De Blasio comes up with a plan – and $20 million – to reform ‘outdated’ Board of Elections

April 25, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Following last Tuesday’s Primary Election chaos, which affected roughly 125,000 Brooklyn voters, Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out a list of proposed reforms for the BOE. AP photo by John Minchillo

Follows voting snafus on Primary Day

Calling New York City’s Board of Elections (BOE) “outdated,” Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out a list of proposed reforms on Monday. The action follows reports of polling site chaos and widespread voter disenfranchisement during last week’s Primary Election.

The mayor also announced that he will make $20 million available to carry out the reforms – but only if the BOE signs a binding agreement by June 1 to implement them.

De Blasio’s proposals include hiring an outside operations consultant, empaneling a blue-ribbon commission to “identify failures,” improving poll worker training, and providing new email and text notifications for voters.

The city can only do so much to reform the operation of the BOE, however. In his release, the mayor said that his administration will back state legislation that transfers responsibility of day-to-day operations and personnel decisions from the BOE commissioners – all political appointees — to “executive management.”

“I think we need to professionalize the Board of Elections, de Blasio told reporters Monday afternoon. “Let’s face it – for decades and decades it’s been a strange combination of government sanctioned but party run. And it’s time for a more professional approach.” He called for  a longer term for an executive director.

“I can’t predict the reception in Albany,” de Blasio added. “But I can say that people have gotten more and more frustrated – you talk to every day people who experienced the lines when they go to vote, who experience the machine breakdowns, the changes of location, the misinformation – and it’s very, very frustrating, and people deserve better.”

More than 125,000 Brooklyn residents were left off the voters registration list this year, according to NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer. Stringer, who announced last Tuesday an audit of BOE’s operations and management, cited reports of closed polling sites, faulty ballot scanners, misleading voting site notifications and other voting irregularities.

“It is clear that we have a broken voting system in New York City,” Stringer said on Monday. “What we need is state legislation to reform the Board of Elections and install a professional, non-partisan board of directors.”

He added, “But the BOE could start tomorrow to improve operations by providing better training for poll workers, and instituting new hiring policies that are transparent, consistent, and fair.”

One of the stipulations the mayor wrote into Monday’s proposal was that BOE must comply with the comptroller’s “feasible recommendations,” and include a plan to implement these recommendations as soon as possible after the audit’s release. Sources tell the Brooklyn Eagle that the audit could take up to a year.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has also opened an investigation into alleged improprieties by the BOE, saying he had received more than a thousand complaints.

How the money would be spent

Half of the $20 million in funding in de Blasio’s proposal would be spent to improve poll worker training, improve their salaries and increase bonuses for attending multiple election events in one year.

Another $8.1 million would go toward improving communication with voters, including adding email and text outreach, hiring a professional records manager and a logistics specialist, creating absentee ballot tracking and resending voter registration information to voters.

De Blasio said he would work towards same-day registration, early voting and vote-by-mail in the future.

“We need to overhaul our city’s Board of Elections with the staffing, training and equipment needed to run 21st century elections,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said in a statement on Monday. Adams said he appreciated de Blasio’s response, “including his focus on the need for additional funding to be linked to a commitment for reform.”

“Wide-spread voter disenfranchisement like we saw last week is unacceptable,” City Councilmember Brad Lander said in a statement. Lander said that the reforms would “create a Board of Elections New Yorkers can trust again.”

The reforms were backed by representatives of a number of groups, including Common Cause/NY, the New York Public Interest Research Group and the New York Immigration Coalition.

On the subject of increasing training and incentives for poll workers, Rob Kagan, an election inspector on Manhattan’s West Side, told the Eagle, “The main problem is having people work 16 hour shifts,” Kagan said. “The shifts should be cut in two. It acts as a disincentive for people signing up or coming back to do it again.”

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Updated at 4:45 p.m. with additional quotes from the Mayor’s press conference.

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