COMPLETE VIDEO: 177th CityLaw Breakfast with Frederick P. Schaffer, Chair of the NYC Campaign Finance Board

NYCCFB Chair Rick Schaffer. Image Credit: CityLand

Today, Friday, March 11, 2022, Frederick P. Schaffer, Chair of the NYC Campaign Finance Board, spoke at the 177th CityLaw Breakfast on “Increasing Voter Turnout in City Elections.” Professor Ross Sandler, Director of the Center for New York City Law provided opening remarks. Dean Anthony W. Crowell asked additional questions at the end of the Q&A session. This Breakfast was sponsored by ConEdison, Greenberg Traurig, and Verizon. This was the eleventh virtual CityLaw Breakfast as in-person events are not feasible at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chair Schaffer began his talk by discussing the historic patterns and causes of low voter turnout in New York. Given that municipal elections are constitutionally required to be on off-cycle years, and tend to skew heavily Democratic anyway, fewer people have the incentive to vote. As a result, a turnout of 25 percent in the last primary and 23 percent in the last general election are higher than normal turnout for New York City, although the turnout can be much higher. 

According to Chair Schaffer, outreach and education are key to increasing voter turnout. He discussed the role the Campaign Finance Board has in expanding voter outreach through the NYC Votes branding. Encouraging voter registration, identifying underrepresented voters, and encouraging them to turn up to vote are part of the efforts, but so are educational efforts like the voter guide. The voter guide will be translated into twelve languages for the next voting cycle to help overcome barriers that many New Yorkers face when trying to vote. Many voters do not know who is on their ballots, what offices they are voting for, or what those offices do; education about the ballot can help improve turnout. 

Chair Schaffer also discussed larger changes that can be made to improve voter participation, including moving elections to on-cycle years and switching to open primaries. Having elections in on-cycle years can bring in more voters to municipal elections who are willing to turn out for federal and state elections. Open primaries can allow more voters to have a say in who ends up on the final ballot; by removing party restrictions, Independents and Republicans can still have more say in who ends up as the final candidates, even if elections still end up in favor of Democrats. Other changes including same day voter registration, no-excuse absentee ballots, and universal vote by mail can also encourage more participation. 

In his discussion with Dean Crowell, Chair Schaffer said civic education is important, and social media can play a big role in educating the public and making them more engaged. 

To watch the breakfast, click here or watch below.




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