Opinion: The NYC Board of Elections needs urgent reform
In light of the U.S. Senate’s failure to pass the John Lewis voting rights act, the New York state government must pass a bill to significantly reform the New York City Board of Elections in order to restore trust in democracy.
January 27, 2022
Just because Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) thinks the filibuster is more important than letting minorities vote does not mean that New York has to follow suit. The failure of the U.S. Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act does not have to be the end of election reform. Leaders in the Empire State are showing courage, where the U.S. Senate did not. Democratic state senator Liz Krueger from District 28 spoke to state lawmakers’ recent efforts to amend Senate Bill S6226B, which would significantly reform New York City’s Board of Elections. Kruger expressed upcoming plans to introduce a Board of Elections reform strategy to the legislative session. If these amendments were successfully enacted, they could prompt substantial change to the archaic composition and management of the long-troubled New York City Board of Elections. The New York State Assembly and Gov. Kathy Hochul must support the board’s election reform as a crucial step to restoring faith in American democracy, starting in New York City.
The New York City Board of Elections has been plagued for decades by its consistent botching of local elections, from mishandling absentee ballots to miscounting electoral results and prolonged wait times at polling stations. New York City has remained stuck in its century-old history of local election administration muddled by a culture of nepotism and unprofessionalism.
A recent report in 2013 by the city Department of Investigation found countless cases of problematic employment practices and election administration inefficiencies. There is no standard recruitment, screening or background investigation processes for incoming employees. Furthermore, even the gravest infringements of city laws by employees seem to result in few consequences. Officials such as Executive Director Mike Ryan, who sat on the advisory board of a city-sponsored voting machine company, or Commissioner Jose Miguel Araujo, who hired his wife, went unpunished besides minimal fines. An election board that enables such blatant violations of political integrity is unacceptable. The Board is in desperate need of reform.
Another critical tension that the city DOI’s investigation highlighted is the complications incurred by the explicit bipartisan requirement of New York state’s constitution on elections. New York is the only state nationwide where Democratic and Republican Party heads are almost completely in charge of staffing local election boards, instead of apolitical and nonpartisan leaders. Currently, leaders appoint 10 commissioners (one Democrat and one Republican per borough) which excuses each authority from taking on much accountability.
The legislation Krueger proposed with her colleague Nily Rozic (D-Queens) would promote greater accountability and efficiency by reducing the number of board elections commissioners while also extending the New York City Council the power of voting on commissioner nominations. City officials would also be granted more insight into budget operations, set standards of qualifications for the hiring practices of board employees, and have a clearer grasp on outlining each employees’ responsibilities. Finally, the amended bill would directly improve the transparency of leadership selection by swapping out the current executive director for bipartisan co-executive directors appointed by the mayor, approved by the city council speaker or Public Advocate and nominated by the board.
While both city officials and state lawmakers have long deflected responsibility for the continued violations of democracy the New York City Board of Elections has perpetrated, city reform is not truly possible without greater state action, given the state’s immense control over local elections. Especially in light of the Senate’s failure to pass electoral reform, it is crucial that the Assembly and Gov. Hochul support the Krueger-Rozic legislation to bring accountability and efficiency back to the city’s notorious electoral system. If Hochul is genuinely “committed to restoring faith in government and elections,” as a spokesperson for the governor told the Gotham Gazette, she must do everything in her power to work with state legislators to enact electoral reform in New York City.
Contact Michelle Han at [email protected]