Election Reform

Election Reform

Common Cause/NY believes that the most fundamental right granted to a citizen of our democracy is the right to vote and have that vote counted. While much has been done to improve voting rights in recent decades, significant barriers remain for lawful citizens wishing to register, vote for the candidate of their choice, and ensure their votes are counted.


It’s a scandal that New York’s elections are often run for the benefit of the politicians and not the voters. Our voter registration, Election Day hotline, and poll watching apparatus, help all New Yorkers access their fundamental right to vote.

Check out this video of Common Cause/NY volunteers talking about their experience on Election Day 2012

Election Day Wrap Up

On Tuesday, many people experienced confusion and long lines at the polls. Here at Common Cause/NY we did our best to provide answers and assist New Yorkers during the election. Here are some of the highlights:

- Organized over 20 volunteers to go into evacuation shelters in New York City on Monday to connect displaced voters with correct Election Day information.

- Successfully lobbied Governor Cuomo to signed an Executive Order allowing registered NYC voters to cast affidavit ballots at any polling site in New York State because of the impact of Hurricane Sandy.

- Staffed a voter hotline with NYPIRG which received over 1,000 calls and complaints about the voting process in New York State, some of which were able to be promptly resolved by the Board of Elections in response to our notification.

- Fielded over 50 volunteer poll monitors assigned to 12 of the busiest polling places in New York City to help voters.

- Fielding volunteer poll monitors with NYCLU who helped voters in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, and Poughkeepsie.

- PollWatchUSA, a mobile website which allowed voters to report problems at the polls via smart phone. PollWatchUSA received 307 reports from 287 locations (mostly in NYC). Detailed reports and full map here: http://www.pollwatchusa.org/viz

A big thank you to all our volunteers, interns and staff who helped make this possible.

Making the Ballot Readable

The most frequent complaint we heard after voters in New York State had their first general election experience with the new voting machines in 2010 was how difficult it was to read the tiny print on the paper ballot. New York law has a host of ballot format and language requirements which are designed for the old superseded lever machines. Those requirements are not only superfluous, they are downright damaging when applied to paper ballots. Several bills were introduced to facilitate the redesign of the ballot used in New York, including A7294D. If passed, the bill would result in an easier to read ballot with larger print. We're working actively with the bill's sponsor and our colleagues at the Brennan Center for its passage. If you like the idea of a readable ballot, please call your Assemblymember and State Senator and ask them to be sure this bill gets their support and a floor vote.

Poll Watch USA

A talented team of volunteer computer programmers at the Personal Democracy Forum's Civil Society Hackathon took Common Cause/NY's good idea and, in 2 days, turned it into a first-prize winning app: PollWatchUSA app allows voters to use cell phones to crowd-source real-time poll monitoring. The app was recently featured in the New York Times.

We used the primary elections in June & September as a test for a very preliminary version of the app; gathering valuable feedback and identifying some kinks to be worked out. Then we rolled out the full version during the presidential election in November. PollWatchUSA received 307 reports from 287 locations (mostly in NYC). Reports were as follows:

- - 88: long lines, 142: good experience, 73: "other", 4: couldn't vote.
- - 1,756 unique visitors, 3,900 page views
- - Detailed reports and full map here: http://www.pollwatchusa.org/viz

Voter Registration Drive

Common Cause/NY staffed Voter Registration Drives at various events and locations in NYC all summer.

Make sure you are registered for the next election. For more information on how and where to register use the following links: click here for New York City and click here for the rest of New York State.


Deceptive Election Practices and Voter Intimidation: The Need for Voter Protection:
This 2012 report examines the sufficiency of state and federal laws in protecting voters from deceptive election practices and reccomends a number of ways that existing laws could potentially protect voters and be updated to combat the growing problem of deceptive practices.

Counting Votes 2012: A State by State Look at Election Preparedness:
It is highly likely that voting systems will fail in multiple places across the country on Election Day. As the technology used for elections has become more complicated, the opportunity for error has substantially increased. This report reviews how prepared each state is to ensure that every eligible voter can vote and that every vote is counted as cast.