The Government Operations Rules and Claims Committee held a public hearing on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 beginning at 5:00 PM in the Sullivan Chamber.
The purpose of the hearing was to discuss changing the method by which surplus votes are transferred in Municipal elections whether the Fractional Transfer Method could replace the Cincinnati Method and whether this requires a Chapter change and to discuss the Clean Election Law.
Present at the hearing were Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair of the Committee, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Leland Cheung, Councillor Craig Kelley, Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Councillor Marc C. McGovern, Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Sandra Albano, Executive Assistant to the City Council, Lisa Peterson, Deputy City Manager, Nancy Glowa, City Solicitor, Arthur Goldberg, Deputy City Solicitor, Tanya Ford, Executive Director, Election Commission, Lesley Waxman, Assistant Director, Election Commissioner, Ethridge King, Polyxane Cobb, Peter Sheinfeld and Larry Ward, Election Commissioners, Jason Alves, Aide to Councillor Toomey, Mike Connolly, Aide to Councillor Carlone, Dan Schwartz, Aide to Councillor Mazen, Anthony Sylvester, Aide to Councillor Cheung and City Clerk Donna P. Lopez.
Also present were Ron Fein, Free Speech for People, Katherine Anderson, Kim Courtney, Bob Winters, 366 Broadway, Daniel Miller, 550 Memorial Drive and John Gates, 173 Coolidge Hill.
Councillor Toomey convened the hearing and explained the purpose. He requested the Exective Director of the Election Commission to address changing the method by which surplus votes are transferred in a Municipal election.
Tanya Ford, Executive Director, Election Commissioner, introduced the election commissioners and Lesley Waxman, Assistant Director, Election Commission. A memo dated April 30, 2014 in response to Awaiting Report 14-07 was distributed (ATTACHMENT A). She spoke about the Cincinnati method, the current method used. She suggested that a consultant be hired who specializes in proportional representation and municipal elections. The Plan E Charter was put into place in l940. She explained that whatever method that was in effect in l938 could be used. She stated that there are many factors to be considered. If the Fractional method was not in effect in l938 the election commission does not have the authority to require this change. Then it would require a charter change. She explained the pros and cons. A manual recount will be difficult under Fractional method.
Councillor Toomey commented that the Fractional method is a difficult process to implement. He asked Ms. Ford do you see an election outcome change by changing to Fractional method. Ms. Ford stated that manual recount would be eliminated for municipal election; it would be done by hand.
Councillor Simmons asked if you cannot hand count what would be done with ballots that do not go through the machine. Ms. Ford stated that she did not know; this is why she recommended hiring a consultant who specializes in proportional representation. This would be a decision made by the City Council and the Election Commissioners and would provide information on how a Fractional method works versus the Cincinnati method. Election Commissioner Cobb spoke about ballots that do not go through the machine. The intention of the voter is determined by the Election Commissioners and then a secondary ballot is created and sent to machine. This is then stapled to the original ballot. The intention could be challenged. Ms. Ford stated that all rules and procedures will be changed.
Councillor Toomey stated that he would not want to pursue this. The system has been in effect for a lot of years and he does not see the wisdom to change the process. A charter change opens the door to other consideration. There are more important issues in the city that need attention and he does not see how this will be a benefit.
Councillor Mazen stated it could be an important issue to the City Council. It is mathematically truer for the voters. He spoke about the time it takes under the current system to do a recount. He stated that the Fractional method does not shuffle the surplus ballots. The recount is worth it for the ballots that are difficult to interpret. The use of computers is a plus.
Councillor Simmons asked if there is a character change on the ballot with the Fractional method. Councillor Mazen explained that it makes more non # 1 ballots counted. The Fractional method allows all surplus votes to be counted where in the Cincinnati method only one is counted.
Councillor McGovern commented that whatever method is used close election recounts are requested. There is luck with the transfer votes. He would like a system that surplus would be distributed with more integrity. How often has the outcome changed with a recount? Election Commissioner King answered that a recount has never changed the outcome. Election Commissioner Cobb stated that the election can see tangible ballots and with the Fractional method the ballots are distributed by a percentage. The results could be run for both methods and show the differences. She suggested Mr. Winters could run the results for both methods to see if there is any change. This is not a huge number of ballots. She is concerned about citizens not seeing ballots transferred.
Mr. Winters stated that in 1991 and l995 names were shouted out. Since 1997 ballots are not seen; only recounts. It is the candidates right to seek a recount; a hand count of ballots. He spoke about defining a recount. If by manual recount this could be redefined and adjudicated ballots that have missing information and do a recount by machine. If this were accepted by state law it would be good. It would save money. One of the unintended side effects of computers is that it does not take into count ballots that need to be redone manually. The Fractional transfer with a manual recount would not be labor intensive.
Councillor Kelley spoke about the wording regarding a recount.
Councillor Toomey stated that any losing candidate can request a recount. Councillor Kelley stated that the law states that if there is a reasonable difference. Councillor Toomey stated that there is a percentage needed to request a recount. Election Commissioner Ward stated that any candidate can request a recount.
Councillor Mazen stated that Fractional method transfers minimize the cost, but does it reduce the chance of recount being requested. Election Commissioner Cobb stated that there is no data to support this. Mr. Winters asked if there was anywhere in US prior to l938 that had Fractional Transfers.
Councillor Toomey opened the meeting to public comment at 5:30 PM.
Mr. Winters stated that the main legal issue is the right to a manual recount. There are two alterations if a candidate is elected during round; ballots are stopped being counted. He stated that the software can be changed. There is no new programming required. Now if 650 surpluses were to be transferred under software all surpluses would be transferred under the Fractional method. There would be a small change with the current system. There is an incentive to remove recounts for the wrong reason.
Public comment closed at 5:35 PM.
Councillor Kelley stated that the law states that there is an error that would change the outcome. This was not what was done in the past. Mr. Winters stated that in 2001 there were eight votes that separated three candidates; a recount was done and there were more ballots in the recount and this could have changed the outcome. Councillor Kelley stated that a lot of this is to see where the votes are or to reshuffle the votes.
Ms. Waxman commented that both recounts in 2009 and 2013 the petitioner has to state the reason for the recount. There was concern about the voting machine and this would still be a reason with Fractional method. A write in campaign affected the School Committee election even though the write in was for a City Council candidate.
Councillor McGovern stated that no system is l00% perfect. He asked if there are things in the current system that could be improved. Councillor Mazen spoke about hitting quota during the middle of a round and how they are distributed.
Councillor Mazen stated that he would like to refer this to the full City Council with a favorable recommendation. It is painful and it costs less. Councillor Toomey stated his opposition. This will not change the outcome; the staff and cost make this not a wise use of city resources. Councillor McGovern stated that he wanted to find out more about this. He does not support a favorable recommendation. He stated that he wanted more conversation on this.
Councillor Simmons suggested as a recommendation to keep the matter in committee for another discussion or refer to a roundtable. She cautioned that the City Council is in an election year. She wanted more conversation on this.
Councillor Mazen stated that he would withdraw his motion but wanted the format laidout about a consultant
Councillor Carlone made a motion that this remain in committee. The motion carried on a voice vote of three. Councillor Toomey was recorded in the negative.
Councillor Mazen requested that the Election Commission look into framework for hiring a consultant, a charter change or special legislation and the legality of the manual recount. He wanted answers for the next meeting.
Councillor Toomey suggested that questions be sent to the City Manager.
The committee now discussed the Clean Election Law which was referred to the committee pursuant to Calendar Item Two of June 2, 2014 attached (ATTACHMENT B).
Councillor Toomey asked Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone for opening comments. He then requested City Solicitor Glowa to review the attached memo (ATTACHMENT C).
Councillor Mazen stated that there has been work on government transparency. This is about money and politics being related. Incredible work has been done to create for more transparency. He wanted to talk about what the future looks like when special interests have made political contributions and how they affect the electoral process and shift to small amounts of donations to campaign. He felt some version of this is long overdue.
Councillor Carlone agreed with Councillor Mazen. The state has passed a law that donations are at a maximum of $1,000. Husband and wives are both giving the maximum amount. Cambridge represents a leader across the country. Other communities have approached this. Tallahassee uses this and should be saluted for this.
Councillor McGovern liked the idea because he dislikes raising money for campaigns. He played the devils advocate. He stated that at the municipal level, he has been an elected official for ten years and spoke about the allegation of corruption. He has never seen an elected official taking money. He is uncomfortable about this. Candidates need to raise a fair amount of money to run a campaign. He likes the idea. Is there a cap on spending, how it affect personal funds and how much can be donated were questions he asked.
Councillor Toomey commented that when the proponents come forward he hopes there will be information provided. He spoke about the state implementation of clean elections. He stated that there was a threshold; candidates had to request $10. from 200 individuals. Councillor McGovern asked where the money comes from. He has a list of priorities he wants City funds spent on.
Councillor Toomey spoke about the accountability when the person receives this money.
Councillor Mazen stated that this is about campaign contributors seeking access. When money is put up it will allow the candidates to have parity between issues. This takes the nudge away from the money contributed to candidates. There is a correlation between money received and how elected officials voted.
Councillor McGovern stated that people will not give money to someone they do not support. Councillor Mazen explained that this idea wins on the diversity, inclusive aspect. He stated the current system is not equitable or accessible, especially to the elderly, teachers or parents. Councillor Kelley shared concern about access. He stated that money means different things to different people. To level the playing field he suggested elimination of aides for City Councillors. He wanted the playing field leveled.
Councillor Carlone spoke about corruption versus perception. Perception can create distrust. The City Council is responsible for zoning. Taking money should not look like it is influencing them. Zoning affects all and it raises the level. He stated that he has to start fund raising now for an election in November. He is not for a free ride; details need to be worked out. He asked where the money comes from. He stated that should $150 million be spent to keep elections clean. This is all within reason. This is the wave of the future.
Councillor Kelley stated that he disagreed with Councillor Carlone. There is a lot of time spent fund raising. He stated that he would support this if it comes from the funding for the City Council aides. He stated the incumbents have an advantage.
Councillor Mazen stated that to get started take more and most of this is to level the playing field.
Ron Fein, Free Speech for Boston, provided information on independent options. He stated that reform is necessary, practical and legal. Data from the office of Campaign Financing shows that money comes from outside the community. A donor capable of giving $1,000 has access. He also spoke about the influence this provides. He spoke about specific options to reform in public funding from Albuquerque, New Mexico and New York. In Albuquerque once a candidate qualifies he receives a grant and cannot raise money. This is popular model. He stated that New York uses matching funds. In New York it is 6 to 1 match up to $175. The New York model has been hailed as inclusive. He spoke about citizen funds. He stated money is given to voters and it is a rebate. He spoke about rebate checks to citizens. He spoke about the voucher system which can be given to campaigns. No cash up front is required. With a match the City could set the match. He stated that rebates can make a difference. All points are defensible. He spoke about wealthy opponents in public funding systems setting limits for their own campaigns. In Arizona a public candidate ran against self running candidate, but the court struck this down. He stated that the best type may be the rebate system it expands the base.
Councillor Toomey noted that it would have been better to have a presentation. He asked what the total amounts for the systems cited are. How would someone be able to raise $57,000 to get matching funds? The Albuquerque system goes against the system. He wanted the total of the money for the systems. Mr. Fein stated that sometimes it is hard to compare the systems. A budget could be set with how much money is raised for a successful campaign. He used $40,000 as an example. In Albuquerque the money comes from small donors. He used the Tallahassee approach where each citizen gave $25.00.
Councillor Kelley stated that no one discounts clean elections. The less money that is raised the less spent. He likes the idea of simplifying running for office. He does not understand how this would work and how this affects access. He would want to find out how it would work in Cambridge. He expressed his concern about City funds being used for this.
Councillor McGovern noted that this is important and it is in the details. He asked what the goal is. If you received a voucher this will increase donations, but does not get to the corruption issue. If you take away the perception that I voted a certain way because of the donation received this will never be solved. He is interested in furthering this conversation and to have system that allow people to participate financially. He questioned whether the City Council could set a limit on its own contribution or does the state have to set this. He supports this but wants to see more information and where the money will come from.
Mr. Fein corrected his information; it was Tucson not Albuquerque. He would be happy to supplement the information.
Councillor Kelley stated that as a test case what does the City Council want to achieve that is different. He stated that then he could see the logic. He does not see what we are trying to do.
Councillor Mazen stated that if all that Cambridge could do is eliminate the access issue he is for this. Politicians have shown that the picture that they take because of the money received. When less is spent on campaigns the decisions are more deliberately made. The literature shows that politicians have become what they did not want to become.
Councillor McGovern spoke about issues and how to overcome them. He stated that if he raised money and cannot get money for mailings he would have to spend more time campaigning; how does this impact accessibility of candidates. He stated that the disadvantage of being a candidate is name recognition. A candidate has a record to defend. Too much time and focus is spent to raise money and the time could be better spent.
Councillor Cheung spoke in favor but there are pitfalls to raise money. If the City Council is going to do this and to do this right he stated that people may not have the funds to donate. Corruption undermines the action the City Council is trying to take. Cambridge's voting system is diverse. Cambridge has a great system.
Councillor Toomey stated that he is the worst fund raiser. It is face to face in the community to get voters attention. Cambridge has clean politics; there can be clean elections, but if a person acts inappropriately this will not change this issue.
Public comment was opened at 6:49 PM.
Daniel Miller, 550 Memorial Drive, stated that he does research and is concerned at the federal level how the democratic process is being circumvented. Represent US is concerned with big social issues that are not worked on. He stated that he wanted to have this discussed. He spoke about clean elections and conflict of interests. Legislation, American Anti-corruption Act, is proposed and was written by Federal Campaign Finance Chair. He stated that he is interested in what Cambridge voters think. There was a symposium at MIT on this issue. Average individuals have no impact on decisions. The object is to help answer the questions raised. He wanted to come up with specific models and how they work.
John Gates, 173 Coolidge Hill, stated that the issue is not corruption. The perception is that government is corrupt regarding campaign contributions. He spoke about zoning and development and money interest. It matters how this is worked out. He stated that he wants government for the people.
Susanna Schlasberg works in campaign financing. She spoke about the perception of corruption and about access to the election process. She asked if a means tested voucher where a$25 campaign contribution could be given by voters for the candidate of their choosing. This would make the voter empowered. She spoke about home rule legislation.
Bob Winters, 366 Broadway stated that the more complex something is the less he is interested. Cambridge has an at-large system and can have 25 candidates. Previously the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA) recruited and supported a slate of candidates. He spoke about money provided to a slate and how the slate could actually be working for just one candidate. This process needs to be carefully thought out. He is opposed to the name "clean elections". He is concerned because there is no problem to be solved. He stated that this may be the wrong venue
Public comment was closed at 7:01 PM.
Councillor McGovern stated that he is concerned about what this may cost and the different options. He wanted to advance this.
Councillor Cheung wanted to remind people of how fortunate they are in Cambridge and that there are not large issues. He stated that in California a corporation can make donations to candidates. He spoke about pushing the boundaries. There is no problem that needs to be fixed.
Councillor Carlone commented that the conversation and the questions were great. The more answers that are received to the questions the more the issue will be understood.
After a discussion Councillor McGovern made the following motion:
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to identify an organization or organizations to study and present options to the City Council regarding possibilities for publicly funded municipal elections that takes into account issues unique to Cambridge.
The motion carried on a voice vote. Councillor Toomey was recorded in the negative on this matter.
Councillor Toomey made a motion to keep this matter in committee.
Councillor Toomey thanked all present for their attendance.
The hearing was adjourned at 7:11 PM.
For the Committee,
Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr., Chair,
Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee