City Council pushes for more voting reform

December 10, 2012 Helen Klein
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Early voting topped the wish list at a City Council hearing on election reform on December 5.

But, it was just one of numerous changes that members of the council want to see made, many before city elections are held next year.

This year’s elections were marred, at many polling sites, by confusion and long waits – a repeat of chaos at numerous polling sites that occurred during the two primaries held in 2012 — and advocates for voting reform have been pushing for changes that will make it easier for New Yorkers to participate.

“The New York City Board of Elections must take responsibility for system problems and fix them immediately,” proclaimed Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “Poorly trained poll workers and chaotic polling place procedures have been recurring issues, election after election.”

Councilmember Jumaane Williams, who represents Flatbush and East Flatbush where many problems were reported on November 6, concurred. “We in government should be troubled that even one New Yorker feels their vote was disenfranchised, much less thousands,” he stressed.

Another reform endorsed by in Quinn’s statement before the council’s Committee of Governmental Operations include eliminating the current need for an excuse (either ill health or absence from the city) to file an absentee ballot.

Quinn said that both making it easier to file an absentee ballot and instituting early voting would ease the crunch at the polls on Election Day. Both early voting and changing the rules for filing an absentee ballot require legislation on the state level.

But, other changes proposed at the council hearing do not. These include a laundry list of ministerial changes, including better training for poll workers, eliminating the archaic voter cards that are now filled out (which would streamline the process and speed up voting), instituting split shifts for poll workers (who would  be able to work eight-hour days rather than be required to stay for the full 16 hours), utilizing larger polling places and making greater use of technology through such improvements as electronic poll books and election district listings.

There are also the changes that require council legislation. A package of bills is currently on the table including one to allow the city to recruit its own workers to work at the polls on election day, another that would create a system of oversight over the BOE, a third  that would require city agencies that are required to offer to register as voters those who utilize their services to report back on their success, a fourth that would allow parents to register to vote when they enroll their children in school and a fifth that would mandate expanded voter guides, and finally a bill that would set up a system for voters to receive email alerts from BOE.

“The City Council,” said Citizen’s Union Executive Director Dick Dadey, “needs to… pass legislation that will change the experience of New York voters for the better.” Stressing that voters had had to contend with “frustrating election experiences” this year on several occasions, Dadey added, “It would be a shame for next year’s important city elections to take place yet again with the same problems.”

The BOE has made some changes recently, based on feedback it received, such as increasing the point size on ballots to make them more legible, creating a poll site locator on its website and posting a sample ballot on line. It also sent out a second mailing to voters before Election Day notifying them of the location of their polling places, thanks to funding provided by the City Council – a first for the BOE.

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