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MI

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Mike Bloomberg’s Election Reform Plan
Easy to Vote & Easy to Run

As a political independent who did not rise through the City’s political party system,
Mike Bloomberg knows how important it is to ensure that all New Yorkers can easily
participate in the political process, both by voting and running for office.

In his Election Reform plan, Mike focuses on two critical issues. First, how do we make it
as simple as possible for voters to exercise their right to vote? And, second, how do we
eliminate the barriers that prevent civic-minded New Yorkers, including the nearly 20%
of voters who are not enrolled in a political party, from participating in the democratic
process and running for office?

Part I: Voting Reform

For years, and particularly following the contested 2000 presidential election and the
Florida recount, reformers have decried the state of the country’s election administration
system. In what has become an American election year tradition, the public focuses on
the problem right before an election, as pundits raise the possibility of widespread
problems. If such problems occur, the cries for reform reach a crescendo; if not, public
attention shifts, despite the failure to rectify legitimate problems in the way elections are
administered. This passion play takes place on the city level as well as the national level.

To reduce the number of barriers to voting and make it easier for more New Yorkers to
exercise this right, Mayor Bloomberg will:

Create “Democracy Index” to Reform NYC’s Election System

To improve the administration of elections, Mayor Bloomberg, in partnership with the


Board of Elections and Voter Assistance Commission, will create the “NYC Democracy
Index.” Modeled on Yale Law Professor Heather Gerken’s proposal for a nationwide
Democracy Index,1 the city’s Democracy Index will include metrics that assess the
effectiveness of the election administration process, focusing on easily comprehensible
performance outputs related to registration, voting and tabulation, rather than
complicated policy inputs. These metrics will include the residual voting rate (i.e., the
percentage of ballots counted out of the number of votes cast), the length of time for
eligible registrants to be added to the rolls, polling place malfunctions, polling place
wait times, and other critical indicators of efficient election administration. It will then
rank the five county systems in comparison to each other, judging their service delivery
relative to their peers.

This transparent data will allow election officials, for the first time, to determine what
the principal problems in election administration are and where those problems are
most prevalent. In turn, election officials can use this data to share best practices and

1 See, Heather Gerken, THE DEMOCRACY INDEX, 2009.

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more effectively fix problems. This first-in-the-nation Index has the potential to
transform local election administration.

Under the Mayor’s proposal, the data will be collected by the County Boards of
Elections and provided to the City’s Voter Assistance Commission, which will aggregate
the data and issue regular reports ranking each of the five county boards. In addition,
the VAC will audit the Boards’ data, use statistical sampling methods and testers to
verify its accuracy, and gather data that the Boards of Elections are unable to collect. All
of the data will be made public in a user friendly manner.

Make 311 NYC’s Voting Hotline

During the period immediately before and during an election, the Board of Election’s
Hotline, 212-VOTE-NYC, often becomes overburdened with calls. As a result, callers can
face lengthy wait times and calls are frequently dropped. This situation contrasts starkly
with the City’s 311 system, which handles 40,000 calls per day, fields over 95% of calls
within 30 seconds, provides all callers with a unique report code so that calls can be
tracked, and includes robust reporting of the results of calls broken down by service
request.

To improve the process of providing information to the public during election season,
Mayor Bloomberg proposes working with the City’s Board of Elections to enable 311 to
field all election-related requests for information and complaints, including questions
regarding poll site location, absentee ballots and complaints about election
administration or fraud.

Support National Voter Registration Modernization Effort

The United States is one of the few industrialized democracies that places the onus of
registration on the voter. Other countries facilitate voting by automatically registering all
eligible citizens. What’s more, the U.S.’s registration system is unnecessarily complicated
and costly. Election officials must expend significant resources manually processing
forms, often creating massive backlogs during the period around the registration
deadline for a certain election, as registration forms from voter registration drives come
pouring in; an eligible voter’s registration may be rejected due to minor mistakes
triggering technicalities; poll watcher lists often lack complete and accurate information,
causing confusion on election day; and political operatives attempt to manipulate this
entire process.

To boost voter turnout while making our election administration less costly and more
efficient, Mayor Bloomberg will support the federal effort to create automatic voter
registration, also known as “Voter Registration Modernization.” This important reform
would save the Board of Elections time and money that it can then put towards
preparing for Election Day. It would also significantly reduce concerns regarding voter
registration fraud by organizations that often engage in mass voter registration drives.

2
Much of the technology necessary to create a system of automatic voter registration
already exists in the states’ electronic voter databases, which were created pursuant to
the Congressional mandate enacted in the Help America Vote Act. States would utilize
information already at their disposal to determine eligibility and automatically register
voters, including new voters and voters who have switched residences.

Support Federal Effort to Institute Weekend Voting

Despite the concerted efforts of campaigns to turn out their supporters, voting rates in
the U.S. lag behind those of other countries, including Sweden, Iceland and New
Zealand. Indeed, according to surveys, the United States ranks 139th of 172 democracies
in voter participation. In polls, fully one-quarter of all eligible voters who did not vote
blamed scheduling difficulties for their failure.

The U.S. Constitution does not mandate that voting take place on Tuesdays. Indeed,
Election Day is currently on Tuesday only because of a congressional law passed in 1845
to match up with the idiosyncrasies of the agrarian calendar, when traveling to a polling
place took farmers away from their crops for a full day.

To make it easier for voters to exercise their right and to increase voter turnout, Mayor
Bloomberg will work to help pass the Weekend Voting Act, sponsored by Senator Herb
Kohl of Wisconsin and Congressman Steve Israel of Long Island, which would change
federal elections by shifting them from Tuesday to Saturday and Sunday. This would
directly improve voter access for those penalized by Tuesday voting, such as working
families, single parents, and people working two jobs or with busy schedules.

Part II: Ballot Access Reform

New York, unlike most states, still requires all candidates for elected office to file
petitions with voters’ signatures in order to obtain a place on the ballot. The byzantine
rules that govern the petitioning process—which must take place within the short period
of 37 days—often lead to what experts have referred to as a “political blood sport”2, in
which opposing candidates duel in court to remove their competition from the ballot. In
non-partisan special elections, where the entire campaign takes place in a condensed
period of time, the burdens of petitioning and the related legal processes can be
particularly acute. Candidates often undertake petition challenges merely to distract the
time and resources of their opponents.

In addition, members of third parties and independent voters are almost completely
shut out of the process by which candidates access the ballot, despite the fact that this
collective group represents 1 in 5 voters.

To remedy these problems, Mayor Bloomberg calls for these three reforms:

2DeNora Getachew and Andrea Senteno, “Understanding the Labyrinth: New York’s Ballot
Access Laws,” GOTHAM GAZETTE, June 2009.

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Halve the Signature Requirement

New York State law requires candidates to obtain the lesser of either (a) the signatures of
5% of party voters within the applicable district or (b) the number of signatures specified
in State election law. City Council candidates, for example, have to collect 900
signatures. Nevertheless, risk averse campaigns often collect three to four times that
number in order to ward off potential challenges. This effort takes up an enormous
amount of time and campaign resources.

To alleviate this burden, the Mayor proposes changing State election law to halve the
number of signatures required to the lesser of (a) 2.5% of the party voters in the district
or (b) half of the current number required under State law.

Streamline Ballot Access Requirements

The State’s Election Law often appears designed to enable candidates to kick their
opponents off the ballot. Simple mistakes can often lead to prolonged litigation and
candidates being removed. For example, already this year, Council members Bill
DeBlasio and Alan Gerson have been removed from the ballot for minor infractions. Mr.
DeBlasio was removed despite the fact that he had submitted 125,000 signatures, far in
excess of the required number, due to a page number error. Both candidates were later
reinstated, but at a significant cost in time and money.

After consulting with good government groups such as the Brennan Center for Justice
and Citizens Union, the Mayor will propose State legislation that would significantly
simplify and streamline petition requirements by eliminating the arcane, technical rules
that currently exist, setting a higher threshold for disqualifying petitions and candidates,
and streamlining the process for correcting errors.

Open up Petitioning Process to Independent Voters

Under State law, unaffiliated voters—so called “blanks”—are not allowed to gather or
sign petitions for candidates enrolled in a political party. These voters represent nearly
20% of the electorate and are indeed the fastest growing group of voters.

To enable them to more fully participate in the political process, the Mayor proposes
changing State law to enable independent voters, like the Mayor himself, to gather and
sign petitions for candidates that are members of a political party.