New York City

Stringer report: NYC Board of Elections incompetence reaches alarming levels

November 3, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
An audit just released by Comptroller Scott Stringer found high levels of violations and incompetence at the New York City Board of Elections. BOE disputed many of those findings. Photo by Mary Frost

An audit released by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer just days before Tuesday’s election shows “significant breakdowns” in poll operations by the city’s Board of Elections (BOE). Those breakdowns jeopardize New Yorkers’ right to vote, Stringer said in a statement Friday.

Following BOE’s infamous voter “purge” in April 2016 — which removed more than 100,000 Brooklyn residents from the voter rolls — the Comptroller’s Office sent staff to more than 150 poll sites to observe the three subsequent elections. Of these, 33 were in Brooklyn.

The results were dismaying. Auditors discovered:

* Violations of federal, state, and BOE rules — including mishandled affidavit ballots — at more than half of poll sites sampled;

* Inadequate staffing at three-fourths of voting locations;

* Major failures in serving voters with disabilities at more than a quarter of BOE polling places.

“We’ve uncovered deeply concerning, systemic issues in the BOE’s operations. The BOE cannot be synonymous with dysfunction, and we cannot allow these egregious failures to undermine New Yorkers’ fundamental rights,” Stringer said in a statement.

He added, “Our poll workers work exceptionally hard, but the BOE isn’t giving them the support they deserve. After a thorough review of the agency, it’s clear the voter purge is a reflection of larger, systemic, day-to-day breakdowns.”

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Brooklyn polling locations with the most deficiencies include P.S. 155; William Grady Vocational High School; Bay Academy and Seacoast Towers.

The details:

Election laws were broken, not enough staff

At numerous poll sites, auditors observed unlawful electioneering, including poll workers loudly discussing candidates on the ballot; an interpreter telling non-English-speaking voters which candidate to vote for instead of how to vote; and a poll workers telling a voter who needed help with an affidavit ballot which candidate to support. All of these are forbidden by election laws.

At 14 percent of sites, affidavit ballots were mishandled, according to the report. In 10 percent of sampled locations, Stringer’s staff observed voters who went largely unassisted when issues arose, such as when a polling machine failed to record a person’s vote.

The Comptroller’s Office also noted major staffing problems at 76 percent of the sites visited. According to BOE, 13 percent of poll workers were absent during polling. BOE reported a 17 percent vacancy rate — which means no one was even assigned to 17 percent of required jobs.

At one site — St. Marks School in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn — 41 percent of the staff assigned to that poll site did not arrive on Election Day. No additional staff were sent, and their positions were left unfilled.

In addition, at 14 sites that auditors visited, poll workers indicated that there were either too few interpreters or that no interpreters were assigned to the poll site at all.

Auditors also found that at 45 of the 156 sampled poll sites — nearly 30 percent — the BOE did not provide adequate assistance for people with disabilities.

For example, 10 percent of the sites sampled were not accessible for all or part of the day. In these cases, wheelchair ramps weren’t installed until hours after poll sites opened, elevators were broken, and signs denoting accessible entrances were not publicized.

Observers found that at training sessions for poll workers, rushed instructors skipped over some material because of time constraints. The poll worker exam was both open book and included page numbers where answers could be found next to each question.

Recommendations

The Comptroller’s Office made a number of recommendations, including that the BOE improve training for poll workers, ensure every poll site is fully accessible and fully staffed, attract more poll worker candidates by working to increase poll worker pay by allowing them to work half shifts, and more.

In a detailed response, BOE pointed out their quick response to the purging incident, and complained that they were asked to respond to the audit shortly before the upcoming general election.

BOE also complained that the Comptroller’s staff did not contact BOE on Election Day upon observing the deficiencies. BOE said they would have provided the Board with an opportunity to remedy any problem at that time.

BOE acknowledged that recruitment of poll workers was an issue, saying that it is part of a nationwide trend. The Board said it had tested half-day shifts, and had trouble finding poll workers who wanted to work half days.

The full audit can be found at https://comptroller.nyc.gov/

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