The Queens DA race shows the need for election reform
On June 25th, Tiffany Caban won the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney. The week after, she un-won. Was the election rigged? Highly unlikely. But the turn in events is arguably proof of the need for reform of the Board of Elections.
Newcomer and public defender Cabán, who had held a 1,199 vote lead, fell 16 votes behind Queens Borough President Melinda Katz after the absentee and affidavit ballots were counted last week (over 2,000 affidavit ballots were disqualified). While there is no evidence of vote tampering on either side, Caban supporters were naturally suspicious because of the partisan structure of the Board of Elections (BOE). The BOE employs one Republican and one Democratic commissioner per borough, with staffers typically connected to party insiders and elected officials. The current Queens Democratic commissioner was appointed by Katz backer and former Congressmember Joseph Crowley, leading some Caban supporters to claim the count was corrupted, despite a lack of proof.
In November, Ross Barkan wrote in City and State that the best solution to the suspicion is to make the BOE nonpartisan. Get rid of the “One Democrat, One Republican” system, have the mayor appoint a local election officer, and hire new staff just like you would typical civil servants (in other words, not through political connections). Who could call it a conspiracy then?
In other news…
- On Wednesday, Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders finally announced their picks for a nine-member commission that will make binding recommendations for public funding in state elections. This commission (comprised of seven Democrats and two Republicans) must hold at least one hearing, and its recommendations would become law if not overruled by the legislature within 20 days. But because of opposition to public matching in the Assembly and from Republicans, it’s possible that the reforms will not be implemented at all. Another concern from third parties is that the commission may ban fusion voting, which allows candidates to run on multiple ballot lines (a single candidate can appear on both the Democrat and Working Families Party lines, for example). Governor Cuomo has recently argued that fusion voting may complicate public matching, even though candidates in New York City, where fusion voting is also used, receive matching funds without any issues.
- Some of the 24 Democrats running for president have positions on campaign finance reform, and others … don’t. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is proposing a Clean Elections Plan, which gives every eligible voter the chance to opt in for two hundred “Democracy Dollars” to donate to a candidate of their choice (Gillibrand says the funds would come from eliminating the loophole that makes taxpayers subsidize high CEO compensation.) Mayor de Blasio has yet to reveal his platform, though the Charter Revision Commission he started reduced the maximum donation for citywide candidates from $5,100 to $2,000 and allowed donations up to $250 to be matched 8 to 1 by the public (previously, it was $175 and a 6-to-1 match.)