Making Democracy Work

Steering Committee

December / January Message from the Steering Committee

Many thanks to those of you who worked so hard to support the League's efforts to educate and register voters, and report the election results. While Kay Ackerman, Pat MacKinnon, Lisa Dufek and Maxine Borom led these efforts, many others contributed and made their efforts successful! We can't do this work without lots of help!

According to a Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper editorial, the voter turnout for this election was lower than previous recent midterms in all but 12 states, and the lowest in a New York Gubernatorial election since the 1970s. In New York, only a third of the 10.8 million voters turned out to cast a ballot.

During our registration efforts, a number of League members commented on the feelings expressed by citizens who felt their vote would not change anything. Too many citizens doubt that real change is possible. TV advertisements and mailings by well financed non-candidate PACs can mean that it is more and more difficult for candidates to compete with special interest agendas. According to the editorial cited above, about 4 billion dollars was spent by just 0.2 percent of Americans supporting candidate races in this election. When voters don't go to the polls to cast their ballot, it strengthens the effects of special interest groups. Campaign finance reform is a cause for which the League has advocated and will continue to advocate.

The League has supported early voting and other measures to increase participation by voters. There is an early voting proposal which has passed the Assembly in New York but not the Senate. Last year during our lobby day, we spoke with our Senators and Assemblymen about this bill. It is estimated by the US Census Bureau that about a third of registered voters do not vote due to illness or inconvenience. Early voting could increase the numbers participating in elections.

Proposition 1, a state constitutional amendment, passed in this election thereby changing the way new district lines are drawn. This new process will not affect our elections until after the 2020 census but it will require that lines be drawn that create compact logical districts that preserve racial, ethnic and language groupings and not favor a particular candidate or party. The process will be more transparent and the courts can be involved. This should give voters more confidence that their vote counts and that incumbents are not favored by specially created districts.

Clearly there is much ongoing work to be done by the League and others to assure that citizens have the right to vote, and have their vote count.

Carol Furman, Lead

November Message from the Steering Committee

November 4th is Election Day. Even in a presidential election year, about 40% of eligible voters do not cast a ballot. The League began with the fight for the vote for women and continues to believe in the importance of the vote to a democracy and as a vehicle for change. The League works to register eligible voters, to educate and engage voters and to protect citizens' right to vote. Vote411.org is the League's most recent vehicle for getting information to voters. Legislatures in a number of states are passing laws reducing voting days or requiring picture IDs to vote, making it difficult to register and vote. Leagues are actively fighting against these efforts to limit the vote. In New York, the fight is for redistricting reform.

As well as voting for US Congress, NYS Governor, NYS Assembly and Senate and city and county offices, voters in New York will vote on three propositions. Proposal One, a Constitutional Amendment on New York State Redistricting, is actively supported by the New York State League. The amendment will revise the redistricting process for state legislative and congressional districts--something that the League has been advocating for 40 years. Currently the drawing of district lines is totally partisan, controlled by the major parties in the Legislature. "Artful" drawing of district boundaries, gerrymandering, results in districts lacking population equality, compactness, or contiguous territory, but "safe" for incumbents. The present process has been called "a major form of disenfranchisement". (Wang, Sam; "The Great Gerrymander of 2012", NYT Sunday Review: Feb. 2, 2013) An examination of seven states in which one party controlled the drawing of district lines, showed that, because of the way district lines were drawn, two parties could get essentially the same number of votes, but the party that controlled the redistricting process got more than twice as many of its candidates elected. Partisan redistricting is largely responsible for the fact that New York has one of the highest incumbent return rates in the nation...close to 95%. Since 1970, in over 4000 elections, only 40 incumbents have failed to be reelected. Essentially politicians get to select their voters rather than voters choosing their politicians.

The proposed constitutional amendment will accomplish several things. It will:

  • Establish a ten member independent Commission with representation of the minority party, third parties and independents. Rules prohibit those with conflicts of interest from serving.
  • Add important criteria for drawing district lines to the State constitution including preserving the rights of language and racial minorities, recognizing communities of interest and prohibiting gerrymandering.
  • Curtail dominance of the process by the majority party by requiring supermajority votes in both the Commission and the Legislature for approval of district lines.
  • Make the process more transparent. Software, data and maps are required to be provided to the public to allow independent analysis and creation of maps by the public.
  • Establish firm deadlines for the different stages of the redistricting process.
  • Add constraints on the Legislature's ability to amend the lines proposed by the Commission in an accompanying statute. Though not perfect, the amendment improves the current system; future improvements can be made. It is the closest we have come to improving the process in 40 years of trying. To vote no is to say yes to gerrymandering and to the same partisan process we now have.
Ruth Bonn, Lead

STEERING COMMITTEE

Carol Furman

Lead for November 2014-January 2015

Cheryl Nechamen

Lead for February 2015-April 2015

Joan Elliott

Lead for May 2015-July 2015

Ruth Bonn

Lead (completed)