Spitzer Unveils Comprehensive Analysis Of New York State's Election Process And Issues Recommendations

State Attorney General Spitzer today released the results of his comprehensive review of New York State's election system, including over 20 recommendations to address existing inadequacies. Among the proposals in the 100-page report are the following:

  • Eliminating numerous technical petitioning requirements that are used to prevent candidates from getting on the ballot;
  • Allowing individuals to register to vote on Election Day;
  • Moving the State's primary day from September to June in 2002;
  • Authorizing the State Board of Elections to fully test modern voting technology;
  • Establishing a statewide standard for counting "chad" and hand-marked ballots; and
  • Permitting the counting of absentee ballots where the intent of the voter is clear.

Following the November election, the Attorney General's Office conducted a three-month statewide study of voter participation, ballot access, the mechanics of voting, vote counting and the integrity of elections in New York. The study found that numerous factors contribute to low voter turnout, limited voter choice, and problems in vote casting, and inadequate vote counting.

"The events in Florida last year amply demonstrate the chaos that can result from ineffective election laws and procedures," AG Spitzer said. "New York State's electoral system is stable, but it also has numerous structural deficiencies that must be addressed to protect the integrity of our voting process and, ultimately, our democracy."

"Right now we have a system in which major Presidential candidates like Senator John McCain cannot qualify for the ballot, we rely on 40-year-old voting machines that break down on Election Day, voters arrive at polling sites believing they are registered, but are not on the rolls otherwise, and some counties are using punch card ballots without any standards for counting those ballots," Spitzer continued.

"I applaud Attorney General Spitzer's recommendations for eradicating New York's byzantine election laws and opening up the ballot," said U.S. Senator John McCain. "Enacting these reforms will ensure that New Yorkers are able to make a choice on election day and rid the system of the machine-style political control that was in place during the last primary election cycle."

The Attorney General also noted that some of the changes, including ballot access and vote counting standards, should be implemented right away, to avoid complete confusion in the upcoming elections in New York City. The Attorney General stated:

"With scores of candidates running for Mayor, the City Council and other local offices, there inevitably will be a stream of challenges to petitions and lawsuits to throw candidates off the ballot. Add to that the debate over City Council legislation on term limits, and legal challenges to the validity of that law, it will be extremely difficult to determine which candidate names should be printed on the primary ballot, and to count the primary votes in time for run-off and general elections."

KEY FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE AG'S REPORT INCLUDE:

VOTER PARTICIPATION:

In New York, 83% of the voting-age population is registered to vote, but in one of the most hotly-contested Presidential elections in recent memory and a high-profile Senate contest, only 49% of New York's voting-age population participated in the 2000 election. New York can and should do more to increase voter participation.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Implement Election-Day Registration:   A majority of states with voter participation of 62% or higher have enacted Election-day registration, which allows voters to register and vote at the same time. These states (including Maine, Minnesota and Wyoming) have reported success without administrative burdens or significant voter fraud.

Establish a Statewide Registration List:  New York State should have a computerized list of registered voters accessible at every polling site. This will ease verification of voter status, thereby reducing long lines and the need for paper ballots, and curb voter fraud. Of course, the privacy of voting data must be protected.

VOTER CHOICE:

New York State has the most confusing, stringent and needless petition requirements for ballot access, which are used to keep candidates off the ballot and thereby limit voter choice. Too many signatures are required, too little time is given to gather these signatures, and viable alternatives used in other states are ignored. New York's detailed technical rules result in lengthy administrative challenges and litigation.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Reform Petition Requirements:   New York State should cut in half the signatures required lengthen the petition period and eliminate other technical requirements, thereby opening the process to more candidates and reducing litigation.

Offer Candidates Alternatives to Signature Gathering:   New York should follow the lead of other states and permit automatic ballot access for candidates in Presidential primaries who receive federal matching funds, and explore matching alternatives or filing fees for all other offices.

VOTE CASTING:

Most New Yorkers vote on 40-year-old lever machines that are no longer manufactured. They often break down, which causes long lines at polling sites. In addition, New York State does not have consistent hours for polling places - during the primary season, most of the State's counties have polling sites that open at noon, while others have long voting hours from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Upgrade Existing Voter Machines:   The federal government and the State Legislature should earmark funding to upgrade the current 40-year-old technology, which will improve the integrity of the electoral system.

Authorize the State Board of Elections to Test All Voting Technology:   The State Board of Elections must be given express authority to test voting technology, which would better assist local boards on the mechanics of voting.

Improve Voter Assistance at the Polls:   Since the successful operations of the polling sites rest on the shoulders of poll workers, election officials should pursue innovative recruitment, better compensate workers, and address allegations of discriminatory practices of any kind. In addition, poll hours should be uniform throughout the state.

VOTE COUNTING AND VOTING INTEGRITY:

Four counties use punch cards for absentee ballots, which can result in problems with how to count votes if a "chad" remains attached to the ballot. Whether to count hanging or dimpled chads are left entirely to the discretion of local boards of election. In addition, New York's September primary - held just two months before the general election - places great pressure on county boards. Where primary results are extremely close and/or challenged in court, most or all of the general campaign period might pass before the primary results are known.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Establish Statewide Standards for Canvassing: By establishing State standards for counting hand-marked ballots and punch-cards, concerns regarding irregular chads and other varied counting methods will be eliminated.

Move the State's Primary Date from September to June:   Moving the primary election to June will permit sufficient time for all vote counting and legal challenges to occur before the date of the run-off or general election.

Give Civil Fine Authority to the State Board of Elections: The State Board of Elections should be authorized to impose civil penalties for violations of the Election Law, thereby enhancing enforcement of violations.

Some of the Attorney General's recommendations require State legislation, while others can be implemented immediately. Attorney General Spitzer noted that there is already legislation pending in Albany that would implement some of reforms that he is proposing, and there are other similar bills that merit consideration. The Attorney General urged the Senate, Assembly and Governor to work together to reach a consensus quickly, to provide for greater efficiencies in the electoral system.

Finally, Attorney General Spitzer thanked the State and local election board officials and especially poll workers for the hard work and long hours they put in every election cycle. Spitzer's report, which is available on the OAG website at www.ag.ny.gov, is intended to assist election officials and the general public.

Attachments:

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