Elections Updates

Press Coverage
Our Town
Monday, November 20, 2017

Council Member Ben Kallos, the bill’s author, hopes that the legislation will make it easier for the city’s residents to access the ballot. “Only about 25 percent of Manhattan households own cars,” Kallos said, citing the New York City Economic Development Corporation. “Driver licenses and other state identification cards are not as common among people of color or low-income communities, so having an online voter registration system that anyone can use is incredibly important.”

Seth Stein, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said that the mayor’s office is reviewing the final legislation. “The Administration worked closely with the City Council in crafting this legislation,” he said. “We support online registration and making voting more accessible to New Yorkers.”

The legislation that has an 18-month timeline for implementation, but Kallos said he hopes the online registration system will be up and running “in a matter days or weeks rather than months and months,” noting that a working demonstration of the system is available on his website.

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Press Release
Friday, November 17, 2017

Int. No. 1701-2017 (Vacca) upgrades the NYC Open Data Law and most importantly requires the City to publish on the Open Data Portal information the status of data sets and makes it much easier for the public to track how well the City is complying with the Open Data Law.

1528-A-2017 (Vacca) requires agencies to list the names of data sets that have been requested via FOIL request. This will make it much easier for the public and the City to understand what data the public is requesting and should be published as open data.

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Press Coverage
New York Daily News
Friday, November 17, 2017

New Yorkers will soon be able to register to vote online after the City Council passed legislation to allow it Thursday.

The city Campaign Finance Board will set up a website and create an app to allow would-be voters to register.

“It seems like every election in New York City, it’s a new low for voter turnout,” said Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), noting the dismal turnout in last week’s mayoral election.

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Press Coverage
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Friday, November 17, 2017

Brandon West, vice president for policy for the New Kings Democrats, praised the legislation proposed by Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Upper East Side) to mandate the New York City Campaign Finance Board to create a secure website and mobile app for residents who want to register to vote online.

“This long overdue reform is a great first step to making it finally easier to participate in our democracy,” West said.

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Press Coverage
Daily News*
Thursday, November 16, 2017

“It seems like every election in New York City, it’s a new low for voter turnout,” said Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), noting the dismal turnout in last week’s mayoral election.

“Facebook could register people to vote,” Kallos said.

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Press Coverage
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Thursday, November 16, 2017

The council’s Committee on Governmental Operations voted to pass legislation sponsored by Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Upper East Side) that would require the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) to create a secure website and mobile app for residents who want to register to vote online.

“Democracy should be a click away. We are used to filling out forms online with the click of a mouse and voter registration should be no different. You should be registered and receive a confirmation by email, just as with any other website,” Kallos said in a statement. 

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Press Coverage
Gotham Gazette
Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Before introducing democracy voucher legislation or the CFB post-election report, however, Kallos is looking to see one of his currently-pending campaign finance reform bills passed in the waning days of this legislative session. Co-sponsored by 29 members in the 51-seat Council, the Kallos bill would increase the public matching threshold for how much candidates can receive relative to the spending limit in their races (there are lower thresholds for City Council races than borough-wide and city-wide races).

The bill had a hearing in April and Kallos said he is pushing to see it passed this term. The Manhattan Democrat saw his online voter registration bill passed on Tuesday by the governmental operations committee he chairs. The full Council is expected to pass it on Thursday and de Blasio has indicated he will sign it into law.

The de Blasio administration has indicated support for Kallos’ bill to increase the public matching threshold, which would allow candidates to run their campaigns based more on smaller, matchable donations (eligible donations up to $175 are matched six-to-one, to a certain percentage of the spending threshold, which Kallos’ bill would increase).

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Press Coverage
WNYC: New York Public Radio
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Currently, the only way to register to vote online in New York is through the Department of Motor Vehicles. The catch is you need to have a driver's license or a non-driver id card to use that system — a system that has experienced some hiccups.

City Councilman Ben Kallos said voter registration should be as easy as calling for an Uber. He sponsored a bill to create an online portal through the website of the city's Campaign Finance Board.

"New York City residents would be able to go online, put in all of their information and they could sign on a piece of paper and take a picture, or just sign with their finger or with a stylus," said Kallos.

The key here: the voter registration forms would rely on digital signatures. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued an opinion last year saying they're legal, paving the way for online voter registration.

"The bill sponsored by Councilman Kallos marks a key step forward in the fight for more accessible elections, allowing New York City to begin to bring our electoral process into the 21st century," Schneiderman said in a statement.

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Press Release
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

 New York, NY– Following a historic low in voter turnout in New York City’s 2017 General Election for municipal offices, the New York City Council Committee on Governmental Operations today passed legislation to implement online voter registration. The legislation is slated for passage by the New York City Council on November 16. Relying on an opinion by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman which allows online voter registration by localities, Council Member Ben Kallos authored the legislation, which will require the City’s Campaign Finance Board to create and maintain a secure website and mobile app allowing New York City residents to register to vote online.
 
Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia offer limited forms of online voter registration according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New York currently only allows residents with a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) driver license, learner permit or non-driver identification to register online. However many residents of color cannot use New York State’s only online voter registration system as Hispanics are twice as likely as Whites to not have identification (10%) and Blacks are more than two and half times as likely as Whites not to have identification (13%) according to Project Vote.
 
New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman paved the way for this legislation to pass in April of 2016 when he issued and Informal Opinion to Suffolk County officials advising that “online voter registration, including use of electronically affixed handwritten signatures is legal in New York State.”

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Press Coverage
Gotham Gazette
Friday, November 10, 2017

As New York State’s archaic election and voting laws continue to dampen voter turnout, the New York City Council is about to take a step to encourage participation. The City Council’s governmental operations committee will vote on Tuesday, November 14 to approve a bill allowing online voter registration for city residents, Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee, told Gotham Gazette on Thursday. The bill is then expected to pass the full City Council on Thursday.

“With the historic low in turnout on Tuesday, online voter registration will be an essential tool to help more residents become voters,” Kallos said in a phone interview, referring to the 22 percent of registered voters who showed up to the polls to vote for mayor. Following the committee vote, the bill will head to the Council floor for a vote at its next stated meeting, he said.

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Press Coverage
Upper East Side Patch
Tuesday, November 7, 2017

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Two Democrats will represent the Upper East Side in the New York City council for the next four years.

Ben Kallos and Keith Powers won elections for the third and fourth districts in the city's legislative body. The New York Times called both elections for the Democrats a little more than an hour after polls closed Tuesday night.

Kallos defeated Republican Frank Spotorno to win his second term in the council's fifth district.

Powers, who will represent most of central and east Midtown, defeated Republican Rebecca Harary, the Times reported. Powers, a longtime political aide, will take over the seat vacated by the term-limited Daniel Garodnick.

Mayor Bill de Blasio easily defeated his little-known challengers to earn a second term Tuesday night, capping a sleepy campaign season with an easy win. NY1 declared victory for the Democratic incumbent at 9:26 p.m., less than a half hour after the polls closed.

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Press Coverage
NY1
Friday, August 11, 2017

But if experience matters, so does name recognition, which critics say creates an unfair advantage. The irony is that Council term limits and the city's robust public campaign finance system are designed to attract political newcomers, not professional politicians.

"The point of term limits is, we're supposed to have a citizen legislature," said City Councilman Ben Kallos of Manhattan.

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Press Release
Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Statement: Council Member Ben Kallos on Voter Data Release
 Today’s decision by the New York State Board of Elections is a shameful capitulation to the President’s fear mongering about voter fraud. Allegations of widespread voter fraud have repeatedly been disproven and there exists no evidence to suggest it occurred in last November’s election or any election.
 
The President’s sham commission is nothing more than yet another Republican attempt to restrict voting rights and only serves to perpetuate dangerous myths and spread doubt about our democratic process. That the commissioners of the State Board of Elections would assist such a commission casts doubt on their integrity and their commitment to protecting the personal data of New York’s 12.5 million voters.

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Press Coverage
Gotham Gazette
Monday, May 15, 2017

The government operations committee, chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos, met to discuss the BOE’s $136.5 million proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Council members sought answers from the board about the latest WNYC report, which came after a series of reports by Bergin exposing problems at the BOE, including tens of thousands of voters purged from the rolls ahead of the presidential election. Kallos said his wife was one of those voters whose vote did not count, and that she received a notice from the BOE just last month.

“There is a quasi-manual, quasi-automated process,” said Michael Ryan, BOE executive director, insisting that the board could not send notices to voters who aren’t in the system until they provide relevant missing information to the board.

Referring to a specific voter highlighted by WNYC, who shuttled numerous times between two poll sites in attempting to cast her vote, which eventually was not counted, Ryan said the voter’s actions on Election Day seemed “suspicious” and also said WNYC’s report, “simplistically analyzed a complex process.”

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Press Coverage
Gotham Gazette

For City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, and City Council Member David Greenfield, a committee member, those delays in audits are just one reason that they believe the CFB’s system is flawed and in need of change. In December, Kallos, Greenfield, and other Council members ushered through nearly two dozen campaign finance related bills, some of them tweaks to how the Campaign Finance Board operates. Several of the measures were based on recommendations from the CFB, others were seen as addressing problems with the CFB identified by Council members and their consultants.

The Friday hearing did touch on the CFB’s budget needs for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1 and in which there will be a citywide election with a primary in September and a general election in November. These city elections account for a massive increase to $56.7 million for the 2018 fiscal year from last year’s CFB budget of $16.17 million.

About half of the proposed budget, $29 million, is allocated to the public matching funds program, which provides participating campaigns with 6-to-1 matches of small contributions up to $175. Another $11 million will go to printing and distributing a voter guide for the upcoming election.

But Kallos seemed more concerned that the board was spending more money, and time, on auditing campaigns than the money they received from resolutions of those audits. When Loprest told the committee that the CFB’s candidate services unit has seven full-time employees and the audit unit has 26, Kallos insisted that the CFB should dedicate more resources to candidate services and campaign liaisons, so campaigns can preemptively steer clear of missteps in navigating a complex campaign finance system, and avoid fines and penalties down the line.

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Press Coverage
Gotham Gazette
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

“I guess I have an overarching concern here,” Kallos responded, “just that you’re spending four times more on auditing and penalizing candidates than you are on supporting them and your candidate-to-liaison ratio far exceeds what would be allowed in a public school at this point [for student-to-teacher].” He said the candidate services unit should at least be on par with the audit unit, to provide more personal attention to campaigns, and later floated the idea of legislation to mandate it. “I feel a bill coming up,” he said.

Read more at http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6934-city-council-members-question-cam...

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Press Coverage
Gotham Gazette
Thursday, April 20, 2017

Excerpt:

The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, which has oversight of the CFB, is set to hear a bill on April 27 that would raise the cap on matching funds from 55 percent of the spending cap to a full match of the cap. The bill is sponsored by the committee’s chair, Council Member Ben Kallos, who is a participant in the public funds program and has spearheaded campaign finance reform in the Council. Kallos had reservations about some of the bills that were expedited through the Council late last year and believes his bill will significantly shift the election landscape.

“I was concerned with recent amendments and their impact on the campaign finance system,” he said, “and as we get closer to the June deadline for opting in or out of the system, we will learn just what impact that legislation had and whether it improves participation in the system or actually discourages it. And whatever the results, I hope to create new incentives for people to participate.” The CFB is reviewing Kallos’ proposal and will testify at the hearing.

Read the whole story at http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6882-city-council-members-opt-out-of-campaign-finance-program

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Press Coverage
New York Post
Monday, March 13, 2017

His request comes after US intelligence and law enforcement agencies released a January report in the final days of the Obama administration that found the Russian government employed cyberattacks to undermine Hillary Clinton and boost Donald Trump.

Considering the request for additional funding, Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), the committee chair, asked Ryan why he isn’t taking up de Blasio on an offer for an extra $20 million provided the agency agrees to a series of reforms, including establishing a blue-ribbon panel to identify failures.

Ryan cited “philosophical” differences with the administration for not taking the money.

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Press Coverage
Gotham Gazette
Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, addressed the budget disparity, although he did not make it a focus of the hearing.

Kallos pointed out that the notoriously dysfunctional BOE has proposed its largest budget increase in years, and also has not proposed any savings, referencing the mayor’s preliminary budget promise to identify $500 million in additional agency savings in time for the executive budget. “The cost increase you’re proposing is actually more than 10 percent of the existing savings that the mayor’s asking for,” Kallos said.

Ryan pointed out that the BOE is not beholden to the city. “Unlike some other agencies, the Board is an independent board and while we are certainly sensitive to requests, wherever they may come from...we do operate a bit differently from some of the other agencies,” Ryan said.

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Press Release
Wednesday, December 14, 2016

New York, NY – New York City’s landmark small-dollar matching campaign finance system may soon be protected from an onslaught of dark money and special interests in City elections. Today the Committee on Governmental Operations chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos passed a package of legislation that expands the "doing business" definitions to include owners of companies that own companies and no longer matching funds they bundle as well as providing early determinations and payments of public funds". This package was first introduced in late 2015 by Governmental Operations Committee Chair Ben Kallos along with Council Members Jumaane Williams, Andy King, and Fernando Cabrera. This committee vote sends the legislation to the full council where it is expected to pass.

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Press Coverage
Gotham Gazette
Thursday, December 8, 2016

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, is an avid social media user who often solicits questions through Twitter during committee hearings. He’s well aware of the intersection of technology and governance and the issues that can arise with an elected representative’s use of social media. “Its pretty confusing to the public because they don’t know who to tweet sometimes,” he said of his own experience with separate accounts for official and campaign purposes. “So I have to spend double duty making sure I’m managing both, paying attention to both and ensuring that whether a constituent tweets my campaign or government [account], they get the services they need.”

He said officials should generally ensure that the distinctions between accounts are clear and they “respond from the right places and retweet from the right places.”

“It can be a little bit of a minefield,” Kallos said, “but you just have to be extra cautious.”

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Press Coverage
DNAinfo.com
Thursday, November 17, 2016

UPPER EAST SIDE — A "broken" voting system is to blame for the hourslong waits endured by voters during the election this year, say local elected officials who are calling for an overhaul including more polling sites and the option to mail in ballots.

Lines to vote in the next election could be shortened by opening new polling sites to spread out the crowds, Councilman Ben Kallos said.

"If you are part of a church, a synagogue, a nonprofit center, you could be incredibly helpful. If you're from a school and not a poll site let us know," he told residents during a Community Board 8 meeting Wednesday.

"We need to expand the number of poll sites. We can even put one in your lobby, as long as it is ADA accessible," he said.

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Press Coverage
Gotham Gazette

City Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee on governmental operations, said in a phone interview that “All of these [reforms] should’ve happened before Election Day and if there’s an Albany special session it should be part of that agenda. The voters shouldn’t let their elected officials go back to Albany without getting this done.”

The City Council has consistently advocated for voting and election reform in its annual state legislative agenda, including early voting, instant runoff voting for citywide primaries, and public campaign financing at the state level. De Blasio has said he has concerns about instant runoff voting but hasn’t taken a full position. The mayor has consistently called for campaign finance reform, calling the city’s public matching system a gold standard that the state should follow. Cuomo has professed support for such a system but has not gotten one passed and enacted.

Kallos says he recognizes that the mayor hasn’t been able to prioritize election reform over other items on his agenda. “I think that we needed attention to this in 2014,” he said. “The mayor and I were able to advocate together for universal pre-kindergarten but election reforms weren’t on that list…I think that when we have so few people engaged in voting and such low turnout, people need to put good government on the same plane as things like universal pre-kindergarten.”

He emphasized that elected officials should look beyond their own self-interest and vote for election and voting reform, and that voters need to speak up. “Anyone who waited in line, anyone who had trouble voting, needs to make their voices heard to their elected officials,” Kallos said, “and Albany needs to finally make these changes even if it isn’t in the interest of incumbents…Ultimately in 2017, we will have a vote on the Constitutional Convention, and if Albany won’t act then the electors might.”

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Press Coverage
Queens Chronicle
Thursday, November 10, 2016

Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Committee on Governmental Operations, echoed the importance of homeless people being ensured their vote is counted.

“We must ensure that everyone who can vote is voting no matter their housing status,” he said.

Kallos and Wills also worked together on a law that allows those being detained in city jails to vote.

“And with so many people awaiting trial with an overwhelming majority of men of color who shouldn’t be in our system, they need to be protected and they need their rights protected,” Kallos said at the press conference.

Although at the time of the press conference it was too late to register to vote, Matt Borden, of the DHS, wanted to ensure that those who are eligible to cast ballots would be told how to do so.

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