RepresentUs NYC has three focus areas, inspired by our Fix NY Democracy pledge: fixing our broken elections, getting big money out of New York politics, and holding politicians accountable on corruption. Our chapter has helped win important victories on these issues by campaigning for the passage of campaign finance reform in 2018 and getting Ranked Choice Voting on the ballot in 2019. But there’s still work to be done! Read below for more details.
Fix Our Broken Elections
Redistricting is the process of redrawing political maps. We generally elect our state and federal representatives from defined districts, and where and how those lines are drawn has a profound impact on our governance.
It all starts with the Census. Every ten years, the United States conducts a systematic count of the nation’s population. Each state is required to use the updated figures to redraw the district maps for its state legislature, and, if applicable, for its federal congressional districts. (Some states have only one congressional district.)
So why is redistricting tied to the Census? While the U.S. government generally gives states wide latitude to decide how lines are redrawn, federal law and the courts have laid down some basic ground rules. First, districts must include (roughly) the same number of people. Second, the maps cannot be drawn to dilute the voting power of racial and language minorities. States need to know how many people they have, and where those people are, to meet those standards. States often add other criteria for their districts, including compactness, contiguity, and respect for existing communities of people.
A ranked-choice ballot replaces the single-choice ballots we use now with the option to select more than one candidate, ranked in order of your preference. If no candidate gets a majority, the votes for the lowest-ranked candidate are instead counted for each voter’s second choice. That process is repeated until one candidate has a majority.
What is it about our present system that doesn’t work for democracy? We can fix how campaigns are funded, draw fairer legislative districts, and ensure every voter has access to a ballot—but what about after you enter the voting booth? What can we do to make the votes we cast a more powerful expression of our needs?
The ballots we use today are simple enough: For each race, we pick one candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins. This is called “first past the post.” But this simple rule can cause major problems: First, it can produce undemocratic outcomes; and second, it has all sorts of unintended consequences that make our politics more negative, polarized, and narrow than they need to be—and these problems affect all of us, Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives, third-party members and independents.
Get Big Money out of NY Politics
The state must lower contribution limits that are highest in the country while also closing loopholes for big money to party committees.
What are contribution limits? Various levels of US government – federal, state, and local – can each place limits on who can contribute, and how much money they can contribute, to political campaigns and related entities. These limits vary widely across states, and some states have NO limits.
Why do contribution limits matter? We believe that high contribution limits pave the way for a small group of very rich people to exert far too much influence on candidates and election outcomes. More importantly, these rich people can have far too much influence on elected officials and policy, after they’ve helped put candidates in office.
Regular citizens, who are far more numerous, have far less influence. Even when there are matching funds for small donations, extremely large donations can keep the field tilted toward the rich.
Hold Politicians Accountable on Corruption
New York deserves an effective ethics enforcement agency. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) should be dissolved and replaced with an agency whose members are independent and empowered to impose penalties on corrupt officials.
What is JCOPE? Back in 2011, New York’s legislature passed the Public Integrity Reform Act. One of the elements of the Act was to create an independent monitor to investigate corruption (JCOPE).