Mayor Bloomberg Announces Election Reform Plan
Thursday, September 10th, 2009
If New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has his way Americans would be automatically registered to vote, they would be voting on the weekend, and it would be easier to gain access to the ballot if you wanted to run for office in New York City.
Today Mayor Bloomberg announced his “Easy to Vote & Easy to Run” election reform plan which includes an endorsement of Rep. Steve Israel and Sen. Herb Kohl’s Weekend Voting Act, a piece of legislation that we’ve talked a lot about here. The data-friendly mayor also wants to create a Democracy Index in New York City to help target, as he has done with the 3-1-1 system in New York City, problem voting areas throughout New York’s five boroughs.
Why Tuesday? board member Norman J. Ornstein is quoted in Mayor Bloomberg’s press release announcing his plan, saying “this set of reforms is a huge step forward to making the voting system work and revitalizing democracy in New York. It should serve as a model for elections across the country.” The Mayor’s complete press release is below.
MIKE BLOOMBERG UNVEILS PLAN FOR AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRATION AND WEEKEND VOTING
The Mayor’s Plan, “Easy to Vote & Easy to Run” Will Also Eliminate Barriers that Discourage Residents from Voting and Will Reform New York’s Antiquated Ballot Access Laws
Mike Bloomberg announced his “Easy to Vote & Easy to Run” plan to transform the City’s election system over the next four years. The plan will make it easier for New Yorkers to participate in the democratic process by reforming New York’s antiquated ballot access laws to enable more candidates to run for office and give unaffiliated voters greater ability to participate in the democratic process, creating a New York City “Democracy Index” to assess the administration of elections in New York City, and urging Congress to pass laws that enable automatic registration of all eligible voters and to move Election Day from Tuesday to the weekend.
Since taking office in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg has been a vocal advocate for election reform. After the 2004 presidential election, the Mayor created the Election Modernization Task Force to provide guidance to the Board of Elections on new voting machine implementation, phone and internet voter assistance, poll worker training, and other issues. Many Task Force recommendations were incorporated into 2005 State legislation, ensuring the City received federal funds to comply with new voting machine regulations. Today’s announcement builds on the Mayor’s record of accomplishment.
“For far too long, our election system has been plagued with antiquated rules and procedures that effectively limit its fairness and effectiveness,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “This plan will enable more New Yorkers to engage in the democratic process by making it easier for them to run for office and easier for them to vote.”
Heather K. Gerken, the J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law at Yale Law School, an election law expert, and an advocate for the modernization of our country’s antiquated election administration system, endorsed the Mayor’s plan. Professor Gerken is also the author of The Democracy Index, a blueprint for how the United States should spur improvements to its election system by using a ranking system, similar to that utilized by U.S. News & World Report to rank colleges, which would measure the ability of states to efficiently run elections against their peers.
“Mayor Bloomberg has taken the lead in improving New York City’s election system with this impressive new election reform plan,” said Professor Gerken. “A New York City Democracy Index will help the City identify problems before they happen and ensure that every New York voter can have confidence in the election system. This first-in-the-nation index is destined to become a national model for other localities and states, and perhaps even the federal government.”
Marc Morgenstern, Executive Director of Declare Yourself, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign to empower and encourage every eligible 18-29 year-old in America to register and vote in local and national elections, also endorsed the Mayor’s plan. Since 2004, Declare Yourself has registered almost 4 million young people, contributing significantly to the turnout of 24 million young voters in the 2008 Presidential Election.
“Mayor Bloomberg’s plan will improve voter access, particularly for under-represented groups such as our young people,” said Mr. Morgenstern. “The Mayor’s creation of a democracy index and support for voter registration modernization can help move our election system into the 21st century and promote fuller participation in our democracy.”
Norman J. Ornstein, Co-Founder, Why Tuesday?, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization founded in 2005 to find solutions to increase voter turnout and participation in elections, praised the Mayor’s plan. Mr. Ornstein is also a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, serves as an election analyst for CBS News and writes a weekly column called “Congress Inside Out” for Roll Call newspaper.
“This set of reforms is a huge step forward to making the voting system work and revitalizing democracy in New York,” said Mr. Ornstein. “It should serve as a model for elections across the country.”
Key Elements of Mike’s “Easy to Vote & Easy to Run” Plan:
* Create a “Democracy Index” to Reform NYC’s Election System: The city’s “Democracy Index” will include metrics that assess the effectiveness of the election administration process, focusing on easily comprehensible and quantifiable performance outputs related to registration, voting and tabulation, rather than complicated policy inputs. For example, the index will measure how long voters must wait in line and how long it takes for voter registrations to be processed.
* Make 311 NYC’s Voting Hotline: Mayor Bloomberg will work with the City’s Board of Elections to enable 311 to field all election-related requests for information, including questions regarding poll site location, absentee ballots, and complaints about election administration or fraud.
* Support National Voter Registration Modernization: To boost voter turnout while making our election administration less costly and more efficient, Mayor Bloomberg will support the federal effort to automatically register all eligible voters, 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.
* Support Federal Effort to Institute Weekend Voting: To make it easier for voters to exercise their right and to increase voter turnout, Mayor Bloomberg will call on Congress to pass the Weekend Voting Act, sponsored by Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Congressman Steve Israel of Long Island, which seeks to shift Election Day from Tuesday to Saturday and Sunday. In polls, one quarter of eligible voters who failed to vote blamed scheduling difficulties.
* Halve the Signature Requirement for the Petitioning Process: In order to make it easier for candidates to qualify for a spot on the ballot, 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: After consulting with good government groups, the Mayor will propose State legislation that would significantly simplify and streamline petition requirements by eliminating the arcane, technical rules that currently exist. The legislation will set a higher threshold for disqualifying petitions and candidates, and streamline the process for correcting errors.
* Open Up Petitioning Process to Independent Voters: Independent voters represent nearly 20% of the electorate and are the fastest growing group of voters in the city. To enable them greater participation in the political process, the Mayor proposes changing state law to enable independent voters to gather and sign petitions for candidates that are members of a political party.
Mayor Bloomberg is no stranger to the inconveniences of voting. On Election Day 2008 the Mayor had to wait in a 40-minute long line to vote in his own precinct, saying to the Daily News “I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never even seen a line outside the door at this polling place.”
For more information and to download the PDF of Mayor Bloomberg’s plan, visit mikebloomberg.com.
Photo of Mayor Bloomberg in line on Election Day 2008 via the NY Daily News.