My Testimony to the New York State Senate Elections Committee
I am Danielle Brecker, co-lead organizer of Empire State Indivisible.
We all testify today under a long shadow cast by new laws restricting voting access in many states but I am optimistic because of the extraordinary progress we have made working together in our state.
I will speak about my experiences in the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections as a voter, volunteer, and count canvass witness.
Empire State Indivisible advocated for early voting and it is how most of our members voted in 2020. Included with my written testimony are comments from our members about their experiences.
My experience was at the Museum of Moving Image in Astoria. The line to vote was eight blocks long. After four hours, I had cast my votes. The urgency of voting in the 2020 presidential election along with seeing many of my neighbors in-person for the first time in months made this ok, but we need to lessen wait times by extending daily hours, making sure the number of voters assigned to each site is equitable, and adding more machines and locations including mobile sites. Also, like Georgia, New York State law prohibits giving any “provision” like a bottle of water to a voter at a polling place. This law needs to change.
I have witnessed contentious count canvasses, but nothing like the 2020 Presidential election count canvass. Some of the witnesses were willfully ignorant about how our democracy and elections work. They were aggressively vocal about alleged cheating, conspiracy theories and that the Board of Elections is, quote, a “treasonous criminal organization.” They questioned everything and did not believe the answers, but they believed every word of misinformation they had heard.
We need to counter this, not by burning down our democracy, as insurgents tried to do earlier this year, but by making sure every valid vote is counted and every New Yorker enfranchised.
Reforms to the BOE should include professionalizing election administration staff; prohibiting county chairs from serving on boards; changing the appointment process for election commissioners; and standardizing statewide policies and enforcement PLUS investing in every BOE across our state with consistent annual budgets so they can robustly serve every voter; enact all reforms; and modernize.
Now I move to the 2021 primary. I live in Council District 26. We had 14 democratic candidates on the ballot.
Even with a reduced number of required signatures, petitioning was not safe given covid. We need a way to get candidates on the ballot that is safe, modernized but accessible, and that enfranchises more New Yorkers.
Empire State Indivisible advocated for Ranked Choice Voting. I believe RCV lived up to its promise to enfranchise more voters and, coupled with public financing, gave us more and more diverse candidates. But in my view RCV did not always result in positive, collaborative campaigning.
In the council race in my district some of the campaigning was negative and nasty, and targeted with malice, not just other candidates, but their supporters, elected leaders, and community members. This behavior is deeply disheartening and resulted in disengagement, fear, and a lack of focus on candidates’ policy platforms.
For RCV to work and with public financing, there needs to be guardrails to how candidates behave towards each other and the community they endeavor to serve.
During the primary, I spoke to many New York voters on behalf of the Maya Wiley campaign. There were questions about RCV as well as early and absentee voting. That does not mean we should throw these reforms out, it means we must continue to educate on all of the reforms we have made and will continue to make.
This is the time to build on what we have started, to enact many more bold democracy reforms to enfranchise and uplift ALL New Yorkers and this is the time for New York State to rise up and lead our country by showing what people engaged in our democracy can achieve.