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How will COVID-19 affect New York’s elections?

With the world around us rapidly changing in response to the pandemic, one of the first questions on many voters’ minds is: How will COVID-19 affect New York’s elections?

It depends who you talk to. The Times reports that New York officials are considering moving back the state’s primary from April 28th to June 23rd in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, though the Governor says that he hasn’t yet given it any thought. Several states have already postponed or tried to postpone their primaries, while others are considering increased use of mail-in ballots.

RepresentUS strongly supports the increased use of mail-in ballots. New York’s constitution won’t allow us to vote absentee at least until a ballot initiative passes in 2021, but let’s hope that the Governor’s emergency powers, in this case, give us all a better democracy by allowing absentee voting.

In other news…

Albany’s decision to shirk responsibility on strong campaign finance reform legislation backfired last week, as a Niagara County Supreme Court judge struck down binding rules issued by the New York State Public Financing Commission. The decision hinged on a finding that the Commission exercised too much legislative authority, amending and even repealing statutes when the State Constitution reserves that power for the Legislature.

Governor Cuomo and the Legislature had created the Commission in last year’s budget as a compromise measure, when the two sides couldn’t agree on a campaign finance reform law. The Commission was empowered to tackle issues like lowering contribution limits and creating a state matching funds system, as well as issues seemingly important to the Governor, like adjusting ballot petition requirements and party qualification thresholds. To accomplish this, the Commission’s recommendations were to have the force of law unless modified by the Legislature. The Commission published its recommendations last December and the Legislature took no action to modify them, meaning they were set to go into effect unless halted by the courts.

A legislature granting rulemaking authority to other bodies isn’t unusual, but it does have its limits. Both the federal and state legislatures routinely create and grant substantial power to administrative bodies to pass binding regulations. However, it’s unusual for an administrative body like the Public Financing Commission to issue a regulation that can amend or repeal a statute, which is a higher level of law and should therefore trump inconsistent regulations.

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Scandal could be brewing again on the New York City Council, as Politico New York reports that law enforcement authorities recently hit councilmember Mark Gjonaj with a subpoena. Gjonaj has drawn scrutiny in the past for hiring donors to renovate his district office, steering $130,000 in taxpayer funds (later returned) to an affiliated non-profit, and ties to lawyers connected to Hells Angels bikers in his district.   

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