Council Seeks Election Changes
At a hearing held by the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, chaired by Councilmember Gale A. Brewer, Councilmembers examined serious problems that occurred with recent voting and numerous Board of Elections failures. In her opening statement, Speaker Christine C. Quinn detailed specific proposals towards improving the Board’s performance and New Yorkers’ voting experience. The State Board of Elections, the Campaign Finance Board’s Voter Advisory Assistance Commission and numerous state elected officials, good government groups and advocates participated in the hearing.
In order to make necessary improvements to the existing voting system, Quinn noted that both short and long term changes must be implemented. Pressing on the importance of these changes, she stated, “The New York City Board of Elections must take responsibility for systemic problems and fix them immediately. Poorly trained poll workers and chaotic polling place procedures have been recurring issues, election after election. Implementing the reforms we are announcing today is a step towards bringing about the change voters expect and deserve.”
Quinn proposed that voting be allowed at Board of Elections polling locations prior to Election Day, which would increase convenience for voters and decrease waiting times on Election Day.
Many voters in last month's election had to wait for hours to cast their vote.
She also called for allowing absentee voting without requiring an excuse. Currently, in order to receive an absentee ballot, a voter must be away from the county or have a physical inability to go to their polling place on Election Day. This change is yet another way to improve and ease the voting process.
In addition to these ideas, the Council discussed the Board of Elections taking more immediate action and called on them to implement the following reforms:
End usage of voter cards – Voter cards, handed to voters after signing-in, are not used in any counties outside of the five boroughs and are no longer necessary. Additionally, the cards introduce the opportunity for poll worker error.
Implement electronic poll books and ED listings – Electronic systems, which would allow voters to sign-in and locate election districts electronically, will reduce lines and waiting time and will provide improved accuracy.
Improve poll worker training –
Training should incorporate hands-on experience, smaller groups to increase engagement and online training. Better testing following training will improve poll worker competence.
Allow poll workers to split shifts – Allowing 8 hour instead of the current 16 hour days will improve worker performance and entice more people to become poll workers.
Improve poll worker accountability – Workers should be monitored and held accountable for their job performance. Poll site director feedback must be taken seriously, roving Board of Election employees should be utilized to evaluate workers and the worst performers should not be rehired.
Empower poll workers to remove minor jams from ballot scanners – Current procedure requires a technician to be called for even minor ballot scanner jams, resulting in hours of unnecessary delays and downed machines. Properly trained workers should be permitted to make simple repairs themselves.
Communicate with poll workers – The ability to communicate with poll workers must be improved. Workers need to be aware of last minute changes
such as this year’s executive order.
Utilize larger polling places – Better sites will reduce crowding and chaos.
Clarify language access – Two language ballots, rather than five languages on a ballot, will improve ballot legibility.
Recruit and hire an experienced Executive Director for the Board – This will create improved Board performance and allow for clearer accountability.
Improve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act – Reports have stated many polling sites are not accessible for various disabilities and this must be corrected.
“The Board of Elections truly faced the perfect storm in preparing for the November Election,” said Brewer. “However, many of the problems we saw on Election Day had nothing to do with Hurricane Sandy and everything to do with archaic State Laws and problematic administration. Today's hearing represents another step in the Council's efforts to work with the Board of Elections to develop an electoral process that all New Yorkers can be proud of.”