Community Agenda Update: Winning Voting Rights and Working Toward a Complete Census Count

February 13, 2019

Community Agenda Update: Winning Voting Rights and Working Toward a Complete Census Count

PPG and partners met to discuss and strategize around two topics from the 2019 Community Agenda: protecting and expanding voting rights and forming a Complete Count Committee for Buffalo-Niagara representation in Census 2020.

On Friday, February 8, 2019, Partnership for the Public Good and community partners Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Buffalo Urban League, Jewish Community Relations Council, New York Immigration Coalition, and Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo met with Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York. They discussed and strategized around two topics from the 2019 Community Agenda: protecting and expanding voting rights and forming a Complete Count Committee for Buffalo-Niagara representation in Census 2020.

VOTING RIGHTS

Already this year, New York State has passed significant voting reforms. This includes establishing early voting in fall 2019, pre-registration of 16 and 17-year-olds, registration portability, consolidation of primaries to June starting in 2020, and future voter referendums for same-day voter registration (learn more about these changes at https://letnyvote.org). While many key issues in the top Community Agenda plank, “Protect and Expand Voting Rights,” have already been addressed by this state legislation, there are four key questions to ensure these new laws are implemented equitably in Erie County:

  1. How many early voting polling places will be established and what will their hours be?
    Since counties are given some discretion around specific voting hours, making sure voting locations are open during times that are best for the community is a priority. The new law requires early voting polling places to be open for six hours on Saturday and Sunday, for two weekends before the election.

  2. Where will early voting polling places be and what type will be established?
    State legislation requires one early voting polling place per 50,000 voters. Having early voting opens the possibility for “voting centers”– county-wide areas where anyone can vote no matter what district they’re registered in. Depending on the locations of “voting centers,” this could be potentially problematic for communities with fewer transportation options.

  3.  Will the Erie County Board of Elections invest in e-pollbooks?
    E-pollbooks can increase the accuracy and efficiency of early voting. This secure, electronic listing of registered voters allows ballots to printed for any voter at any polling place.

  4.  Where will early voting budget come from?
    It is essential that appropriate funding is provided from the state to ensure the success of early voting. Legislators must make this funding a priority before the state budget is finalized.

 PPG and partners will be following up with the Erie County Board of Elections and state representatives on these questions in the weeks ahead.

CENSUS 2020

An accurate and adequately funded census should be viewed as a nonpartisan issue - all areas of government and the public benefit from ensuring every resident is counted. Census data is the basis for political representation, the allocation of resources vital to every community (e.g. education, veterans services, and transportation), and for trend analysis to address community issues. Therefore, our short-term goal is to ensure that state legislators provide adequate funding for local priorities for Census 2020: support wider community engagement to achieve a complete count and reach “hard-to-count” areas, overcome identified barriers for undercounted populations, and address additional concerns as they arise.

In the weeks ahead, PPG and our partners will meet with local officials to ask for support, to establish and offer input to a Complete Count Committee, and to determine where community organizations can fill in gaps. Our statewide partners are currently calling for at least $40 million in the state budget to fund community organizations who will support complete count efforts. This could include community-wide messaging, awareness-raising activities, and aid to individuals completing the census (particularly the digital census—the Census Bureau plans to invite 80% of households to submit their census response over the internet).

To learn more or get involved in Community Agenda activities on voting rights and Census 2020, please contact anna@ppgbuffalo.org.

 - Anna Blatto, AmeriCorps Communications and Outreach Fellow at PPG