Another easing of access to the polls across New York will be at the top of the agenda this winter for the Democrats totally in charge of the Legislature for a second year.
Lawmakers are reconvening Wednesday and the election overhaul energy is mainly in the Senate, which changed partisan hands last year to give Democrats unified control of Albany after eight years of divided government.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins promised passage by the end of the week of measures that will "build on the voting reforms we passed first thing last session, and will empower more New Yorkers to register to vote and utilize early voting opportunities." Leaders of the Assembly say they're on course to send the measures to Gov. Andrew Cuomo by the end of the month.
Tracking the story of American democracy over the past decade has been a very complex undertaking, dominated by dispiriting accelerations of dysfunction but also punctuated by some developments meriting cautious optimism.
The Supreme Court opened the floodgates of money in politics, turned a blind eye to partisan gerrymandering and paved the way for dozens of measures making it harder to vote in places already marred by histories of political discrimination. Capitol Hill became more gridlocked by tribal partisan animus than ever, even when the topic was fixing the very system in which Congress is supposed to play a vibrant central role. And there's Donald Trump, who won the presidency in an election marked by unparalleled foreign interference and then took busting the norms of a democratic civil society to a whole new level.
At the same time, however, the ever more broken state of affairs in Washington was offset by successes in statehouses and city halls — and by the citizens themselves — at making democracy more equitable and productive for more people. Innovations in public financing of campaigns and election methods that reward consensus candidates were on the rise, while voting rights were returned to almost 2 million felons out of prison. Ballot initiatives and state courts moved against partisan power grabs in legislative mapmaking, allowing more people to pick their politicians, not the other way around.
Finally, the democracy reform movement itself built toward a critical mass of organizational muscle and funding strength. It even generated its own dedicated news site!
To get ready for the 2020s, when the debate over how to put the government more overtly back in the hands of the voters will be more urgent than ever, here's The Fulcrum's take on the top 10 stories about democracy's challenges from the decade now ending, in a somewhat rough chronological order.
New York City's approval of ranked-choice voting was one of the year's biggest wins for democracy reformers. But the million-dollar push for the ballot measure was fueled by one of the institutions most reviled in "good governance" circles: dark-money groups.
Now one prominent lawmaker, with a proven record of tightening campaign finance rules in the nation's biggest city, has plans to prevent such an irony in the future.
City Councilman Brad Lander is readying legislation to expand the current disclosure requirements for donations in local elections to include ballot proposals. The transparency rules now mandate donor disclosures only for political messaging related to candidates. But that law's enactment was spearheaded five years ago by Lander, and the Brooklyn Democrat says it's time to close a loophole he left behind.
Those who say the two-party duopoly is not so great for the republic will not be heartened by developments in New York this week.
Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the Democratic Party in the fourth largest state, is pushing to effectively neutralize almost all of the Empire State's minor political parties. And his proposal seems to have the ear of others on a special commission charged with revising some aspects of election law by the end of the year.
His other ideas for eliminating third parties have not gone far. This one looks like it will.
The new Jacobs plan would increase fivefold, to about 250,000, the number of votes a political party needs to receive in one election in order to get a line on the ballot in the next one. Republicans and Democrats, who routinely draw more than 2 million votes each in statewide contests, are the only parties for which this would be no problem.