Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Blogging will be very light until the New Year, as many of us at ReformNY will be on vacation. We'll be sure to post if there is big news, of course -- so check in every once in a while.

Otherwise, see you next year!

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Little Housekeeping

As astute reader Tiffany pointed out, we had a broken link on one of our posts announcing the release of last year's report on New York's flimsy campaign finance laws. That link is now functioning, and so is this one: http://www.brennancenter.org/
Thanks for keeping us on our toes, Tiffany!

Unfortunately, gridlock between the Governor and legislative leaders on the subject of campaign finance reform has caused this report to stay current way too long. We hope to see significant progress on campaign finance reform and public financing of campaigns in the new year.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Great Lakes Compact

A bill that is favored in both chambers and by the Governor, but still hasn't become law? Of course! This is New York.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dealing With a Recalcitrant Legislature

How to solve the problem of part-time legislators who want a raise, but also frequently have private, secret and lucrative outside dealings with those who do business with the state? The New York Times thinks it has the answer.

How You Can Help Decide Which Voting Machines New York Buys

In the comments section to my post about the latest developments in the ongoing battle to select new voting machines for New York, Jim asks

What can people do about this to influence the debate?

If only there were an easy answer, Jim! One of the most frustrating things about the legislature's decision to punt in selecting a new voting machines, is they helped to insulate the decision process from the public. Most of the power to decide what machines New York will use to replace the old lever-style systems is either in the hands of the Courts (not easily susceptible to lobbying or the weight of public opinion) and county election officials, who are appointed by the parties.

Nevertheless, there are things New Yorkers can do to make sure their counties buy the right machines (and in this case, that means optical scan systems).

First, let your county election officials know what you think. Write or call. Ultimately, they will be signing the contracts with the voting system vendors.

It also couldn't hurt to contact ECA, the state association of election commissioners and the political parties in your county (the county commissioners, after all, owe their jobs to these guys). Let them know you'll be very unhappy if your county purchases full face DREs.

Finally, let Governor Spitzer and your legislators know how you feel. The legislature may have passed the buck on this one, but if the Governor or the legislature say they will not provide extra money for the purchase and upkeep of full-face DREs (which will certainly be needed), county commissioners may think twice before purchasing what is certain to be very expensive equipment, with very expensive licensing fees.

If you want some material to send their way, we have a couple of suggestions.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

What Will The County Election Officials Do?

I hear from reliable sources that county election officials will meet in Syracuse tomorrow to decide what, if any, action to take in response to the DoJ's motion to force New York to replace its lever machines in 2008. Their thoughts are likely to have some impact on Judge Sharpe's decision.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Goo-Goo's Dream Come True

Today, Attorney General Cuomo unveiled Project Sunlight, the database of government information announced in January and headed by former NYPIRG legislative director Blair Horner. We couldn't be more excited and not just because this will make our jobs as government watchdogs a lot easier. Now, voters will be able to effectively investigate the actions and connections of their elected officials and challengers when it comes time to elect or reject them.

I know one blogger who will have a hard time tearing herself away from the site in time for dinner…

Bumps in the Road Between the Wedding Chapel and the Voting Booth

Ah, your wedding day. You and your significant other put a lot of thought into ensuring that every part of the big event represents You: the invitations, the vows, the cake.

Yesterday, the New York Times highlighted another thing that couples-to-be are customizing for the big day: their names. Women have long taken on their husbands' surnames when they married; now, husbands may take on their wives' surnames, or couples may combine their surnames or adopt a surname completely unrelated to either of their families. The name-changing options are endless: add a hyphen, drop a hyphen, add a second middle name, add a third surname -- couples can literally redefine themselves.

The name change represents a new identity for a new life -- all good and exciting until such couples try to register to vote. The convention of women taking their husbands' surnames has long created problems in government lists where they may be listed in one place with their maiden names and in another with their married names. Election officials often use other government lists as one way to try to verify voter registration applications by "matching" identifying information. Some states (like Florida and Louisiana) have taken this too far and have said -- contrary to federal law -- if you don't match, you can't vote. Unsurprisingly, a large proportion of those who cannot be matched are eligible married women, and increasingly, eligible married men. To election officials, they simply do not exist.

Instead of building a new life together with their new identities (on paper), newly-named newlyweds may instead face a bureaucratic obstacle course to the franchise. In our increasingly customizable world, election officials should ensure that couples' name-changing decisions do not unnecessarily disenfranchise them.

--Margaret Chen, Democracy Program

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

When Disclosure Isn't Really Disclosure At All

Saturday's New York Times reported on Senate Majority Leader Bruno's work for the Connecticut-based Wright Investors Service, which manages the money of several of New York's unions. A spokesman for Bruno pointed out that the Majority Leader, and all of his Senate and Assembly colleagues, are allowed to have jobs outside the Legislature, and indeed, Bruno's ethics reports have indicated that he is employed by Wright. When asked yesterday, Bruno confirmed his belief that his ethics reports are complete.

New York's ethics law forbids activity that creates or appears to create a conflict of interest. The unions represented by Wright have considerable interests before the Legislature; however, neither Bruno nor Wright will disclose what Bruno actually does for the firm. No one claims that Bruno has failed to follow the letter of the law in his disclosures, but without more details regarding his duties and clients, there remains the appearance of a possible conflict of interest.

The Legislature should therefore work to tighten our ethics laws to mandate effective disclosure of officials' business dealings that might create a conflict. In the meantime, those officials who have outside jobs should voluntarily disclose their precise activities related to parties with interests before the Legislature.