Unite NY has shifted gears. The organization, which works to bring moderate New Yorkers together, has decided to keep building partnerships and membership with a focus on research, education and advocacy.
Unite NY will no longer endorse candidates but instead grow support for specific reforms that create a more fair, open, and representative democracy, officials say. The focus on issues will enable Unite NY to directly drive change and encourage investments in strengthening democracy.
Low turnout in the 2022 election, when more than 2 million independent voters stayed home, was a turning point for Unite NY.
“We will articulate a compelling message that addresses voters’ interests and create a new path to engage both individuals and organizations who are ready to fight for reform,” says Martin Babinec, Unite NY founder. “We are excited about this transformation and aim to bring together people who are tired of ‘politics as usual’ and arm them with the data and pathways needed to let our collective voice be heard.”
Unite NY will shift to advocacy in five areas:
■ More candidates—seeking changes to make it easier for candidates to get on the ballot.
■ More choices—enacting term limits statewide.
■ More democracy—enabling initiative and referendum.
■ Empowering voters—expanding use of ranked choice voting.
■ More voices—opening the state’s primaries to independent voters.
The new direction includes the continuation of Unite NY’s Voter Empowerment Index. It will offer new independent polling this year.
The Rochester Beacon posed a few questions to Timothy Dunn, Unite NY’s executive director. An edited version of his responses are below.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What is the history of Unite NY and why did it initially form?
TIMOTHY DUNN: Unite NY evolved from the former Upstate Jobs Party in early 2021. We found that our politics, state, and nation were so bitterly divided that a more expansive reform effort needed to be undertaken to fundamentally change this broken system. The problems we face in NY are the same every four years; no matter who is elected, they remain. We believe we need to fundamentally reform the system if anything is to change.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Why did you decide to shift Unite NY’s approach and goals?
DUNN: Following the 2022 elections, we saw really depressing turnout. Despite both major parties having primaries for governor, only about 15 percent of the enrolled members of each party participated. That resulted in two candidates few were excited about. Even worse, because the ballot access thresholds were tripled in 2020, there were no independent candidates on the ballot for only the second time in state history. We came to the conclusion that backing candidates tied us directly to the broken two-party system we want to change. So, this year, we’ve shifted gears to focus on issues, not candidates.
ROCHESTER BEACON: How does New York compare to other states in terms of its laws that impact voter choices and independent voices in politics?
DUNN: While many would try to tell you New York is a progressive state, that is very far from the truth. New York is one of the hardest states in the nation to get on the ballot. We’re one of only nine states with a completely closed primary process. New York is one of only 13 states with no term limits on the office of governor. About half of the U.S. states have the ability for voters to petition an issue onto the ballot—New York is not one. We are an absolutely regressive state when it comes to independent and free thinking in politics.
ROCHESTER BEACON: How can people in Rochester and across the state get involved with your group’s efforts?
DUNN: We have a few great local leaders on our team and have begun outreach to recruit new members. To learn more about becoming a member or about our issues, you can visit www.UniteNY.org or follow us on social media. We’re beginning a series of informal social events this week we’ve dubbed “Drinks and Democracy.” We’re hosting one at Salena’s on Thursday, March 23 at 6 p.m., with some complimentary appetizers and a cash bar. Come out and meet the team!
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].