Nov '03 [Home]

Legal Forum

Referendum City:  Division on Non-Partisan Voting Slates in New York

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[Text here is reproduced from the official Voter Guide. Our recommendation appears at the conclusion.—Eds.]
[Update:  In elections held Nov. 5, the initiative was defeated, with 70 percent voting to reject.—Eds.]

City Ballot Proposals

Question 3:  City Elections

Official Text

This proposal would amend the City Charter to establish a new system of city elections for he offices of Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and Council member. The September primary election would be open to all voters and all candidates, regardless of party membership or independent status. The top two vote getters [sic] would compete in the November general election. In both elections, candidates could indicate their party membership or independent status on the ballot. Candidates participating in the voluntary campaign finance program, which provide public campaign funding, could not accept contributions from political parties or party committees. The new system would replace the current system of political party nominations through primary elections in which only party members may vote. The changes would take effect after the 2005 Citywide [sic] election. Shall this proposal be adopted?

Pro and Con Arguments (prepared by the Campaign Finance Board)
[Note:  As reproduced here, representative of issues addressed, but not exhaustive. Consult Voter Guide.—Eds.]

PRO: The Charter Revision Commission conducted an open and thorough review. It held several public meetings in each borough, had among its member highly qualified civic representing varied backgrounds, and operated in a fair and independent manner to come up with a proposal to increase voter and candidate participation in the electoral process, especially among racial and political groups whose participation has been limited.

CON: The Commission, as chosen by the [Republican] Mayor, did not fairly or independently study the issues. The Chair of the Commission announced that certain changes to the City's election process would be placed on the ballot before the Commission members had a chance to study the issues. The Commission has failed to demonstrate that the current system is inadequate, and in fact, the proposal might decrease voter turnout, decrease opportunities for minorities and small party candidates, and increase the role of money and celebrity in elections.

PRO: The Democratic Party dominates New York City politics, so the Democratic Party primary often determines who wins the general election. Voters not enrolled in this party currently are disenfranchised because they cannot vote in the Democratic primary election. The Commission's proposal, by permitting all voters to vote in the primary election, will enfranchise these voters and increase voter turnout.

CON: No New York City voter is "disenfranchised." Any voter can choose to be enrolled in a party and exercise the right to participate in that party's primary. There is no evidence that voter turnout will increase in New York City because of the proposed change.

PRO: Partisan primaries need to be eliminated to open up the political system to candidates who are not enrolled in the dominant party, which will result in more competitive primary elections and a better crop of candidates.

CON: Party primaries are already competitive and yield good candidates, and are open to any candidate who wants to compete as long as the candidate is enrolled in the party. Moreover, third parties will have less impact on elections because third party candidates will not likely make it to the general election and will not be able to participate in "fusion" tickets.

PRO: The Commission's proposal bans contributions from parties to candidates and would effectively control "soft" party spending by mandating that the Campaign Finance Board adopt new rules linking party spending to specific candidates. The Campaign Finance Program would be protected.

CON: The proposal could impair New York City's successful campaign finance reform program by allowing parties to spend unlimited amounts of "soft" party money on preferred candidates. There is no Constitutional way to control "soft" money in the context of nonpartisan elections.

PRO: The voters have had adequate opportunity to study the issues, and no additional research would offer new, relevant information.

CON: The process was rushed. The Commission did little research on the potential impact of its final proposal on changes to the City's electoral system, which was adopted late in the process, giving inadequate time to witnesses to comment on them and to voters to study them.

Editors' recommendation:  Vote NO. Traditionally, voters in the general city election in have selected from among candidates proposed by a number of identified parties, major and minor. This proposal would reduce their choices to two. If Republicans want to have more say in the Democratic primary, they can register as Democrats.