with this information adjacent to the electioneering and poll site signs located outside of poll sites to reach more voters. Aggressive oversight of BOEs - perhaps through additional legislation - is needed to ensure full compliance with laws on language assistance and access for voters with disabilities. Securing the right to vote should not take endless action in the courts. Past legislation proposed in Albany would have provided clear standards to County Boards by requiring them to meet accessibility standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It would also have required the State Board to develop and distribute a poll site accessibility survey instrument, compel local Boards to use it to identify problems at poll sites and relocate those sites if problems exist. NYPIRG values the opinion of our colleagues in the advocacy community and hope the Committee will seriously consider their recommendations for addressing these ongoing failures by Boards of Elections. IV. Ensuring Greater Accountability of Electoral-Related Agencies Will Also Lead to Higher Rates of Voter Participation Replace the patronage structure of Boards of Elections with professional civil service employees. The current weaknesses of the State and local Boards leads to a genuine impact on conditions at the polls and voter participation. When voters leave poll sites because of 2-hour lines and chaotic conditions, participation suffers. When poll sites open late or workers are unable to properly operate voting systems, participation suffers. When party leaders appoint commissioners and commissioners appoint staff via patronage - accountability, oversight, public confidence and participation suffers. The intent of a bi-partisan election’s board is understandable. The patronage system seeks to have the parties self police and ‘watch over each other’s shoulders.’ Unfortunately, the system is broken beyond repair. Boards and their employees have little or no accountability to the public. Weak party structures and the demographics of the state virtually guarantee that the bi-partisan assignment of poll workers on Election Day is a failure. It’s time to explore constitutional alternatives to the bi-partisan, commissioner led structure of the State and local Boards of Elections. Any change should include the replacement of patronage staff with civil service employees. NYPIRG is open to exploring a variety of executive-management models. Require all meetings of the County Board of Elections to be web-cast or televised. We have already noted our bafflement at the City BOE’s refusal to web cast its
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meetings. A strong argument can be made for mandating that all public county BOE meetings across the state be web cast live/televised and archived. There are few entities where openness is more central to democracy than those concerning the democratic process. A schedule of all web casts should be prominently posted on relevant web sites. It is our hope that public confidence in election administration will also lead to higher levels of voter participation. Mandate better oversight and accountability of Boards of Elections. The state should mandate State and county BOE participation in an annual management report that details key metrics, including voter registration and participation rates, length of poll site lines, a detailed listing of election day complaints and their resolution, voting system breakdowns and performance and analysis of poll worker recruitment, training and deployment. This will enable an analysis of each Board’s performance to itself in previous years and to other Boards to determine best practices. Current state law provisions for annual reports are woefully inadequate. We welcome Council Member Brad Lander’s bill to mandate MMR stats to be provided by the Board to the Council. Meaningful audits are needed to ensure public confidence in returns. New and improved auditing provisions for optical scan ballots are needed to maintain public confidence in election results and ensure that tampering or software glitches and malfunctions do not jeopardize the integrity of election tallies. We’ve heard from statisticians who seriously question the state’s current audit requirements as insufficient to ensure the integrity of results. We recognize there are different approaches to attaining more meaningful and statistically accurate audits. One common sense step would be to allow candidates who receive over 5% of the vote to select a limited number of EDs for targeted audits. Enlisting participating candidates to assist in determining EDs where questionable returns were reported is a simple approach that would increase public confidence in results. V. Additional Reforms to Improve Election Day Operations We have suggested an ambitious agenda for changes to the State’s Election Day operations. Yet additional pressing reforms are needed to ensure enfranchising the electorate on Election Day. We urge the Council to consider supporting the following additional changes to State Election Law: NYPIRG supports legislation to require that Affidavit Ballots be counted if a voter appears at a polling place in the correct county but in the incorrect election district. Unfortunately, many voters face considerable confusion at poll sites on Election Day and this often leads to voters casting an Affidavit Ballot at the wrong location. There are many reasons a voter may end up at the wrong poll site: natural disasters like that just witnessed by so many New Yorkers; voters EDs change; many EDs simply have their poll site changed; new voters assume they cast their votes at the closest site; overworked poll workers neglect to look up and inform a voter of their proper location - preferring the simpler option of handing them an Affidavit Ballot instead; and voters who’ve moved may assume a school down the road is their proper site.
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The confusion is furthered by the state’s inadequate process of notifying voters of the location of their actual polling place. As previously noted, receiving a mail notice in August is little help for a voter first heading to the polls in November. Moreover the state’s registration forms still do not allow for a voter to provide an email address to receive simple notifications electronically. As a result, countless voters find themselves casting Affidavit Ballots, only to have them rejected because they are unsure of their proper poll site. There is no reason that Ballot Markers should not be programmable to provide voters with their personalized ED ballot at any poll site in a county. Until such a comprehensive rethinking of our administration of elections occurs however, it makes sense that a voter’s choices should be counted for the races for which they are qualified. NYPIRG understands that some voters might be tempted to abuse this new right, preferring to vote near their work address or a potentially closer and more convenient poll site than their own. But we believe the benefits greatly outweigh this risk, especially when coupled with additional reforms to improve conditions at poll sites. We view this reform as more easily implemented with our suggestion to re-imagine poll sites away from the current ED table model. While NYPIRG supports the concept of county-wide no fault affidavits, we'd further urge that Election Law be amended to require poll workers to look up the address of any voter not appearing on the rolls to help ensure their ballot will be counted and to attest to that fact on the Affidavit Ballot envelope. Often, poll inspectors will simply hand voters an Affidavit Ballot if their name is not on the rolls, seeing an Affidavit Ballot as a method of moving the line along or avoiding a confrontation with a voter. Inspectors should be required to look up a voter’s proper ED/AD in a street finder and attest that they both did so and notified the voter of the result on the Affidavit envelope. Mandate dedicated poll workers to assist voters with ballot marking devices or other voting technologies at poll sites. Each poll site in the state now has accessible ballot marking devices, but they are underused, due in large part to the failure of local boards to have poll workers adequately trained and dedicated to help voters with the systems. The State should ensure that any voters choosing to use accessible systems are not relegated to second-class status, having to wait or be dependent on poll workers assigned other duties to assist them. Study changing poll worker requirements. Consideration should be given to expanding the pool of candidates for inspector by allowing all registered voters, regardless of party affiliation, to become eligible for at least two of the four positions per ED. The current system of allowing only Republicans and Democrats to participate is undemocratic in that it denies other legitimate voters ability to participate fully in the conduct of elections. Move the state to developing its own vote tabulating system. While NYPIRG supports precinct based optical scan systems, we believe that privatizing elections with systems from private vendors is not desirable, especially due to the ongoing relationship many Boards must maintain with vendors to program and maintain their systems. The State should fund development of its own system or systems so that in the future we are not dependent on private vendors for programming, maintenance, training and, potentially, tallying of ballots. Election administration and machinery should remain in
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public hands. Ultimately, we believe this will also result in considerable savings to counties owning the systems. We thank the Committee for the opportunity to present this testimony and look forward to working with you, the city and the Board for better elections for New York City.
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Citizens Union Common Cause New York Public Interest Research Group League of Women Voters of the City of New York Proposed Amendments for Local Election-Related Legislation
1. Intro 613 (Councilmember Inez Dickens) – would require email notifications of election dates, registration deadlines and sample ballots to registered voters who voluntarily sign up for such updates. a. Add language allowing voters in signing up for email notifications to only sign up for particular types of notifications. For example, a registered voter may only sign up for a notification about the deadline for an absentee ballot but not for notifications related to registration deadlines. This would take the form of an electronic checklist when users initially provide their email. Users should be able to change the types of emails they want to receive on an ongoing basis. b. Expand notifications to include text messages in addition to or as an alternative to email notifications. Expand the information that can be offered through email notifications to include not only alerts about significant dates but also to receive voter education material. Charge the Board of Elections in the City of New York (City Board) to implement the provisions of the bill. The Board appears to be willing to do so as it is preparing to administratively do so in its website redesign. Having the Board implement this is more favorable than the CFB because it is the go-to source by the public for voting information, it already has 16,000 emails of registered voters, and it can administratively ask for emails on the voter registration form. i. If the CFB implements the provisions of the bill, amend the following: 1. Change 8(d) to require the CFB to make email notifications available to the Board so they can send an email to their list rather than uploading emails to the CFB database (this change was in the original CU draft) 2. Create flexibility in the email notifications sent for each “significant date.” Proposed revised language: “Email notifications shall be sent twice prior to or on the significant date. More than one significant date may be addressed in a singular email provided the notification is not too far in advance of the significant date.”
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Strike this language currently in the bill: “Email notifications shall be sent for each significant date (i) ten business days prior to such date; (ii) three business days prior to such date; and (iii) for a primary, general, or special election, on election day commencing with the opening of the polls.” e. Assuming the bill is amended to charge the City Board with implementation, require the City Board to coordinate with the CFB to provide notices for the digital Voter Guide and other charter-mandated activities of the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee (VAAC).
Intro 721 (Councilmember Jessica Lappin) – would establish a poll worker program that will give incentives to municipal employees to work on Election Day in order to enhance the pool of competent and able poll workers. a. Expand participating agencies beyond those subject to the Pro-Voter Law of 2001 to those local participating agencies subject to Election Law section 5-211. b. Expand the municipal poll worker program to include the primary election. c. Require the inclusion of municipal poll worker data in section 2(f) in the annual report of the City Board. d. Require notification of poll worker opportunities in paychecks to municipal employees three months prior to a primary in which local, state or federal races are occurring citywide.
Intro 728 (Councilmember David Greenfield) – would require voter registration forms to be provided to parents enrolling children in school. a. The voter registration forms distributed with school enrollment forms by the Department of Education should be uniquely coded by the board of elections of the city of New York so that when forms are processed it is clear registrants received them from the Department of Education. The Young Adult Voter Registration Act (YARVA) passed in 2005 requires the city’s high schools to provide voter registration cards to graduating seniors in the same manner and at the same time it provides a diploma. Yet because the registration cards distributed are not coded, the extent of compliance by city high schools with YARVA is unknown. b. The Department of Education should be required to collect completed forms and transmit them to the Board of Elections of the City of New York within two weeks of the receipt of such completed forms. If a completed form is accepted within five days before the last day for registration to vote in a citywide election, such completed forms should be transmitted by the Department of Education to the Board of Elections of the City of New York not later than five days after the date of acceptance. This amendment will ensure that voter registration forms are processed in a timely manner, and prevent submissions in bulk to the board of elections just before an election which may delay processing, resulting in voters not being registered in time for the next election.
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Ensure forms distributed to schools are in the languages that reflect languages on the ballot at poll sites serving the school community. d. Add National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) language ensuring that: i. Information collected for the purposes of voter registration, including citizenship information, can’t be used or disclosed for another purpose; ii. Voter registration is voluntary and receipt of services is not conditioned upon completion of a voter registration form;
Intro 760 (Councilmember Jumaane Williams) – would require the City Board of Elections to report for particular city agencies the number of New Yorkers who completed voter registration forms while seeking city services. a. Mandate codes on agency forms as well as forms provided by the City Board b. Require scanners at the City Board to read codes so they do not have to be manually entered. c. Require city agencies to report their promotion of and procedures for implementing the Pro-Voter Law to the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee and the City Board of Elections.
Intro 769 (Councilmember Mathieu Eugene) – would expand the City’s Voter Guide to include more city races and state and federal elections so voters are more informed about all contests on the ballot (No amendments suggested).
Intro 778 (Councilmember Brad Lander) – would require the City Board of Elections (the Board) to report data required by the Mayor's Management Report to the City Council. This will better measure the Board's performance against key metrics for evaluating its administration of elections. a. We support alternative versions to this proposal, such as the Board reporting the data conforming to the MMR on its website and setting its own performance targets or doing so jointly with the mayor. b. If online reporting is done, we support contemporaneous reporting on Election Day of complaints, resolutions to those complaints, and the amount of time taken to reach resolution.
Page 25 of 25 NYPIRG/NYC Council BOE Oversight: 12.5.12
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