Thursday, June 1, 2017

NYC Mayor Plans to Push Electoral Reform in Albany

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is about to “launch a major effort” to see Voting and Election Reforms passed in Albany by the end of the Legislative Session, which runs until the middle of June.

De Blasio, a Democrat running for Reelection this year, has called for Reforms like Early Voting and Same-Day Voter Registration that have stalled in the State Capital. While the Mayor has expressed his support for those and other changes to the State’s antiquated Electoral Laws, he has done little publicly to push such Reforms.

Last year, with a great deal of attention on New York’s Electoral Laws due to frustrations around Voting in the Presidential Primary, de Blasio held an October Press Conference to make clear that he favors a slate of Electoral Reforms and to say he would be part of a strong push to see them passed in Albany. The event also coincided with the deadline for first-time Voters to Register to Vote on Election Day in November.

"You know plenty about Albany and this is when things start to happen,” the Mayor said, referencing the fact that there is usually a Grand Bargain Package of Legislation that moves at the very end of the Session each year in the capital. “So we're about to launch a major effort on that front, because I think people really want electoral reform in this state. And there's a chance to do it and it's about creating the pressure needed to achieve it. So, we're going to be doing a lot in the next few weeks."

Asked for more detail, a de Blasio spokesperson said there would be more unveiled next week. Sources in the State Legislature indicated that de Blasio’s team has engaged in conversation about pushing Electoral Reform before the end of session.

De Blasio has expressed support for No-Excuse Absentee Voting; Early Voting; Same-Day Voter Registration; movement of the Deadline to change Party Enrollment closer to Primary day; Electronic Poll Books; Pre-Registration for 16- and 17-year-olds; and Consolidated Federal and State Primaries.

He opposes Open Primaries.

Most of these Electoral Reforms have repeatedly passed the Democratically-controlled State Assembly, including this year, but they have stalled in the Republican-controlled State Senate. Good government groups and many Reform-minded Democratic elected officials have rallied for change, but several of the State’s most powerful figures with the strongest bully pulpits, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, among them, have mostly been quiet this year, both before and since a State Budget was passed in early April that included a good deal of new policy, but no Voting or Election Reforms. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman held a press conference on Electoral Reform in February.

As State Budget negotiations reached their finale, Cuomo, who had included an electoral Reform agenda in his State of the State Policy book unveiled in January, said that Voting Reform was all but certainly not going to be included in the Budget Deal. It would most likely have to be part of the Legislative session to follow, the Governor said, indicating that the Reforms were not a high priority for him. Known for aggressively seeking the Policy changes that he wants, and mostly winning them, Cuomo has not held or attended a single Public Event on Electoral Reform. For 2017, he is not alone. On Wednesday, de Blasio said "If the governor wants to work on electoral reform, I would certainly -- I'll work with anyone who wants to achieve electoral reform," de Blasio said.

The main obstacle to seeing sweeping Electoral Reform in Albany is a Republican-led State Senate that is wary of opening up the Voting Process. The GOP Majority in the Senate occurs only because Brooklyn Senator Simcha Felder, nominally a Democrat, Caucuses with Republicans with an Eight-Member Independent Democratic Conference that also votes with the Senate GOP. After a recent Special Election, Democrats have 32 Seats and Republicans have 31 Seats in the State Senate.

As de Blasio indicated, the end of Session in Albany annually yields new Policy Deals. One question is how much Public Advocacy from the Mayor, the Governor, and anyone else can sway the Senate Majority. Another is what Democrats would have to be willing to give Republicans in the usual type of Deal-Making that characterizes Albany bargains. A third question for the prospects of State Electoral Reform is what Democrats may be willing to settle for when it comes to Specific pieces of their Reform Agenda.

The “Easy Elections NY” Coalition is planning a Lobby Day in Albany on June 13th, hoping to influence the nature of whatever Package of Legislation is passed at the End of the Session. After that day, there will be just five Session Days left.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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