Site Update: Remembering when Reform came to New York in 2019

From time to time I will do a site update letting you know my progress in building this website. I launched site officially on January 2, 2022, but I started actually working on it on December 24, 2021. The idea for this site was to catalog not only be a home for my current podcasts, writings, and media appearances, but also a repository for the past. It is becoming somewhat of a journal for me documenting my career as an Elections Commissioner.

As of right now I have 682 different items now on this website. 5 of those posts are site update posts, including this one. The rest break down into three main categories:

Media 349 Posts: Features 32, Interviews 317

Podcasts 233 Posts: Commissioner in a Car 125, Zoom with Czarny 108

Writings 95 posts: Editorials 16, Testimony 18, Wonky Wednesdays 61

All of my Wonky Wednesday articles from my Tumblr blog & Zoom with Czarny podcasts are completely uploaded to the website.

My progress in scrolling through my Facebook page now dates back to January 1, 2019. So Editorials, Features, Interviews, Testimony, & Commissioner in a Car episodes from before then are limited on the website.

Since my last update I added about six months worth of content from January 1, 2019 to July 1, 2019. This period of time covered the most consequential NYS legislative session for Election Reform in NY State History. It was during this time when Early Voting, Electronic Poll Books, Universal Registration, June Primary, and other reforms became possible as for the first time in over a decade New York had united Democratic government with large majorities in the Assembly and Senate as well as holding the executive mansion.

It was during this time that my role as Democratic Caucus Chair for the New York State Elections Commissioner Association became an outsized portion of my political and professional life. Being Caucus Chair during this time allowed me to have a formative role in the adoption of policy for the first time. I had been lobbying for years for Election Reform and better election administration. However I was forced to nibble around the edges as major reforms were blocked by a NY Senate held by the GOP. Even in 2019 the national mood for restricting the vote had taken ahold of the GOP in NY and made any real changes impossible.

But in January of 2019 that all changed. I was honored to be in the chambers of the Assembly and Senate as they passed major reforms on the first day of Session. Early Voting was finally a reality, as well as the June Primary. Another under reported reform, Universal transfers of Registration that allowed New Yorkers to travel from county to county without having to re-register to vote was passed. Constitutional amendment process for No excuse absentees and Same day registration were started, though they ended up doomed to failure in 2021 at the ballot box.

The June primary upended the political calendar and had the most immediate impact on our elections. Overnight the political calendar was moved 3 months earlier. Petitions, the basis for getting on the ballot in New York, moved from starting the beginning of June to the end of February. Not only were we now walking in snow to get candidates on the ballot, candidate recruitment was shortened overnight. I was instrumental in advocating for reduction in signatures to allow upstate New York to aclimate to this major change.

Electronic Poll books were another major reform that got approved during this time period but it was frustratingly slow. The NYS Senate approved them in early in January however the NYS Assembly waited for the budget process in April. There was reticence among some members to the technological changes in some corners. However much of the delay was a push from Speaker Heastie to make sure this reform was funded by New York. It was understandable but the delay made implementing this reform a little harder. Luckily Early Voting was not going to be part of the June Primary and we would have the summer to purchase and implement them. My co-commissioner and I decided to fully implement E-poll books countywide and it has made all the difference in accommodating all these reforms not only in 2019 in years to come.

Funding from New York for Elections was a major fight in the first half of 2019. Traditionally elections are funded by County government and usually done on the cheap in New York. Boards of Elections are bastard step children for County governments as they often don’t control our policies or staffing, but they do control to a point our budgets. They try and force us to get by with as little as possible, specially in Onondaga County one of the more underfunded boards in the State. Winning New York State funding for operating Early Voting and implementing Electronic Poll books was key.

New York came through with $10 million in Aid to Localities funding and $25 million in capital funding. Furthermore the Aid to Locality funding was structured to encourage expansion beyond the minimum Early Voting sites prescribed by law. I was hopeful that with New York State providing funding that I could convince my counterpart as well as the County Executive and GOP controlled legislature to expand Early Voting in New York. I had agree to an Early Voting plan of 6 sites with the understanding that if funding came through we would expand to 8.

Unfortunately that I could not get buy in from our county government. The County Executive, Legislature and Comptroller all rallied against expanding Early Voting despite it being paid for. The crux of their newfound opposition seemed to be the desire to place an Early Voting Center at Onondaga Community College. Without agreement from them I could not convince my co-commissioner to take the money and expand Early Voting and we left thousands of dollars in grant money on the table.

At the end of the first June primary that year I was able to look back at a 6 month period of personal and professional growth. I finally felt that my life was coming into focus. I knew later this year I would be retiring from community theatre and focusing on elections as my life work. These six months validated that choice. I knew this is where I was meant to be, fighting for voting rights and fair elections as well as reform in new York. Despite the tumultuous times since I have never waivered from that choice.

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