NEW YORK— After receiving heavy criticism for vote counts reported on the evening of the June 26 primaries, the New York City Board of Elections (BOE) revised its policy in July. It is implementing the use of new portable memory devices in place of the cut and paste method to get election results to the press.
Despite the controversial June 26 primaries, specifically the congressional race between Rep. Charles Rangel and state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, which took almost a month to certify, Dawn Sandow, deputy executive director of the BOE testified before the City Council Wednesday, giving a glowing review of how the 2012 election year has gone so far.
“The Board of Elections will always have its critics, but after reviewing our overall performance for the June 26 federal primary, I have no difficulty stating that the board performed well for the voters of the city of New York,” Sandow said.
Sandow cited this being the busiest year in history of the city board and to complicate issues, the board had to maintain multiple district maps—old maps for the presidential primary, and new maps for the federal primary.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was puzzled by the board’s positive statement and asked them to clarify why they changed if they felt they had done so well.
Sandow said the use of the cut and paste method, which required poll workers to cut result tapes and add them together before manually inputting the numbers to get results had long been an issue and the change was not made based on the June 26 issues.
“So the comfort for us is that you did well, except for the results, which are a big deal in an election, but we should feel better because you have never done those well?” Quinn asked Sandow.
Quinn was also concerned that the backup would be the old cut and paste method, which everyone, including Sandow herself, said was problematic.
Sandow pointed out issues with poll workers, and cited difficulties in making changes and still being able to adhere to state election laws.
In numerous times going back and forth between BOE officials and City Council members, which often became heated, the BOE said its hands were tied by the state election laws and suggested revisions to ensure smoother, more accurate election night results.
Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections also testified Wednesday to help explain the state laws.
Kellner commended the city board on implementing the use of portable memory devices (PMDs) and noted its procedure for obtaining the official certified results—not election night results—were tops in the state. His complements, however, stopped there.
Kellner noted only 387,000 people voted in the 2010 city primaries, however 2.6 million voted in the 2008 presidential election. “Just because we are able to run special elections and primary elections well, doesn’t mean we are prepared for the extraordinary turn out that happens in November,” Kellner said.
The new PMD system has only been tested out in a single borough Republican primary, something Quinn joked was not a good measuring stick based of low voter turnout in the largely Democratic city.
Kellner also questioned the use of the NYPD on election night. “The law does not require the use of police officers for this election night tally process. I seriously question whether it is efficient or a good use of police resources for the police to be involved in an election night tallying process at all,” Kellner said. “No counties use the police in election night reporting except New York City.”
The new election night procedure is a technological upgrade from the paper method previously used in the city; a step the City Board claims will greatly reduce human error on election night. The procedure is, however, still complicated: it involves the PMD going from a polling site to a police precinct before the data is wirelessly transmitted to BOE headquarters by bi-partisan poll workers. Those results are then sent wirelessly to One Police Plaza where the data is transmitted to the Associated Press, which passes the results to the public.
Council member Dan Garodnick commented sarcastically, “No room for human error there.”
The city board reported it will embrace several new forms of technology for the upcoming elections including an app for IPhones, Androids, and BlackBerrys that will give voters sample ballots and poll site maps. The board will launch its updated website, which will include social media links and a ticker listing the dates of upcoming elections.
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