The city Board of Elections is taking it on the chin once again, this time for its alleged mishandling of the vote count in the race between Rep. Charlie Rangel,state Sen. Adriano Espaillat and three others.
Did you think that there was no way to botch an election in this age of electronic voting machines and paper audit trails? Unfortunately, with the Board of Elections and the state laws that govern it,snafus are built-in.
It looks like the Election Night problems in this race were a result of a bizarre city BOE rule —but this controversy is a good chance to see the mess the whole agency has become.
Yesterday,I watched the BOE properly conduct the count and certification process in The Bronx and Manhattan. While the Espaillat camp has every right to contest any number of issues,the scandal here is not about supposed Bronx bunglers.
The city Board of Elections is best understood as a pyramid built upon the Peter Principle (the rule that people tend to be promoted to their level of incompetence).
I’ve had plenty of experience with the BOE. During my political club days,I managed my poll-worker assignments,including relatives; coordinated petition-gathering; bound and filed petitions,and attacked opposing petitions. Then I was named deputy chief clerk at the BronxBOE,before being elected to the state Assembly, where I served on the Election Law Committee for eight years. (Some might say I rose to my level of incompetence.)
From its top managers all the way down to the Election Day poll workers —the public face of the agency —everyone at the Board is a political appointee.
Government agencies are usually headed by political appointees with little specialized knowledge of their agencies —but they typically have an experienced,professional deputy to run things.
Not so,the city Board of Elections or its borough offices. Many staffers are competent and dedicated workers —but not enough. The dominant role of political patronage is why BOE is lucky to get B-team talent; add in wounds inflicted by state law,and you’ve got real,systemic problems.
One start on fixing things would be to give the mayor control of the BOE,with City Council approval required for appointment of any chief clerk,executive director or deputy executive director.
That way,we’d be able to hold someone to account when things go wrong.
Another improvement —in a bill from Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh and Sen. Martin Golden —would modernize and streamline the Election Night canvass procedure and other poll-closing tasks. End the requirement to manually transcribe results onto tally sheets,and let voting-machine memory sticks be used to report unofficial tallies to news organizations.
That bill passed the Assembly but the Senate failed to act. If it had become law,we’d have avoided the time-consuming and error-prone process that produced the Election Night snafu in this race.
Other ideas might work. But drastic reform is necessary,from the state Board of Elections down to the county level. The agency needs a good stock of nonpartisan professional staffers. The election law must be modernized,too.
Bureaucratic and partisan paralysis is the root of the BOE’s persistent problems,which erode public confidence in our elections.
If politicians won’t reform, modernize and upgrade the agency,the voting public should demand it. And Gov. Cuomo could do worse than to make restoring public confidence in the integrity of the election process his next crusade.
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