Action Targets

Open Primaries

New York:

What is Election Turnout so Low in N.Y. compared to California?

California and New York are both solid blue states. They both have major urban areas. They are both affluent. Yet in districts with competitive Congressional primaries in 2018, New York had an average voter turnout of 27,401, while similar districts in California had an average turnout of 200,962. Since Congressional districts have the same number of people, this means the turnout in California was 7.3x the turnout in New York.


                          NEW YORK                                   CALIFORNIA

            District                          Votes                     District                     Votes

            2                                  12,771                      1                              190,371

            5                                    13,548                     2                               198,684

            9                                    30,551                    4                               211,571

            14                                  29,778                    12                              206,382

            16                                  30,078                    30                              128,471

            21                                  19,618                    33                             163,001

            23                                  23,501                    45                              167,957 

            24                                  23,855                    48                              174,024

            25                                  35,509                    52                             167,236             Average                         27,401               Average                   200,962

There are a few major differences between New York and California:

New York has closed primaries, so only party members can vote. This means independents cannot participate.10 of the 27 districts had no primaries, depriving even members of each party of a choice.

More significantly, in N.Y. there have been two days for primaries: one for state races and one for national races. By dividing the primaries into two days, voters have been confused and discouraged from voting. Fortunately, the N.Y. State Legislature and Governor Cuomo have remedied this issue by passing a law in which the primaries will be on the same day. This should help increase turnout in the future.
California has non-partisan primaries, so anyone from any party can run and anyone from any party can vote. This has led to much higher turnouts in primaries and competitive general elections.

Which state do you think has the better democracy? The state where 27,401 people turn out to vote in the primary or the state in which 200,962 people turn out to vote?

At Reform Elections Now, we support non-partisan primaries, such as those in California. We oppose closed primaries, such as those in New York.

However, we believe that numbers often speak louder than words. What these numbers show is simple: New Yorkers are turned off by their electoral system, while Californians are turned on.

We believe the N.Y. State Legislature and Governor Cuomo have taken some positive steps in increase voter participation. However, we still believe that the closed primaries are a detriment to our Democracy, and that non-partisan primaries, such as those used in California are a good alternative.

Here is an Op-Ed Piece Written for the N.Y. Times by Chuck Schumer, a Democratic Senator from N.Y. and the Senate Minority Leader

End Partisan Primaries, Save America
By Charles E. Schumer
• July 21, 2014

WASHINGTON — POLARIZATION and partisanship are a plague on American politics.
Political scientists have found that the two parties have each grown more ideologically homogeneous since the 1970s. The Senate hasn’t been so polarized since Reconstruction; the House has not been so divided since around 1900. As measured by laws passed, the current Congress is on track to be among the least productive in our republic’s history.
How did this happen? One of the main causes has not gotten enough attention: the party primary system.
The reasons behind the shocking primary defeat last month of Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, who was then leader of the Republican majority in the House, are still being debated, but there is no doubt that his defeat highlighted the pernicious effects of the predominant “winner-take-all” party primary system. Even in one of the country’s most Republican districts, Mr. Cantor was not conservative enough for the fairly small proportion of highly energized, ideologically driven voters who turned out for the primary. The partisan primary system, which favors more ideologically pure candidates, has contributed to the election of more extreme officeholders and increased political polarization. It has become a menace to governing.
From 10,000 feet, the structure of our electorate looks to be healthy, with perhaps a third of the potential voters who are left-leaning Democrats, a third who are right-leaning Republicans and a third who are independents in the middle.
But primaries poison the health of that system and warp its natural balance, because the vast majority of Americans don’t typically vote in primaries. Instead, it is the “third of the third” most to the right or most to the left who come out to vote — the 10 percent at each of the two extremes of the political spectrum. Making things worse, in most states, laws prohibit independents — who are not registered with either party and who make up a growing proportion of the electorate — from voting in primaries at all.
The phenomenon of primaries’ pulling people to the extremes seems more prevalent in the Republican Party, where centrists and moderates are increasingly rare, as a result of a combination of factors since the 1970s — the shift of Southern states toward Republican control, the mobilization of evangelical voters around social issues, anti-tax movements in California and elsewhere, and the rise of conservative talk radio and other news media. But the dynamic could easily expand to include the Democrats, who have at times been pulled too far to the left, for example on issues like crime and welfare’s excesses in the 1980s.
Two additional factors exacerbate the problem of party primaries. The first are the deep-pocketed interests that often lie at the extremes. The loosening of campaign finance restrictions by the Supreme Court has unleashed a flood of “independent” political spending by these special interests.
The second is the redistricting process. Technology has allowed parties that dominate their state legislatures to draw districts that will almost never elect a candidate of the opposing party. Each party maneuvers, once a decade, to manipulate the boundaries to its advantage. One of the reasons the Senate is, for all its flaws, still more moderate than the House is that there is no redistricting, since senators are elected statewide.
Primary election rules are not immutably ingrained in our politics. Before the McGovern-Fraser Commission — formed after the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968, which was marred by conflict over the Vietnam War — primaries were not even a major component of electoral politics in most states. Both parties adopted many of the commission’s recommendations, which were intended to weaken the power of party bosses. But today, with the decline of party-machine power, the polarization that divides the parties seems a far greater threat than establishment “bosses.”

We need a national movement to adopt the “top-two” primary (also known as an open primary), in which all voters, regardless of party registration, can vote and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, then enter a runoff. This would prevent a hard-right or hard-left candidate from gaining office with the support of just a sliver of the voters of the vastly diminished primary electorate; to finish in the top two, candidates from either party would have to reach out to the broad middle.
California, which probably mirrors the diversity of America more than any other state, was racked by polarization until voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 that adopted a “top-two” primary system. The move has had a moderating influence on both parties and a salutary effect on the political system and its ability to govern. Louisiana has used a similar system since the 1970s, and Washington State since 2008. Voters in Colorado and Oregon will consider proposals later this year.
If it works in these states, it can work in others. In late June, Senator Thad Cochran, a conservative Mississippi Republican, won a runoff primary over an even more conservative challenger, Chris McDaniel, with the support of Democrats, many of them African-American, who crossed over to vote for him.
While there are no guarantees, it seems likely that a top-two primary system would encourage more participation in primaries and undo tendencies toward default extremism. It would remove the incentive that pushes our politicians to kowtow to the factions of their party that are most driven by fear and anger. For those of us who are in despair over partisanship and polarization in Congress, reform of the primary system is a start.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, was elected to the House in 1980 and to the Senate in 1998.

New York:

Florida: “All Voters Vote” is organizing a ballot initiative, requiring petition signatures, led by a consultant, Steve Vancour. The intent is to get something on the ballot for 2020 for implementation in 2022. However, there is perhaps a greater opportunity that does not require either state constitution amendment or legislation:

The Democratic Party in Miami/Dade County is considering opening its primary to Independents, and proposing a similar action at the State Party meeting in Oct, 2019. This would apply to the 2020 Presidential primaries, and beyond. 23% of Florida voters are Independents.

Missouri: This was a more immediate potential effort, of a defensive nature, to head off an initiative that had been passed by the Missouri House twice in preparation for submission to their State Senate, to revert to Closed Primaries! They needed a few more votes to get the proposal into the Senate. The resolution was tabled by the end of the last session, with probable impact from petitions and network communication publicizing this regressive proposal. Wyoming and Tennessee defeated in 2018 similar efforts to move backwards in election reform.

Ranked Choice Voting

Maine: As follow-on to the RCV success in Maine, there is a movement to move the Presidential Primary process to RCV instead of the current caucus process. There is a parallel effort to implement Open Primaries for both state and federal elections. Both of these initiatives are led by ‘seasoned’ campaigners from the RCV battles of 2018.

New York City


New York is considering putting Ranked Choice Voting for mayor on the ballot. We thought it would be useful to look at turnout in N.Y. as compared to turnout in cities that use Ranked Choice voting. 

Based on available data, we find that turnout per population, in cities that use ranked choice voting is twice as high as turnout in the last election in N.Y. There can be no more powerful endorsement of this system than the fact that citizens show up in record numbers and exercise their right to vote. 

In the last N.Y. mayoral election, there were 1,092,746 votes. This may seem like a lot of votes, but N.Y. City has a population of 8.623 million. This means that 12.7% of all citizens voted. 

In San Francisco, Minneapolis, Oakland, Santa Fe, Portland Maine, and Berkeley Ca., the average voter turnout was 27.8%, more than twice as high as that in N.Y. City. 

Compare the results in N.Y. with those of cities that use Ranked Choice Voting. 


New York is considering putting Ranked Choice Voting for mayor on the ballot. We thought it would be useful to look at turnout in N.Y. as compared to turnout in cities that use Ranked Choice voting. 

Based on available data, we find that turnout per population, in cities that use ranked choice voting is twice as high as turnout in the last election in N.Y. There can be no more powerful endorsement of this system than the fact that citizens show up in record numbers and exercise their right to vote. 

In the last N.Y. mayoral election, there were 1,092,746 votes. This may seem like a lot of votes, but N.Y. City has a population of 8.623 million. This means that 12.7% of all citizens voted. 

In San Francisco, Minneapolis, Oakland, Santa Fe, Portland Maine, and Berkeley Ca., the average voter turnout was 27.8%, more than twice as high as that in N.Y. City. 

Compare the results in N.Y. with those of cities that use Ranked Choice Voting. 

City Percent Voting
New York 12.7%
San Francisco 21.3%
Minneapolis 24.8%
Oakland 37.3%
Santa Fe 24.6%
Portland, Ma. 26.8%
Berkeley, Ca. 48.2%

Average for RCV Cities 27.8%

Why is turnout for Ranked Choice Voting So High? 

There are a number of reasons. 

  • More candidates to choose from. 
  • Candidates representing broad constituencies
  • Less negative campaigning. 
  • More cooperation and bi partisanship in governing. 

Cities with Ranked Choice Voting have over twice the turnout of N.Y.C. Shouldn’t N.Y.C have an election system that its voters will like? 

If you want Ranked Choice Voting in New York City, cast your vote in the upcoming election and send your opinion to your representatives. 

New York City: The opportunity to choose Ranked Choice Voting in New York City’s municipal elections will appear on the NYC ballot this Fall held on Tuesday, November 5th, 2019.  
This is a positive move for election reform and should be promoted and encouraged in order for it to be passed in the coming election.  If it passes, it will substantially expand the total number of voters in the United States that have the opportunity to participate in RCV.  This would move the city towards more candidates who are focused on a broad array of the constituents rather than just a particular narrow-interest sector.  Typical results are: 1) less negative campaigning, 2) no ‘spoiler’ candidates who displace the common favorite, 3) greater voter turnout, 4) ultimate voter satisfaction with the election process, and 5) no run-off elections.
The 2019 City Charter Revision Commission, after a series of public meetings and input from related experts, chose five major areas for change.  Listed first is Elections (Ranked Choice Voting), followed by changes in the Civilian Complaint Review Board (explanation of deviations from disciplinary recommendations), Governance (Public Advocate budget input), Budget (a rainy-day’ fund, and Land Use (more time for application reviews).
In voting on the proposed ballot items, the Commission had the opportunity to apply RCV to all municipal elections but voted to use RCV only in Primary and Special Elections.  An amendment to apply RCV to general elections as well was voted down in the Commission by 8 to 6.  The offices subject to RCV include: Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council Members.  Voters will be permitted to rank in order of preference up to five candidates in the primaries or special elections.  
How It Works:  if no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the least number of first-choice votes would be eliminated, and the voters who chose that candidate would have their votes transferred to their second-choice candidate.  If there were no majority, this process would repeat until two candidates remained, and the candidate with the most votes at that point would win the election.
This can be a positive step forward for election reform and we believe a contribution to getting our government working again.  Support it. 

NY City Council Staff recommends that the Commission further consider and solicit feedback concerning establishing RCV in New York City municipal elections. Specifically, the Commission should consider (a) which types of elections should be subject to RCV (i.e., primary elections, special elections, and/or general elections); (b) which offices should be subject to RCV; (c) when implementation should begin, including whether there should be any phase-in period; (d) whether to utilize a hybrid RCV/run-off system under which, for example, if no candidate receives more than 40% of the total ballots cast in the final tabulation round, the race proceeds to a traditional run-off; (e) how many candidates a voter may rank on the ballot; and (f) what type of tabulation method should be used.

Election Reforms

N.Y. State enacts significant voting reforms in 2019

In January 2019, the N.Y. State legislature passed, and Gov. Cuomo signed, significant legislation making it easier to citizens to vote. 

As Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “Government should be about breaking down barriers. We need more voices in our democracy, not fewer. Easing access to voting and having New Yorkers exercise their Constitutional right to have their voices heard shouldn’t be partisan or controversial. Other states have taken the lead on issues like early voting, same-day registration, pre-registration, and no-excuse absentee voting. It is time for New York State to catch up, so we can once again lead the way forward.”

The new legislative package includes the following reforms. 

  • Early voting: Enacting early voting will make voting more convenient for voters with professional or family obligations that make it difficult to physically get to the polls, as well as reduce waiting times and ease logistical burdens for poll workers. The new law provides Early Voting of 10 days, which includes two weekends. Prior to this law, N.Y. was one of only 12 states that did not permit early voting. 
  • Synchronizing federal and state elections: New York State currently holds separate primary elections for state and federal elections. With the addition of a presidential primary every four years and a general election, this means that in some cases New York is holding four different elections in a year. This can be confusing to voters, wastes administrative resources, and significantly restricts voter turnout. The separate primaries for federal and state offices were a major cause of the extremely low voter turnout in N.Y. State. This bill will unify the federal and state primaries and ensure that voters only go to the polls once to choose their nominees. This change should significantly increase voter turnout. 
  • Pre-registration for minors: New Yorkers are not permitted to register to vote unless they will be 18 years of age by the end of the year, and by the date of the election in which they intend to vote. This bill will allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, meaning that a voter will automatically be registered on his or her 18th birthday. This should make it much easier for people to register.
  • Universal transfer of registration: When New Yorkers move to a different county, their voter registration does not move with them. This requires the voter to re-register with his or her new local board of elections as if he or she were registering for this first time. This bill will ensure that when a voter moves elsewhere in the state, his or her voter registration will seamlessly go with them.
  • Closing the LLC Loophole:Individuals and corporations have strict limits to their political spending, but large donors have avoided these limits by donating through LLCs. This new law places the same limit on LLCs as on corporations ($5,000). It also requires the disclosure of direct and indirect membership interests in the LLC making a contribution, and for the contribution to be attributed to that individual. 

In addition to these significant improvements, the State Legislature also passed two resolutions for constitutional amendments. 

  • No-excuse absentee voting by mail: The New York State Constitution currently restricts absentee ballots to individuals who provide a qualifying reason, such as absence from the county on Election Day or an illness or disability. This unnecessarily prevents New Yorkers from being able to vote by mail for reasons other than those currently listed in the constitution, or simply for convenience. This constitutional amendment will make absentee ballots available to any eligible voter, no matter their reason for wanting one, which will help make voting as accessible as possible.
  • Same-day registration: The New York State Constitution prohibits voters from registering to vote less than 10 days before an election and still being able to vote in that election. In today’s world with today’s technology, there is no policy or administrative reason to prevent voters from registering to vote on the day of an election. This constitutional amendment will eliminate this outdated but formidable barrier to the ballot box.

Other issues under consideration for 2020 include: 

  • Making Election Day a holidayso people do not have to take off from work to vote. 
  • Automatic registrationso people can register to vote when they get a driver’s license or interact with the state in some other official manner. 
  • Online registrationso New Yorkers can apply to the Board of Elections in the same way they apply to the DMV. 
  • Ban corporate contributionsto restore power to the people and reduce the power of special interests and dark money. 

Reform Elections Now believes the State Legislature and Governor Cuomo have taken important steps to improve democracy in N.Y. State.

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