The City Council’s Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus (BLAC) this week demanded systemic reforms to the state’s voting laws, and the depoliticization of the city’s Board of Elections (BOE) and its leadership, including hiring a professional staff whose applicants would be subject to standardized civil service testing.
BLAC made their demands and thoughts made clear at a council oversight hearing this week on this month’s Election Day debacle. This included widespread ballot scanner failures, prolonged wait times, and inaccessible poll sites plagued voters throughout the fifteen-hour ordeal two weeks ago.
These latest mishaps occurred roughly one year following an agreed upon settlement between the State Attorney General’s Office and BOE for the board’s unlawful purge of over 200,000 New Yorkers from the voting rolls in the run up to the state’s 2016 primary election.
“New York’s consistent bottom of the pack ranking in voter turnout will never improve absent reform but the changes we seek to our antiquated voting laws must be accompanied by wholesale change at the City Board of Elections,” said Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus co-chair Council Member I. Daneek Miller (D-Queens). “BOE’s inadequate preparation for the general election disenfranchised an untold number of voters, which demands a sweeping overhaul at the agency. Only then will we experience a greater and more diverse level of participation at the polls; one motivated by the measures we expect the Legislature to pass next year.”
BLAC is also lending its voice to the call for long advocated voting reforms, namely early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and both automatic and same-day voter registration, but recognizes these provisions would be moot without a wholesale revamp at BOE that effectively ends the patronage system contributing to the gross incompetence there.
“As I stood in line on Election Day, I was initially excited about the voter turnout only to be disappointed in realizing the lines were related to broken machines and overall poll worker chaos,” said City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel (D-Brownsville, East Flatbush, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights). “I am beginning to lack confidence in our current electoral process and voting system as a result of the recent purging of names, last-minute poll-site changes and lack of substantive oversight. I hope today’s oversight hearing will bring about the necessary reforms that will lead to a modernized voting system that is truly free and fair.”
City Council Member Inez Barron (D-East New York) said she is very disturbed in the recent election at the repeated breakdown of the scanners, which caused much confusion and unnecessary delays for voters waiting to cast their votes.
“Poll workers should have other options in which they’ve been adequately trained and appropriately prepared to address the malfunctioning of the machines. The Board of Elections should consider hiring additional technical support staff who can quickly respond to malfunctioning scanners in the future,” said Barron.
City Council Member Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park, Red Hook) noted the BOE has one job, and that is to ensure that no matter how high voter turnout is, all eligible voters can vote.
“It’s already disgraceful that New York State has some of the worst voting laws in the country. For something like this to happen adds insult to injury. But we can learn from this, and what we now understand is that we need to reform not just how we vote, but how we count the vote. I’m ready to work with my colleagues in the Council to make the necessary reforms so that this doesn’t happen again,” said Menchaca.
City Council Member Mathieu Eugene (D-Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Flatbush, East Flatbush) said the ability to vote is a foundation of the country’s democracy, and when eligible voters are denied that right, immediate action must be taken.
“I join my colleagues in the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus as we call for systematic voting reform and an overhaul of the Board of Elections. We must do more as a city to protect the ability of our constituents to participate in the democratic process, and to ensure that all votes are counted,” said Eugene.
“We have a moral responsibility to protect voters against disenfranchisement that is caused by technical issues at polling sites and long wait times, and it is my hope that by working together we can remedy this situation,” he added.