New York City Messed Up Your Vote
In recent years voters have become more hungry for policies that actually work for them and not for the top 1%. As I previously wrote about Zara Realty and David Weprin’s close ties and endorsement of big developer money, nothing much has changed except that he has run for several seats including the one he has held on to in the recent election against Mafauzal Islam in Assembly District 24. I also write about the stresses of voting during a pandemic and how badly the City and State have mismanaged the primary elections, which will cost us in November if we don’t safeguard our voting process.
The more I uncover about politicians in New York State, the more radicalized I become to political equity. This term hasn’t been used enough in college political science classes, but as the study of politics continues to develop over time, we see the ways in which our political systems don’t necessarily reflect the changing tides of what the City of New York is becoming.
Political Equity can be defined as having equal access to running for various political offices and having the resources and opportunity to serve in Assemblymember (and other governmental) roles that are term limited so that the concentration of power becomes one that the people have access to, but also use it for the purpose of furthering progress and reflecting the changes of the neighborhood one is running in. Political Equity is also:
- Having access to skilled campaign staff that can power you to victory. Last year, I went to a training held by the Working Families Party -Women Run Campaigns- around training the next generation of campaign managers that women across the city were present for. It was held at the CUNY School of Law in Long Island City. Tiffany Caban -the public defender running for Queens District Attorney- also was there to motivate young women of color to take up space and to break the boys club. Caban was demolished in the election by the absentee ballots that poured in from Southeast Queens.
- Impartial news outlets that have at least ONE debate between all three candidates so that voters understand what representative really wants to work for them and not just occupy a seat. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Yvette Clark at least debated their opponents in order to deepen the contrasts they had with their rivals. Many Assembly races were bereft of that. Representative Gregory Meeks did not debate his opponent Shaniyat Chowdhry. Instead the campaign of Meeks just ignored the request. In the Assembly District 28 race, Jenifer Rajkumar was given more airtime to talk about her candidacy whereas Joey DeJesus -the candidate who had the most left policies of either Miller or Rajkumar- kept getting ignored and sidelined. The only South Asian outlet, JusPunjabi only covered Rajkumar and not her opponent despite repeated requests.
- Funding! This is a big one since campaigns are reliant on the public to contribute to their campaigns if they’re running to represent the people and not big corporations. In this election cycle, we saw many insurgent candidates with bold progressive ideas fall behind because they were unable to afford paid media advertisements, palm cards, and other campaign visibility. Some candidates on the other hand took out a loan from their parents or individually came armed with big money upwards of $100,00–$300,000 to fund their runs. Sounds very Trump-like.
- ENDORSEMENTS. This one was key factor in many races across the board. With groups like Democratic Socialists of American endorsing candidates in Western Queens, it left out many insurgents candidates of color in Southeast Queens to fend for themselves. Candidates like Zohran Mamdani received the full throated support but also people power to launch a successful challenge against Assemblywoman Simotas in Astoria. Given the difficulties inherent of running in Queens against entrenched incumbents, that is even more so of an uphill climb when it comes to challenging someone like Gregory Meeks, who has now become the face of the Queens Democratic Party after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez successfully took down Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District.
- EXCITEMENT. Without excitement there would be very little chance the a campaign can succeed. In this era of politics, where Bernie Sanders has dominated the news cycles for his record breaking contributions and massive crowds at rallies. Through his message of progressive upheaval and optimism, Bernie Sanders was able to mobilize a generation of young people to the polls, to run for office and to ask the uncomfortable questions that people were too scared to address. The dynamics of the primary season for Bernie in New York were fraught with court battles with the New York State Board of Elections in which the state repeatedly tried to get Bernie off the ballot and disenfranchise voters from casting their ballots in the New York State primary for the democratic nomination for President. They were ultimately unsuccessful and Bernie progressives came out on the other hand in enfranchising voters to be able to cast their ballot. Given the late primary that New York has in the nominating process it was a huge source of contention by activists that the Democratic Party continue to push aside those who wanted to play a larger role in pushing Medicare for All, a Green New Deal among many other priorities.
Assemblymember Weprin, City Comproller Weprin and District Leader and Judicial Delegate Weprin.
Understanding Assemblymember Weprin is an uphill challenge for sure. While wearing many hats in an organization is somewhat relatable to me and the formal job economy does value workers who can ‘wear many hats’ or handle a lot of responsibilities when it comes to politics however, I simply do not understand why one elected official -among many others- have so many positions of elected power under their umbrella. Given that Weprin has been in power for decades longer than I have been alive, but has not delieverd much besides token activism in the New York State Legislature and then coming back to his district and accepting money from Zara Realty who oppresses the South Asian tenants and uses brutal tactics against their own tenants. Many of these constituents are the ones that Weprin claims to represent and not knowing/caring what issues these tenants are dealing with that Zara management puts them through. Assemblyman Weprin also needs a reckoning as to when to pass the baton to those who are younger and want to actually tackle the issue of expensive housing in southeast Queens and to mobilize people to collectively fight for their interests like the candidacy of Mafuzal Islam wanted to do.
David Weprin was first elected to his seat on February 9, 2010. He took this seat after his brother and father served the district. He did previously run for City Comptroller but ended up losing to State Senator John Liu. Since then he has been serving the Assembly District 24 in a multitude of roles such as District Leader, Judicial Delegate and his current role as Assemblymember.
The thing with Assemblymember Weprin is that he runs for many seats at a time which really raises red flags about his true commitment to the seat he holds. As young people run for office in increasing numbers and they get more adamant about pushing back against incumbents who don’t really care about the community they serve, one has to ask why one Assemblymember holds so much power in a district that is composed of South Asian working class people and why county loyalists continue to run as an effort to split the vote.
Community Leaders Speak Out
This tweet by Hersh Parekh who used to work for the Governor of New York had community members in Queens outraged.
By claiming that a white Assemblymember was the “South Asian” Assembly member, Hersh seemed to minimize his own community which lacks representation from working class South Asians. He resisted calls to decolonize his thinking but it also shows how district hoppers who think they’re entitled to speak on behalf of a community they have seldom advocated for, reeks of the kind of establishment clout that we’re working to overcome.
One reason why South Queens has elected it’s first islamophobe in Jennifer Rajkumar is because of people who think that voting blue no matter who is still a viable strategy. It isn’t.
New York City Politics becomes Entangled with Voter Disenfranchisement
New Yorkers have been facing the brunt of a New York State government that no longer is working in their interests, a Governor that has decided to give himself a pat on the back with the release of this awful poster, and the crisis that is coming with the evictions that will start to exacerbate the homelessness crisis.
As we continue to see from the updates of Ali Najmi and other community advocates, New York State has been actively working to disenfranchise voters with archaic requirements around having a ‘post marked’ ballots by USPS, even though the state sent out absentee ballot applications that were prepaid.
According to the Intercept, 1 in 5 Absentee Ballots can be expected to be thrown out because the lack of a postmarked ballot.
The fate of several critical elections hangs in the balance. Board of Election documents obtained by The Intercept show that in New York’s 12th Congressional District, which covers Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, 20 percent of mail-in ballots will be thrown out for a variety of reasons. The documents represent a “preliminary staff review” of ballots, and official decisions are ongoing.
A 1-in-5 disenfranchisement rate is far too high for a developed democracy, but the rate was worse in the Brooklyn part of the district, where the rejection rate in the staff review was a staggering 28 percent, according to an analysis of the documents. Across the city, nearly 400,000 absentee ballots were cast, meaning Cuomo’s handling of the election could throw out some 100,000 votes. That’s roughly the number California disqualified, a number considered scandalously high though it represented just 1.5 percent of mail ballots.
Candidates like Joey DeJesus were relentlessly crosschecking with their district to ensure that their votes were being tabulated and that voters were given answers as to why their votes were being thrown out.
Out of this conversation, it seemed that BOE was implying that it was permissible for candidates for public office to send out canvassers to collect their ballots and send them out through USPS to BOE.
In their article about New York State’s voter disenfranchisement, the Intercept also noted:
Return mail that is postage-paid, like a ballot, is generally not postmarked — the mark is used to make sure a stamp isn’t re-used, but since there’s no stamp, the postal service doesn’t need to mark it — but postal service employees are instructed to postmark ballots so that they can comply with the state rules. Still, sometimes a clerk forgets, and sometimes an entire post office forgets for days. Something like that appears to have happened in Brooklyn.
In the 12th Congressional District, Manhattan voters requested 77,453 ballots and returned 47,365: a 61 percent rate of return. (Many of the ballots requested simply never arrived at people’s homes.)
Of those that were mailed in by Manhattan voters, 8,939 ballots were invalidated for a variety of reasons by the staff review. That represents a 19 percent rejection rate. The leading cause of invalidations appears to be a failure by the voter to have signed and dated the ballot, according to several campaigns who have been monitoring the process. Election officials can fix that problem next election by making it clear where it needs to be signed, but for this primary, there’s little that can be done.
It also raises the question of why a postmark is preferable to extending the date by which a ballot must be received. If a ballot is received by the Board of Elections on or before June 23, there is no question that the voter sent it in on or before June 23. And, indeed, Cuomo recognizes that reality. Vazquez-Diaz, said that any ballot received by June 23, whether postmarked or not, is considered valid. “The only way for us to determine timeliness is the postmark,” Vazquez-Diaz said — unless an executive or judicial order changed the criteria for timeliness to make votes received within reasonable mail delivery valid.
Given that we’re seeing the rise in cases and the lack of accountability from both Democrats and Republicans in protecting our right to vote, South Asian Americans have every right to furious that New York State is proving to put many barriers into place when it comes to exercising the right to vote.
In the lead up to the election in November, this just shows that we have to make sure that the New York State legislature commits to checking the Governor (as they’re elected to do) and that we do not have a repeat of this situation that would embolden another Trump victory.
The fact that we have so many levers that are attempting to suppress our vote, this is another red glaring flag.