Thursday, March 29, 2007

Andrea Stewart-Cousins Introduces Ground-Breaking Voter Protection Legislation

Albany – State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins has introduced four voter protection bills seeking to stamp out voter intimidation. Senator Stewart-Cousins drafted these measures in response to her experiences during her campaigns of 2004 and 2006 for the 35th District
State Senate seat. It is believed, by most observers of the effort in 2004, that Stewart-Cousins actually won the election by more than 300 votes despite numerous instances of voter suppression and intimidation.

In 2006, suppression and intimidation took on a new dimension with a blanket challenge to thousands of registered voters just days before the election by her opponent. Fellow Democratic State Senator Liz Krueger, who is co-sponsoring the four bills, declared, “Electoral crimes are nothing new. We have all heard stories of elections being manipulated, and we know these instances are not just a thing of the past, but continue to happen in places all around the country.” She added, “But, here and now, we have the opportunity to show that New York is better than that, and that we have a higher standard for ourselves and our elections.”

State Senator Stewart-Cousins’ bills would:

• Create a new electoral crime of voter suppression, punishable as a misdemeanor. Article 17 of the Election Law contains several statutes addressing the issues of voter coercion and intimidation, but there is no specific statute that deals with the actual suppression of voters;

• Increase the penalties for violations of the electoral franchise statutes contained in Article 17 of the Election Law, with a sentence of up to one year of imprisonment. In the rare instances when investigations or criminal charges are brought forth against people who have attempted to obstruct the will of the voters, the local district attorney is currently constrained by lax penalties;

• Make investigations of a voter’s qualifications, including residency, less intimidating and require those challenging the registration of voters to affirm, under penalty of perjury, that the complaint is not frivolous;

• Ban “push-polling” unless said poll meets strict public reporting requirements and require that scripts used be led with election boards.
Senator Krueger declared, “The integrity of our electoral system has taken enough hits. If we don’t pass Senator Stewart-Cousins’ legislation, then you can bet that in the next round of elections, there will be voters who will show up to vote and are denied this legal right, or, worse yet, are afraid to show up to vote altogether.”

In 2004, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, challenging long-time incumbent Senator Nicholas Spano, became the victim of the longest post-election dispute in New York State history. Every conceivable voter suppression device, before, during, and certainly after Election Day, was employed to rob her of her hardfought, well-earned, victory. In the end, what appeared to be her win, by more than 300 votes, became a loss by 18. However, last year, under the watchful eyes of Federal monitors brought in by the United States Justice Department, and with more than 30 Democratic attorney/poll-watchers, in response to public demand, Andrea Stewart-Cousins defeated Mr. Spano by nearly 2,000 votes. The present legislative proposals are a direct outgrowth of her experiences in each of those election efforts.

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