Testimony of Amy Loprest, Executive Director of the New York City Campaign Finance Board, on 2018 Elections

November 20, 2018

Testimony as Submitted to the New York City Council Committees on Oversight and Investigations and Governmental Operations

Thank you, Chair Torres and Chair Cabrera for the opportunity to submit testimony on the 2018 elections in New York City.

New York City voters turned out in unprecedented numbers in this year’s midterm elections. According to unofficial results, 42.1 percent of registered New York voters cast a ballot on November 6, up from 24.3 percent in the 2014 general election.

The massive turnout in this year’s general election was an extension of the increased engagement and energy we have seen throughout the year.

Through our efforts, we expanded voter registration across the five boroughs. In May, we worked with City Hall to facilitate Student Voter Registration Day and through our combined efforts, we helped over 10,000 high school students register to vote. Additionally, with the help of all three library systems, the YMCA, CUNY, NYPIRG, and various community partners, we registered over 4,000 New Yorkers to vote on National Voter Registration Day. We have continued and expanded upon our work with city agencies under Local Law 29 of 2000 and Local Law 63 of 2014 to help them facilitate voter registration, particularly with the Department of Correction to conduct registration at correctional facilities.

Registering voters is important, but it is only a first, necessary step towards voting. Our mandate requires we also encourage New Yorkers to educate themselves and come to the polls. Through our experience in civic engagement, we’ve found that one of the keys to democratic participation is keeping New Yorkers constantly engaged year-round, not only around election time. Last year we launched our text and e-mail campaign to provide city voters with timely election alerts and reminders. Currently, 5,300 New Yorkers are subscribed to our email list, and 2,220 are receiving election alerts via text message, with the list growing substantially in the weeks before the election.  

For the second year, we ran our “Vote for the City You Want” promotional campaign, which directed New Yorkers to voting.nyc to read the Voter Guide online. The ads were promoted on social media and posted throughout the transit system.

In the days before the election, our team, along with more than 200 volunteers, made over 10,500 nonpartisan get out the vote phone calls in four days, urging New Yorkers to get to the polls. We called people that we had registered to vote at events throughout the year, such as Student Voter Registration Day and naturalization ceremonies, reaching New Yorkers of all age groups across the city.

Additionally, through our social media channels, we reached and interacted with thousands of voters during the election season, answering election-related questions and directing them to helpful resources. We continued this engagement through Election Day, as New Yorkers posted selfies with their “I Voted” stickers and we directed people who were experiencing issues at their poll sites to the Election Protection hotline.  

As you know, we mailed our Voter Guide to over 4.5 million registered voters before the general election to inform them about the three Charter Revision proposals on the ballot. The Guide included nonpartisan reasons to vote yes or no on the proposals, and the online Guide additionally included statements written by members of the public arguing for and against the proposals.

The Guide was published online for the federal and state primaries as well as the general election.  For the first time, the Guide included profiles provided by state and federal candidates, giving voters more detailed information about the candidates running in their district. For the September primary election, 122,036 individual users viewed the online Guide, while 221,370 individuals viewed the online Guide before the general election.

While we are proud of our work on the Voter Guide, it came to our attention shortly before the election that we provided incomplete information about voting eligibility for New Yorkers on parole, which did not reflect the executive order issued by Governor Cuomo in April restoring many parolees’ voting rights.

We deeply regret this oversight on our part. We work each and every day to fulfill our Charter mandate to increase voter participation for all New Yorkers, particularly underrepresented populations. If our omission inadvertently discouraged any voter from participating in our elections, that is a concern we treat seriously. We are conducting an internal review of our processes with the aim of preventing similar errors in the future.

That said, we acted quickly to mitigate the error. We immediately updated our online Voter Guide, and released a public statement that was carried by the Daily News, WNYC, NY1 News, the Huffington Post, and other outlets, reaching an estimated 4.2 million New Yorkers. On Twitter, our statement and newly created infographic were seen by more than 95,000 users. Additionally, we worked with the Brennan Center for Justice to identify New Yorkers who received a conditional pardon and had registered to vote in time for the general election. According to our estimate, roughly 1,500 voters may have been affected. We sent robocalls to those with a landline and text messages to those with a cell phone, reaching over 1,000 of the affected voters in both English and Spanish.

While this was an unfortunate error, the low number of eligible parolees on the voter rolls signifies how much work still needs to be done to inform formerly incarcerated people of their voting rights. We hope to continue working with the Council and community advocates to further increase voter registration among eligible New Yorkers on parole.

The experience of the 2018 general election also tells us that we need a change at the state level in the way our elections are conducted. Higher-than-usual turnout compounded problems at the polls, leading to long lines. With 4.5 million registered New York City voters, the reality is that a single 15-hour Election Day is not enough time to process the ballots of those who come out to vote. With a new legislature heading to Albany in January, we have an opportunity to reform our elections, bringing them into the 21st century and ensuring that every eligible voter can exercise their right to vote. Critical reforms such as early voting and electronic poll books would help mitigate many of the Election Day headaches we heard about this year.

On Wednesday, December 5, we hope to continue this discussion on the 2018 elections, as the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee will hold a meeting, followed by its annual hearing, where we will hear from voters about their Election Day experiences. We invite members of the committee and the public to attend at our office at 100 Church Street, in lower Manhattan, at 5:30pm.

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide testimony.