As a civic leader in eastern Queens, I made it my business to vote in the participatory budgeting process that my Councilmember, Mark Weprin, was sponsoring.
Last week I traveled to the Samuel Field Y in Little Neck where the councilmember’s staff was working the tables and providing ballots for those who wished to vote. When I asked for a ballot I was told I must first fill out a short form and provide photo ID. I thought this was odd since Weprin and so many other NYC legislators are so strongly opposed to a photo ID requirement for voting in real elections. If it’s not OK to ask for photo ID when voting for president or governor, why is it OK to do so with participatory budgeting?
Nevertheless, I presented my driver’s license and filled out the ballot access form which asked for my name, address, telephone number and date of birth. As someone who has been victimized by identity theft in the past, I refused to write down my date of birth. There are three pieces of information I do not readily provide; date of birth, Social Security number and mother’s maiden name. I asked why it was necessary to write down my date of birth since they could easily check it on my driver’s license. I was told it was necessary to prove that I was over 16, which is the minimum age for participatory budget voting. Since I was born prior to 1960, I think it was obvious that I was over 16. I wondered to myself, “Whatever happened to critical thinking skills?”
I asked the Weprin staff member to call the councilmember’s office and get permission to give me a ballot so I could vote for funding of specific community projects that would help our local schools and the volunteer ambulance corps. The Weprin staffer in charge of the participatory budget project said that if I refused to write down my date of birth I could not vote.
Was I the only disenfranchised voter? Later that day, I learned that two other people had also been disenfranchised because they also refused to provide their date of birth. I wonder too, why the voting process for participatory budgeting was so much more rigorous than the one put in place for voting in real elections for mayor, governor or president.
I can’t help but think now that the participatory budgeting was being used as a way for councilmembers to harvest voter data information for their use in upcoming elections. How else to explain being denied the right to vote and the photo ID requirement?