Reviews | Reform New York City Electoral Council Now

If you were to build a lab just to concoct the most inept, opaque, and commercial electoral council imaginable, you’d be hard pressed to outperform the actual specimen currently working – or more often than not flawed – in New York City. From massive and illegal purges of voters to broken voting machines and misdirected ballots, the fiascos of the city’s 10-member electoral council, which serves a larger electorate than most states, are national shame for decades.

The latest debacle, still believed in voters ‘minds, came on primary day in June, when the board mistakenly included around 135,000 ballots in its first full tally of mayors’ votes. The error was detected and corrected, but only after hours of confusion and chaos that once again reminded New Yorkers of how decrepit and unreliable their electoral system is.

Municipal surveys to return to more … than 80 years old repeatedly found the agency plagued by waste, neglect and incompetence. But complaints don’t just come from outside. As one former staff member described, working for the electoral board is like “working in a lunatic asylum”.

If the board somehow survives the general election of November 2 without any major issues, it will be because the outcome of the mayoral race is almost predetermined, and therefore any mistakes. is likely to have little consequence.

Alas, just as predictable as the chronic incompetence of the board of directors is the refusal of elected officials to do anything. Why would they do it? Many of them are complicit in protecting the city’s twisted political machine that values ​​insiders over voters and power over democracy.

The result is an electoral office that functions like an unarmed mafia. It is made up of friends, family and other unqualified cronies of party leaders. This flout the laws of the city and actively resists meeting the needs voters in favor of a handful of political power brokers. Worse yet, it operates in a no-liability zone where even the biggest misfires are of no consequence.

Most other large cities and jurisdictions do not have these issues. As detailed in a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice, they take elections seriously by hiring professionals who know what they’re doing and training those who don’t. Their boards of directors are much smaller and their commissioners can be removed by the same people who appointed them. They provide sufficient funds for the proper conduct of elections and make voting data easily accessible to the public. All of this is good government 101.

It’s not like New York doesn’t know how to do these things. Many of the city’s largest and most important agencies – from education to law enforcement – conduct national research for their leaders. In contrast, election commissioners are appointed with virtually no public notice or process. It may appeal to politicians behind the scenes, but it makes New York City a national laughing stock.

Strangely enough, the city cannot really reform this system without state action. Okay, so, New York State has finally started to pull itself out of the electoral dark ages. In 2019, the state enacted an early voting period of more than a week, along with other measures to encourage participation and facilitate voting. This year, voters can take part in the action themselves by approving two voting measures, Proposals 3 and 4, which would allow the state to implement two popular reforms favorable to voters: voter registration on the same day and postal voting without excuse.

When it comes to the city’s electoral board itself, the good news is that most of the board’s dysfunctions can be corrected right now, through state law, and without having to resort to the tedious process. amendment of the Constitution of New York.

Topping the list of reforms is the need for professionalism and accountability: Commissioners should have resumes that show real experience in election administration, and they should be appointed and dismissed by local officials who answer directly to questions. voters. Nothing like the threat of real consequences to encourage the hiring of competent people.

Reducing the size of the board of directors would also help, by investing more responsibility in each commissioner. Removing the requirement that Democrats and Republicans be equally represented at nearly all levels of the agency, and not just among commissioners, would allow staff to be hired based on actual capacity rather than counting. beans supporters.

Why hasn’t all this happened already? Ask New York state lawmakers, many of whom have long been happy to maintain a status quo that works very well for them and their friends, even if it denies everyone the right to vote. But that is starting to change. State Senator Zellnor Myrie, who heads the Election Commission, spent months traveling the state holding public hearings on electoral administration reform; he hopes to propose legislation before the end of the year. The Assembly and Governor Kathy Hochul must join in these efforts and adopt major reforms without delay. New Yorkers have waited long enough for a functioning election.

The bottom line is that the electoral council, rooted in a perpetual culture of egocentricity, cannot repair itself. And while his incompetence has been a part of New York’s political landscape for generations, this year’s biggest calamity should be the last straw. At a time when the legitimacy of the democratic process is under attack across the country, the country’s largest city – home to more than 5.5 million registered voters – must lead the charge in modeling how an election should be run . At the very least, he shouldn’t bring up the rear.


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