New York Elections 2020: Our Opportunity to Be the Progressive Beacon of Democracy

New York State’s democracy was in trouble long before the coronavirus pandemic. While we made progress with meaningful reforms in 2019, we still have a long way to go to make our state a true progressive beacon of democracy.

If it was not apparent enough before, the pandemic further exposes longstanding challenges to participatory democracy and the complacency of some of our elected leaders on democracy reform. The pandemic has put us at an immediate risk of voter suppression and disenfranchisement for the upcoming June 23 primary and November 3 general election.

Governor Cuomo used his executive power to consolidate the primaries to June 23 and expand access to no excuse absentee ballots. This is a good start, but more needs to be done to solidify and expand these initial steps. We need our federal and state elected leaders to enact a comprehensive voter access plan to make sure New York elections in 2020 are fair, inclusive, and accessible.

It seems apparent that many of our elected leaders at the state and federal levels of government are not prioritizing a plan for 2020 elections. We, the people of New York, must organize, advocate, and act to pressure our elected leaders to make safeguarding our democracy an urgent priority so voters are not suppressed and disenfranchised in 2020.

We must contact all of our federal and state elected leaders to let them know that we expect them to continue to fight and legislate for the following pro-democracy measures to be prioritized and implemented this session in time to impact June primary and the November general elections.

1/ Educate voters on the process for absentee voting.

Currently, only about 4 percent of New Yorkers vote via absentee ballot because New York does not have no-excuse absentee voting. Many voters do not know how to vote absentee or do not trust that their vote will be counted if they vote this way.

As a witness to the Queens County District Attorney recount, I saw that absentee ballots were included, counted, and treated the same as ballots from election day. While there were other concerns with this recount, I saw no reason to distrust absentee voting.

The state and local board of elections must utilize their social media platforms, mail, and other forms of communication to inform voters of this option.

There is also something every candidate, activist, advocate, and canvasser can do — help educate voters on how to request a ballot, how to complete and return that ballot, and meet key deadlines.

2/ Provide financial resources to the New York State Board of Elections so they are prepared to handle an increase in mail absentee voting.

The BOE should hire part time workers to help the already overburdened BOE staff. This will help the BOE get ahead of the ballot to make sure every vote is counted.

3/ Have a tracking system for absentee ballots.

Currently, there is no tracking system in place to register absentee ballots. We must create a tracking system so every vote is counted and voters are assured that their ballot has reached the BOE.

4/ Expand early voting.

Early voting is a great way to have less voters in proximity to each other as it happens over eight days. We should expand early voting to 18 days and add library locations to intake mail in ballots.

5/ Do not cancel the presidential primary.

Allow delegates, who have done an extraordinary amount of work to get on the ballot, to have the chance to have a say in our national party’s platform and rules.

I, like many others, accept that we will not have a progressive nominee and as I have always said, I will support the nominee no matter who and work for party unity. What better way to do that than to allow diverse delegates to stay on the ballot, get elected, and help shape our party to be inclusive, progressive, and representative of as many as possible.

This will require pressure on local county elected leaders especially in any county that does not have any other contest primaries on June 23.

6/ No strings attached federal stimulus money.

The money allocated for safe elections in Stimulus 3 comes with a 20 percent matching requirement. This means that New York State is to receive roughly $20 million but only if our state matches that with $4 million.

We need to contact our U.S. Senate Minority Leader, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, and our congressional representatives to tell them the matching requirement must be dropped and to include additional no strings attached money in Stimulus 4. Additionally, we need to push them to make sure the U.S. Postal Service is fully funded and able to process our voter ballots.

7/ Extend all primary election actions to the November general election.

We will be dealing with the impact of coronavirus throughout this year and beyond. The November election is one of the, if not the most, important election of our lifetime. We must extend every measure taken for our June primary election to the November general election.

This is our opportunity to make New York state a true progressive beacon of democracy — right now and into the future. This is the time for all of us to fight for our democracy. If our elected leaders are slow to step up — we must pressure them. If time and resources are limited — we must all pitch in to help. If incumbents are not willing to fight for the system that they are part of — we must primary them.

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