Opinion Editorial on Elections
Mismanaging the Vote in New York CityThe Editorial Board
Around the country, voting seems to be getting easier — not perfect, but certainly better. One glaring exception is New York City. Instead of leading the way to better, fairer, cleaner elections, the city’s Board of Elections runs a slow, often loony system that can’t seem to deal with voting in the computer age. New Yorkers who voted in a mayoral primary last month were forced to use ancient voting machines because the board couldn’t figure out how to make sure the newer optical-scanning machines would work for a possible runoff three weeks later.
The board’s problems go well beyond counting. The top officials are often political hacks, the poll workers are in many cases poorly trained and inept, and the ballots are needlessly complex. Fixing all this will not be easy since an amendment to the State Constitution would be required to create a professional board. That could be next to impossible since many politicians enjoy their power to fill so many jobs and would rather leave the mess as it is.
Still, here are a few possible fixes:
• First, if the board cannot be professionalized, the staff members can. At the very least, they should compete for jobs, pass tests, have some experience and undergo rigorous training. Right now, the only thing that really matters is whom you know. As for poll workers, they now make $100 for training sessions and $200 on Election Day. They are paid to know what they’re doing.
• The City Council, which along with the mayor controls the board’s budget, also confirms the 10 members of the board, five Democrats and five Republicans nominated by borough party officials. The Council must make sure these people are up to the job — no more rubber stamping to please county politicians. The next mayor should also exercise oversight or hire experts to guide the board into the computer age.
• State law requires that the city make certain that voters do not wait in line more than 30 minutes. An impossible dream, so far. The city should begin planning now so it is ready for crowds in the next president election season.
• Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature should clean up the state’s old-fashioned, complicated ballot, create an early voting system, and change the state primary voting date next year from September to June to coincide with the federal primary, which would save money. The cost to organize and run a statewide primary is about $50 million.
New York voters should have a modern system for swift, easy, safe voting. Now they are not even close.