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Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212-998-6289
The Brennan Center for Justice, New York State Conference NAACP, the
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Families United For
Racial and Economic Equality, the Working Family Party, and many other
civil rights, voting rights, good government groups and advocates called
for the New York State and City Boards to take a simple step that will
prevent tens of thousands of votes from being lost this fall.
New York State is about to use new voting systems for the first time
this fall. Under the new system voters will fill out a paper ballot and
then "scan" them into an electronic machine. The State and City Boards
have setup the new machines so that they do not give voters adequate
warning of "overvotes"- ballots that cannot be read in full because the
machine reads the ballot as having too many votes for a particular
contest. Instead of returning the ballot, as is done in many other
jurisdictions, in New York the ballot will be retained, and a computer
screen with present the voter with a confusing message that includes a
green "cast" button. Voters are not told if they press the green button,
their vote will not count.
The only other time these voting machines have been used in the same
way in a major election (13 counties in Florida in 2008), they produced
overvote rates almost 14 times higher than expected, with thousands of
votes for the presidential contest rejected - in comparison to almost no
votes rejected in the 36 counties that automatically returned the
ballots. Evidence shows that African Americans and Latinos, in
particular, were disproportionately impacted by the lack of overvote
The State and City Board can fix this problem by checking a box in
the setup files that would automatically reject overvoted ballots.
Despite numerous attempts by the Brennan Center and other voting rights
groups to make this change, they have not done so.
Consequently, today, the Brennan Center and its pro bono counsel
Jenner & Block LLP are filing the complaint on behalf of the New
York State Conference NAACP, the National Coalition on Black Civic
Participation, Families United For Racial and Economic Equality, the
Working Family Party and others to force them to ensure that there are
proper overvote protections on the new voting machines.
In today's New York Times, New York State Election Board
spokespersons took issue with the Brennan Center's proposed fix, arguing
that in order to reset the machines, it would take a months of testing
and that they would have to re-program thousands of machines.
"This is simply inaccurate," said Brennan Center senior counsel
Lawrence Norden. "Numerous sources, including the State Board, the
voting machine vendor and independent computer scientists have confirmed
to us that requiring the machines to return overvote ballots requires
only "checking a box" in the setup file for these systems. These
machines were built to allow the City and State Board to do this at
anytime. It will not cause delay to do the right thing."
"Plaintiffs are bringing this action to prevent State and City
officials from setting newly purchased voting machines in a way that
will dramatically increase the likelihood that tens of thousands of
votes are lost as a result of 'overvoting,'" said Jeremy Creelan,
partner at Jenner & Block. "In particular, plaintiffs seek to
prevent the disenfranchisement of racial and language minorities, who
are disproportionately likely to lose their votes as a result of
Defendants' new procedure."
"The State Board knows there's a problem with the way they set up
these voting machines, and that it's going to mean the loss of thousands
of votes for the elderly and people of color," said Hazel N. Dukes,
president of plaintiff the New York State Conference of the NAACP and
plaintiff in the case. "They also know there's an easy fix that would
save thousands of votes in New York City, Albany, Erie County and
elsewhere. They should make the change, and the New York City Board of
Elections should tell them to make that change."
"The solution is simple," added Monifa Bandele of NCBCP. "Have voting
machines automatically reject over-voted ballots, so that voters can
"In order for our country to carry out the important principle that
every vote should count, we should be using our machines in a way that
will ensure that, and not in a way that will disenfranchise voters,"
said Valery Jean of Families United for Racial and Economic Equality.
The Brennan Center has also compiled additional statements of support
of the suit:
Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer
"Instead of making it easier for New Yorkers to have their voices
heard on Election Day, this new voting machine system turns our ballot
into an exam and silences the vote of any New Yorker who inadvertently
selects too many candidates. If the NYSBOE insists on running our
elections as though voters go to the polls intent on casting an invalid
ballot, then a lawsuit of this kind is necessary."
Aimee Allaud, Elections Specialist, League of Women Voters of
New York State
"A voter with an overvote error on her ballot should be given the
opportunity to correct her ballot before casting it. If the voting
machine is not set so that it automatically rejects an overvoted ballot,
many voters may be disenfranchised. This potential should be eliminated
by simply configuring the voting machine so that an overvoted ballot is
rejected and the voter can correct the error."
Bill DeBlasio, Public Advocate, City of New York
"Our democracy fails when voters are disenfranchised. Less than 80
days before primaries, our state's electronic voting machines contain
fixable flaws that could easily disrupt our elections. The Board of
Elections has an obligation to fix the problem before it's too late."
Margaret Fung, Executive Director, Asian American Legal
Defense and Education Fund
"I think we're all especially concerned that the training of poll
workers and education of Asian-language voters are going to be huge
issues with respect to the new voting machines. So, it's critical to
deal with this overvote issue to avoid further problems."
Susan Lerner, Executive Director, Common Cause/NY
"In deciding to ignore the standard procedure for dealing with
overvotes, The State Board of Elections seems to be confused about the
purpose of conducting an election. While everyone wants to be sure that
voters are not subjected to unnecessary delays and inefficiencies on
Election Day, people do not vote in order to have a good voting
'experience', they vote in order to have their vote counted. It is a
shame that it is necessary to file a lawsuit in order to force our
election authorities to use good common sense and ensure that the votes
that are cast are cast in a way that ensures they will be counted."
Bo Lipari, Founder, New Yorkers for Verified Voting
"New York's voting machines should provide voters with every
opportunity to change mistakes on their ballot. Returning the ballot in
the event of an overvote is an important way to inform voters of a
"Changing the scanners to return an overvoted ballot only requires
flipping a switch in a settings file. At startup, the scanner reads this
file to determine, among other things, whether an overvoted ballot
should be returned or retained. This change does not require
reprogramming the machine software in any way, and will not cause any
delay in preparation for the upcoming elections."
Rima McCoy, Voting Rights Coordinator, Center for
Independence of the Disabled, New York
"Voters with disabilities who need accommodations to cast their
ballots may lose their hard won private and independent vote over a
technicality that the Board of Elections could easily solve. Poll
workers coping with learning the ropes of a new voting system may be too
overwhelmed to help voters understand an over-vote message on the
scanner. Now that those of us with disabilities finally have a voting
system that allows us to cast our ballots like everyone else, it would
be painfully ironic to lose our vote due to a confusing over-vote
procedure that is easy to fix. The BOE must do everything in its power
to ensure that every vote counts."
Neal Rosenstein, Election Specialist, New York Public
Interest Research Group
"By refusing to configure new optical scan tabulators to make it
easier for voters to understand and correct mistakes on their ballots,
the Board will cause countless thousands upon thousands of lost votes.
Perhaps they should also rename themselves the Board of Rejections."
Marjorie Kelleher Shea, Director at Large, Women's City Club
of New York
"New Yorkers should be able to correct mistakes as they cast their
ballots on the new machines. State law says that if voters mark their
ballots for more than one candidate for a single office, i.e.
'overvote,' they should be notified and given a chance to privately and
independently change it before the ballot is scanned and counted. To do
less disqualifies voters."
For more information, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at
212-998-6289 or 646-265-7721 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Brennan Center for Justice is a nonpartisan law and policy institute. We strive to uphold the values of democracy. We stand for equal justice and the rule of law. We work to craft and advance reforms that will make American democracy work, for all.(646) 292-8310
"MAGA politicians... want to reinstate student debt previously canceled for more than 260,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, and others," said AFT president Randi Weingarten. "It's an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
As Republican leaders in the U.S. House prepare to hold a vote this week on legislation that would block President Joe Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan and reverse already-delivered relief, progressive advocacy groups on Tuesday warned of the "ruinous impact" the GOP's resolution threatens to have on millions of borrowers.
Last year, Biden moved to erase up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of federal borrowers with individual incomes under $125,000 and to improve the income-driven repayment program. The White House's popular relief initiative is currently on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a pair of right-wing challenges to it. A decision in the case is expected next month.
House Republicans, however, are now attempting to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to repeal Biden's student debt policies regardless of how the high court rules. At issue is H.J. Res. 45, a CRA resolution that GOP lawmakers approved in committee earlier this month in a party-line vote. House Republican leadership on Monday scheduled the measure for a floor vote on Wednesday.
"On the heels of the pandemic, forcing a nurse to pay back debt that was legally forgiven under a bipartisan law is cruel."
On Tuesday, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) sounded the alarm about the measure's wide-ranging potential consequences, warning that it "would destroy the lives of millions of borrowers and their families by forcing them to repay thousands of dollars in already forgiven debt."
"Right-wing special interests want their supporters to believe they are simply trying to stop Biden's student loan debt relief program, but there are far greater implications afoot," a new report from AFT and SBPC points out.
In addition to nullifying Biden's promise to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for federal borrowers, H.J. Res. 45 would "reverse months of paused payments and already waived interest charges implemented as part of the government's pandemic response, immediately leaving 40 million student loan borrowers past due on their loans and adding tens of billions of dollars in new interest charges," the groups noted.
That's not all. The CRA resolution also seeks to reinstate the student debt of more than 260,000 public service workers whose loan balances have been wiped clean after making 10 years of qualifying payments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2007 and streamlined by the Biden administration in 2021.
As AFT and SBPC explained:
If enacted, the Republican student loan CRA scheme would undo the seventh extension of the pause on federal student loan payments first enacted by President [Donald] Trump in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The seventh extension lasted from September 2022 through December 2022. According to the Congressional Review Act, "[a]ny rule that takes effect and later is made of no force or effect by enactment of [CRA resolution] shall be treated as though such rule had never taken effect." The CRA scheme would thus also likely undo the eighth extension of the payment pause, a "substantially the same" executive action that began in January 2023 and is ongoing.
Based on their analysis of recently unveiled Department of Education data, the two groups estimated that if the CRA rolls back the seventh and eighth payment pauses, nearly 269,000 public service workers who accessed debt cancellation from September 2022 through March 2023 under the PSLF program would see their loan balances restored. The collective student debt burden put back on their shoulders would exceed $19.5 billion, which amounts to more than $72,000 per person, on average.
In addition, roughly 2 million public service workers would lose at least some progress made toward the future cancellation of more than $178 billion in student debt under the PSLF program. As a result, teachers, nurses, first responders, and others would be driven even further into debt as they continue to recover from the coronavirus crisis and brace for the possibility of additional economic devastation brought about by the GOP's current debt ceiling brinkmanship.
"On the heels of the pandemic, forcing a nurse to pay back debt that was legally forgiven under a bipartisan law is cruel," says the report.
In a statement, AFT president Randi Weingarten condemned H.J. Res. 45, calling it "a disaster."
"Taking back student debt relief already delivered to public service workers is reckless, cruel, unjust, and un-American."
"For years, the AFT and the SBPC have fought the damage forced by the Trump administration on student loan borrowers and their families," said Weingarten. "Now, MAGA politicians don't just want to stop that progress, they want to reinstate student debt previously canceled for more than 260,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, and others. It's an immoral clawback of the absolute worst kind."
"Public service workers have dedicated their lives to making a difference in the lives of others," the union leader continued. "They care deeply about what kids and communities need. We have a duty to honor and respect them—that's why, 16 years ago, a bipartisan majority in Congress made a promise to help them erase their student debt in exchange for 10 years of repayments."
"We will not stand idly by as House Republicans try to return us to those dark days," she added.
SBPC executive director Mike Pierce called Wednesday's scheduled vote on the CRA resolution "a test of American values."
"Do we stand on the side of teachers, nurses, first responders, and service members who fought to keep our kids safe and our communities healthy throughout the pandemic, or do we betray their service in pursuit of Republicans' never-ending culture war?" Pierce asked.
"Taking back student debt relief already delivered to public service workers," he added, "is reckless, cruel, unjust, and un-American."
On Monday, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement that "if Congress were to pass H.J. Res. 45, the president would veto it."
"This resolution," OMB stressed, "is an unprecedented attempt to undercut our historic economic recovery and would deprive more than 40 million hard-working Americans of much-needed student debt relief."
"The good news," the authors of a new People's Action white paper assert, "is that the antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and available to be activated right now."
Amid what many experts fear is a Republican-led slow-march toward fascism in the United States, a report published Tuesday by a progressive advocacy group answers the question: "How can we build a multiracial and pluralistic democracy with an inclusive economy to defeat the rise of authoritarianism?"
The white paper—entitled The Antidote to Authoritarianism: How an Organizing Revival Can Build a Multiracial Pluralistic Democracy and an Inclusive Economy—was published by People's Action with support from the Democracy Fund and the endorsement of more than a dozen progressive groups.
"This simple truth—that ordinary people, organized effectively, have the power to drive social change upwards to create the conditions for justice, equity, and freedom—has been the power behind every great expansion of our democracy, from abolition and women's suffrage to civil rights and marriage equality," the paper notes.
\u201cThe antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and we need an #OrganizingRevival across America to activate this potential - but organizers and funders must shift how we work together. Read our new report: https://t.co/NH3R85UXEM\u201d— People's Action Institute (@People's Action Institute) 1684853375
Paper co-authors Beth Jacob and James Mumm said they interviewed more than two dozen leaders of national social change networks, academics, philanthropists, and organizers.
"Arevival and expansion of community organizing is essential to reinvigorating democracy across lines of difference; this is the foundation of a multiracial pluralistic democracy," the pair asserted. "Philanthropies that want to address the root causes of racial inequity need to partner with community organizing on a long-term agendathat builds enough relationships and power to make progress on structural racism."
"Community organizing and philanthropy can reduce economic uncertainty that is fueling authoritarianism and help people win and make meaning of public investments as building blocks of an inclusive economy," the authors added.
\u201c"...[A]ction can indeed be taken to combat the daunting backward trend toward authoritarianism..." Rev. Dr. B. DeNeice Welch, leader with @gamalielnetwork, pastor at Bidwell Church in Pittsburgh. #organizingrevival #antidotetoauthoritarianism https://t.co/q6vWDtVTyY\u201d— People's Action Institute (@People's Action Institute) 1684855770
Among the paper's key findings:
"Organizers and philanthropy have a big task before us: to strengthen and defend democracy at a time when some feel that democracy fails them and others want to throw it out to advance an authoritarian agenda," People's Action executive director Sulma Arias said in a statement.
"Community organizing is the solution, and for it to work, it must be fundamental to what we do, not just a tactic or short-term strategy," Arias added. "This white paper outlines the shifts and investments we need to make it work."
\u201c"This strong, clear vision couldn't have come at a better time." @democracyfund's Shuya Ohno. \n#organizingrevival\n#antidotetoauthoritarianism\nhttps://t.co/q6vWDtVTyY\u201d— People's Action Institute (@People's Action Institute) 1684854969
Ana Maria Archila of Action Lab, one of the groups endorsing the white paper, argued that "in order to avert the rise of authoritarianism, and address the combined crises of climate disaster, growing inequality, unprecedented levels of loneliness and political fragmentation, we must double down on efforts to build community and transform who holds power in our democracy."
"There are no shortcuts here," Archila added. "This moment requires community organizers, donors, and leaders to reinvigorate community organizing, and re-commit to a long-term strategy to bring into existence the multiracial democracy we want."
Jacob and Munn remain hopeful, as daunting as the task ahead may be.
"The good news," they wrote, "is that the antidotes to authoritarianism are in every community and available to be activated right now."
"The work we've done over the last five months will make a generational impact on our state—it will lower costs, improve lives, and cut child poverty," said Gov. Tim Walz.
Progressives are applauding what Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman called the state's "transformational" legislative session, which ended on Tuesday after the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party passed nearly every item on its agenda, securing economic justice, reproductive rights, and labor protections for Minnesotans.
With the DFL holding only a narrow majority in the state House and Senate—a six-vote and one-vote margin, respectively—policy researcher Will Stancil said on social media that "the scale of their achievement cannot be overstated."
"The Minnesota Legislature just completed what is probably the most productive session anywhere in the country since probably the New Deal," he said. "Sweeping bills and reforms across every area of life."
Stancil was among a number of progressives who highlighted nearly two dozen bills passed by the DFL and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who posted an image of a whiteboard with party's legislative agenda on it along with the word, "Done."
The party's achievements over the past five months include a statewide paid family and medical leave program, which provides 20 weeks of leave; the legalization of recreational marijuana use; and a law providing free school meals to all public and charter school students—part of Walz's plan to "make Minnesota the best state in the country to raise a child."
\u201cAt Webster Elementary in Minneapolis, Gov. Walz signs School Meals bill, providing free breakfasts and lunches to all Minnesota public school students\u201d— John Croman (@John Croman) 1679079655
"The work we've done over the last five months will make a generational impact on our state—it will lower costs, improve lives, and cut child poverty," said Walz on Tuesday.
The party also passed a bill codifying Roe v. Wadeamid a nationwide assault on abortion rights, legal protections for transgender youths who receive gender-affirming healthcare in the state, and a bill setting a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers, leading a crowd of drivers to give the legislation's sponsor, state Sen. Omar Fateh (D-62), a "hero's welcome" after it passed on Sunday.
\u201cSenator @OmarFatehMN gets the hero\u2019s welcome after his Transportation Drivers, aka Uber/Lyft bill, passes Senate\u201d— John Croman (@John Croman) 1684707459
"Rather than looking at the November numbers result and imposing some kind of self-limiting narrative about the scope of their mandate, Minnesota Democrats looked at their priorities and said, 'How much of the list can we get done?'" said Stancil. "Turns out the answer was 'Almost everything.'"
\u201cBut the key here is that the DFL clearly figured, no matter how small their majorities were, it was better, politically and morally, to choose doing good things over doing nothing. And it did, again and again.\u201d— Will Stancil (@Will Stancil) 1684811682
The party's achievements in Minnesota, said pro-workers' rights media organization More Perfect Union, should "set the precedent for state governments across the country."
"On the balance," said the organization, "Minnesota progressives took narrow House and Senate majorities following years of gridlock—and in their first session in power, managed to set the bar for Democratic legislatures."