Democracy for NYC (DFNYC) is committed to the ideals espoused by Democracy for America, the organization founded by Howard Dean, and the national network of local coalition groups dedicated to the same.
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Election Day on November 6th of this year, where we voted for U.S. President along with many other races, was an absolute mess at many NYC poll sites, with long lines and mass disorganization. There were many factors making election day challenging: Turnout is especially high in presidential contests every four years, Hurricane Sandy's aftermath changed some poll sites, many voters were in new districts and with new poll sites due to 2012 redistricting after the 2010 Census. Nevertheless, many of the problems could have been anticipated, managed and solved much better than they were on Election Day.
Today, Wednesday, December 5th, the New York City Council's Committee on Governmental Operations, chaired by Gail Brewer, held a hearing on problems, and possible solutions. I was in attendance. A few key points:
• Attendance: Not counting the council members, the staffers gathered sitting in the right hand corner, or the press, I counted between 96 and 102 people in attendance, at about 10:45am. Some people filtered in and out, more out, but there was still a solid group of attendees 2 hours into the hearing.
• Agreement: One thing I noticed, along with another good government activist I spoke to in the hall, is that of all the various groups/agencies/officials speaking in the room, there was a whole lot of agreement on what the problems were, and even the possible solutions. In fact, nearly everyone in the room, including Speaker Christine Quinn, voiced their support for early voting. (Whether that will get past the Republican-ish State Senate is another question...)
• The Republican: The one Republican Councilmember who spoke, Don Halloran from Queens raised some issues about fraud. On the one hand, this seemed like the typical Republican talking point we've heard this election cycle, despite very limited reports of in person voter fraud. However, I think he had some valid points, even if I might disagree regarding the nitty-gritty of some proposed changes. For example, Dan Kellner suggested we could save a lot of time at poll sites by getting rid of the voters cards, the thing you hand to the person at the optical scanner when you put in your vote. He made the point that since our ballots are so low-tech they can be photocopied, it could be easier for someone to turn in 12 ballots if they don't have to turn in one of those voter cards with their name on it; essentially it's an extra step in the process to prevent fraud. While it may be easy to dismiss the idea of someone trying to steal an election with 12 ballots, as seasoned campaign volunteers, we've seen elections come down to less than 100 votes several times and often it's in a primary where there is party pressure to not question "official" results after election day.
• Format: The hearing had a very unique format that I think was a great idea. They had the City Board of Elections speak last, instead of first. I don't want to guess on strategy, but I've been to a few hearings, and I'd rather see a government agency go last and answer all the complaints raised in the hearing, as opposed to going first and saying "we did a great job under the circumstances, blah, blah, blah." Speaker Quinn spoke briefly, then the State BOE testified first, represented by Doug Kellner. Several elected officials spoke next, including Senator Liz Krueger, Assemblymember Brian Kavanaugh, Councilmmeber Inez Dickens, Assembly member Joann Millman, and several others. People from good government groups spoke after the elected officials.
• Groups in Attendance: There were several advocacy groups in attendance at the hearing, including: Democracy for NYC, Common Cause, Citizens Union, League of Women Voters, NYPIRG, and AALDEF, the Asian American legal Defense Fund. (This list is not inclusive.)