By Jill Colvin
MANHATTAN — The city's Charter Revision Commission is seriously considering putting the question of nonpartisan elections on the ballot this fall.
At the commission's final public hearing Monday following months of deliberation, members continued to mull over the idea of allowing all New Yorkers — regardless of whether they're registered with a party or not — to vote in a first round of elections, where all candidates would be listed on the ballot without parties beside their names unless they chose to list one.
The top two candidates from that vote would then advance to a general election in November, where voters would choose between the two. The proposals mirrors a system that was recently adopted after a referendum in California.
Citizens Union, a good government group, has been pushing the idea of nonpartisan elections as a way to boost declining voter participation — something the commission is "deeply concerned" about, Commission Chair Matthew Goldstein said.
"The idea that people are choosing not to participate in the Democratic process that is so dear to this country is really something that is a stain on our society and really needs to be addressed," he said.
At the hearing, Dick Dadey, Citizens Union's executive director, argued that nearly 1.5 million voters are currently shut out from the decision process because they are not members of the Democratic Party and therefore can't vote in the primaries.
If the process were made more open, Dadey said, more people would choose to vote.
"When voters are given a choice and their vote matters, they will turn out in greater numbers than they do when the vote is a foregone conclusion," Dadey said.
A study released by the group Monday shows that voter turnout for nonpartisan special elections since 2002 has been significantly higher than in traditional partisan votes.
Opponents to the proposal have argued that the impact of changing elections hasn't been studied thoroughly enough and worry about unintended consequences.
They also say it might alienate voters already weary of the commission process.
The Commission has already announced that voters will have the chance to decide again whether they'd like to return to two-term limits, following the three-term limit pushed through by the City Council to allow Mayor Michael Bloomberg to run again in 2009.
The commission will be meeting next on August 11 to vote on which topics will appear on the ballot.
At a final meeting, tentatively scheduled for August 23rd, they will vote on the precise language for each measure that voters will see on the ballot in the fall.