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Silver proposes early voting, spending disclosure for independent groups

Thursday, December 27, 2012
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— One of the state’s legislative leaders proposed today to change New York laws to institute early voting and also require disclosure of independent political spending that’s currently shielded from public view.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, submitted the two bills for 2013 along with dozens of co-sponsors. He noted that New York voter participation was only an estimated 46 percent in November, higher than the turnout in only two other states. He also said it’s important for voters to know who’s behind campaign messages, who’s targeting them and what their agendas are.

“Our democracy thrives when we have as many citizens as possible participate in the electoral process,” Silver said. “With the deluge of money being spent on campaigns, it’s also important for voters to know who’s behind the campaign messages so they can evaluate them.”

The Cuomo administration and Senate Republican Conference did not immediately comment on the proposals Thursday.

The legislation would let voters cast ballots at designated locations starting 14 days before a general election and seven days before a primary or special election.

The second bill would apply to “express advocacy” the same fundraising and spending disclosures now required of candidates and their campaign committees.

It defines that term as communication “when taken as a whole with limited reference to external events, such as the proximity to the election, could only be interpreted by a reasonable person as containing advocacy of the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidates.”

According to the Assembly leader, the current structure lets corporations, industry groups, wealthy activists, unions and special interests participate in campaigns through unlimited spending, provided they identify themselves as “issue advocates” and avoid certain words. His proposal adopts a “functional equivalent” standard for all election-related communication, he said.

On a national basis, he said there probably was close to a $1 billion spent that way. In state elections, which would be subject to the disclosure law, he said there were “a number of independent expenditures ... from a number of groups.” He declined to specify any in particular.

Silver didn’t offer an estimate of how many more voters might turn out with an option of voting on alternative days, but said it’s been successful in several other states in increasing turnout and would also shorten Election Day lines at polling places.

Under the legislation, the boards of elections for each county and New York City would have to designate at least five polling places for early voting 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the advance periods, including Saturdays and Sundays, which would be counted at the close of the polls on Election Day and included in that night’s tallies.

 
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