Push to Reform New York City Board of Elections Gains Steam Following Mayoral Vote Tally Gaffe

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
July 5, 2021 Updated: July 5, 2021

Several key New York State lawmakers told The Wall Street Journal that there are plans to hold hearings on the New York City Board of Elections (BOE) following last week’s mayoral primary vote miscount blunder, potentially pushing longstanding efforts to reform the administrative body across the finish line.

Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the state Senate majority leader, told the outlet that the chamber would hold hearings and seek to pass reform legislation “at the earliest opportunity,” while assemblywoman Latrice Walker, a Democrat who chairs the Senate election committee, said the hearings would include a review of the structure of the BOE, which has long been a key concern.

Last week, the BOE released tallies of of the first ever citywide primaries conducted with ranked-choice voting, before abruptly taking them down, citing a “discrepancy” in the numbers. The BOE later admitted that 135,000 test ballots had accidentally been included in the mayoral primary tally, with BOE officials apologizing for what they said was a “human error” and saying they had “implemented another layer of review and quality control” to prevent a repeat of the fiasco.

The troubled record of the BOE—which besides the mayoral tally blunder includes names mistakenly purged from voter rolls, long lines at polling places, equipment breakdowns, and absentee ballots with the wrong voter’s name—has provoked outcries from elected leaders for years.

But the fallout from last week’s incident has reignited fresh calls for reform. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, who years ago called the board an “outdated organization in dire need of modernization,” said last week that the flub shows “there must be a complete structural rebuild of the board.”

“It’s mishap after mishap after mishap,” said New York State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, a Democrat and the co-sponsor of legislation that would put in place new training, hiring, and transparency measures for the BOE. “No other government entity could have such a dismal track record and face absolutely no accountability.”

“Yesterday’s fiasco over preliminary ranked choice voting results is one more demonstration—as if we needed it—of why there must be significant reform of the NYC Board of Elections,” state Senator Liz Krueger, the bill’s other co-sponsor, said in a statement.

“It is absurd for New York City to continue down this path election after election. It’s time to enact the reforms we all know are so desperately needed to give New Yorkers full confidence in their elections,” Krueger added.

De Blasio, in a statement, reiterated his support for Krueger and Rozic’s bill, as well as for a constitutional amendment that would put professional qualifications above partisan loyalties.

Some critics have pointed to the BOE’s convoluted structure as the source of many of the problems. The City Council appoints its members based on recommendations of party leaders in each of the city’s five boroughs. Each borough gets two seats, one for a Democrat and one for a Republican. The board’s staff is also equally divided between parties.

Other critics say that overtly partisan organization and lack of oversight over the board has led to patronage and repeated mistakes like the one last week. Some of the rules governing the body are set in state law, others in the state Constitution, making changes politically challenging.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'