Senate Elections Committee Holds Albany Hearing To Review The Administration Of The 2009 Elections; Consider Proposals To Improve The Election Law

November 30, 2009

(Albany, NY) Monday, the Senate Elections Committee heard testimony on proposals intended to continue to explore and improve the voting process and procedures in New York. The hearing addressed the effectiveness of election administration during the 2009 election cycle, the pilot program for optical scan voting machines and proposals to eliminate wasteful and expensive primary runoffs.
The Elections Committee also heard testimony on legislation intended to improve the voting process going forward. Legislation sponsored by Elections Committee Chair, Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., and Senator Bill Perkins (S6248) would eliminate runoff elections in New York City and elsewhere. This year, less than eight percent of registered Democrats, and less than three percent of New York City residents, voted in the primary runoff elections.  The cost to taxpayers: $15 million.
“After evaluating the 2009 election in New York it is clear that we are on the right track to ensuring that every New Yorker receives a voice in the electoral process,” said Senator Addabbo. “I am hopeful that optical scan voting machines will ensure that every vote is counted on Election Day, and while great improvements have also been made in the areas of poll site accessibility and efforts to end voter suppression and intimidation, I also believe we can do better. Legislation introduced today would eliminate the outdated practice of primary runoff voting, saving taxpayers millions of dollars in these difficult economic times.”
“We should eliminate runoff elections because they undermine democracy with a contrived electoral process,” said Senator Perkins, co-sponsor of the bill to eliminate runoffs. “The threshold number of votes necessary in order to trigger a runoff is arbitrary and unscientific. Further, the expense is unconscionable, especially in these economic times. People should have their opportunity to be heard at the ballot box and whichever candidate gets the most votes is the one who should win. Period.”
Additional legislation provides alternate suggestions to improve the runoff voting process. Two proposals sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger seek to implement instantaneous runoff voting. S3584 authorizes the use of instantaneous runoff voting on a trial basis for three years in primary and general elections at the option of local governments, while S3589 authorizes the State Board of Elections to establish a pilot program using instantaneous runoff voting for up to ten local governments in 2010 and 2011.
“Runoffs are extremely costly and only a tiny fraction of voters participate," said Senator Krueger. "This past election cycle in New York City we had a runoff for Comptroller and Public Advocate in which only eight percent of the registered Democrat voters went to the polls but the City spent over $15 million dollars. If my legislation is passed New York would be able to use an instant runoff system where if someone doesn't garner a majority of the vote, the second choice votes will be selected at the same time on the same day. This would let everyone know the outcome of the 'instant runoff’ that day, saving taxpayers millions of dollars and ensuring that candidates with the maximum turnout of primary voters are elected. Since the State and City are moving to paper ballots with optical scanners as the new voting machine technology, it will not be complicated to change to this multiple choice voting system."