Let’s fix elections board
New York City may be headed for more voting- day chaos next year — thanks to the dependably undependable Board of Elections.
The board needs a new executive director — but plans to fill the spot were delayed when Michael Ryan, Staten Island’s Democratic election commissioner, resigned to run against Richmond County DA Dan Donovan.
Ryan was the sixth vote in a purported deal to let Bronx Democratic Chairman Carl Heastie select an executive director, with Bronx GOP Commissioner J.C. Polanco joining the five Democrats in exchange for keeping Dawn Sandow, a Bronx Republican, in the deputy director job.
It could be months for Ryan’s replacement to be selected, vetted and OK’d by the City Council — which could hold up the executive-director search and leave the deputy director distracted by worries about her job.
Yet the board has to get busy early next year. New York’s presidential primary comes on April 24 — and federal law may force us to move the primary for local races from the long-traditional early September to June or August, in order to allow for proper counting of military absentee ballots.
On top of that, legislative redistricting (in the wake of the 2010 Census) must be implemented — which, among other things, means all those “voter books” have to be redone.
The city Board of Elections plays a critical role implementing the metes and bounds of the new legislative districts, registering and maintaining the voter-registration database and coordinating the election apparatus — all to ensure that we can all exercise our right to vote.
The board is an independent agency, controlled by five Republican and five Democratic commissioners — appointed by the party leaders of the five boroughs. Outdated state election law requires equal representation of the two major political parties in the supervision and hiring of all board workers. New Yorkers have all too many bad experiences of the patronage-driven system that results.
New York has already been sued because the board missed repeated federal deadlines for getting general-election absentee ballots out to military and absentee voters in 2010 — after getting a waiver ’til Oct. 1, city election officials didn’t mail out the ballots until Oct. 10.
Before leaving the Assembly last year, I introduced legislation giving operational control of the board to the mayor — with City Council approval of mayoral appointments of the five chief clerks, executive director and deputy executive director. The 10 election commissioners must remain independent, but should be limited to deciding election law and internal board policies.
Some claim this would make the board too subordinate to the mayor’s interests. But no one can question the integrity and independence of the city Department of Investigation, which has successfully pursued corruption at all levels of city government.
As a mayoral agency, the voting public could demand greater accountability and better service. Mayor Bloomberg still feels the sting of the public’s wrath over the city’s poor response to last winter’s Christmas blizzard.
Our modern elections are far too important to remain a vestige of a bygone political era. It’s time to free our election process from patronage control by the two major political parties.