Senator Ada Smith Opposes Nonpartisan Elections
Mayor Bloomberg has asked the New York City Charter revision commission to study the idea of removing party affiliation on election ballots for municipal offices in city elections.
Senator Ada L. Smith, Chair of the New York State Senate Democratic Conference adds her name to all of those who have expressed serious doubts about the wisdom of this plan.
Smith explains, "I oppose the idea of nonpartisan elections for several reasons, the most important being that it would severely handicap grassroots, populist candidates supported by local political clubs and organizations who depend on party affiliations to get out their revenge."
According to Smith, nonpartisan elections would heavily favor those candidates with vast sums of money. A candidate with personal wealth could buy his or her way into elected office, facilitated by a nonpartisan election process that denies candidates party affiliation. "The truth is party affiliations are essential to help voters identify a candidates ideology," noted Smith.
"Further, term limits and public financing have increased the opportunities for individuals to run for public office. New York City currently has an inclusive, democratic electoral system, which saw a record number of candidates for elected office in 2001 municipal primary and general elections," said Smith.
"Rather than increase voter participation, it is likely that nonpartisan elections will actually cause voter turnout to decline, since the lack of party identification will make it more difficult for voters to know what candidates stand for. Additionally, political parties are traditionally a major force in turning out the vote. Without party efforts to knock on voters’ doors, hand out political literature or make phone alls, voter turnout is likely to decline.
Perhaps the most dangerous by-product of nonpartisan elections would be negating minority-voting power. In New York City, African Americans overwhelmingly register Democratic and vote for Democratic candidates. Without candidate party identification, minority voters would be denied the opportunity to vote for a democratic line on the ballot.
"I believe this raises serious questions about possible violations under the federal Voting Rights Act. And since any changes in election law in Brooklyn, the Bronx or Manhattan have to be approved by the United States Justice Department, I doubt that the Charter Revision Commission can meet this burden of proof that nonpartisan elections will not adversely affect minority-voting power," noted Smith.
"I urge the commission to carefully weigh all the possible problems and take into consideration the hundreds of thousands of voters who will be disenfranchised by this ill-conceived plan if it should be passed," concludes Smith.