Niagara Gazette

April 16, 2013

Cuomo touts election reform plan

STAFF REPORTS
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced the first of several planned proposals designed to reduce corruption in state elections.

The proposals include creating an independent enforcement unit at the state Board of Elections to investigate election law violations and opening primaries to additional candidates by eliminating party bosses' required approval and changing party enrollment deadlines to "expand voter choice and help reduce corruption," according to a statement issued Tuesday.

“The reforms we are proposing today will help prevent corruption and strengthen our democracy by ensuring that candidates need not bankroll their way on to other parties’ ballots and giving voters the ability to change their party registration and vote in a primary in the same year," Cuomo said.

The creation of the enforcement unit, if adopted, would include several features, Cuomo's office said in the release:

• An election enforcement head would be selected by the Governor and require Senate confirmation. The official would have sole authority over personnel decisions within the unit and would be required to hire based on merit rather than partisanship, according to Cuomo.

• The body would be granted subpoena authority to investigate and prosecute both civil and criminal cases involving violations of the election laws. Currently, such matters must be passed to the district attorney.

• The Board of Elections would not have the authority to direct the new Chief Election Enforcement Counsel to cease an investigation, but could vote to direct him or her to begin such an investigation. Once the investigation has been completed and the Counsel’s findings presented to the Board, the Board could vote by majority vote not to bring a civil or criminal proceeding if the evidence demonstrated that a violation did not occur. However, if the Board failed to take a vote within 90 days, or was deadlocked, the Chief Election Enforcement Counsel could proceed to bring such a proceeding.

"Today we are taking action where the Board of Elections has failed to act, and empowering a new enforcement unit with real teeth so the people of New York can have confidence in our electoral process," Cuomo said in his statement.

The second proposal in Cuomo's package would do away with a provision requiring candidates seeking to run on another party's line to obtain the permission of the leaders of that party. 

The governor's plan would instead require candidates seeking to run on a party ticket to gather signatures — a change Cuomo said would reduce corruption on the part of party bosses and offer voters a greater number of choices.

In the third proposal unveiled Tuesday, Cuomo suggests doing away with a provision meaning that voters or candidates desiring to change their party affiliation must wait until the next general election for the changes to take effect. Cuomo said the current laws prevent voters from participating in primaries among members of their chosen party for a full calendar year.

Instead, Cuomo's proposal would allow changes in party affiliation to take place in three months.