What went wrong on Election Day, and how we can fix it
In the lead-up to June 23, word on the street was that New York’s primaries would be an unmitigated disaster. Our state watched the long lines in states like Georgia and Wisconsin with horror – was this our future?
Fortunately, Primary Day actually wasn’t all that bad – there were some hiccups, some long lines, some poll worker errors, but nothing worthy of a CNN chyron.
Still, what did go wrong shows that NY has a long way to go before the Board of Elections can earn the public’s trust. Even in the best years, NY elections are fraught with problems, and this year was no different.
Of course, problems don’t just fix themselves – improving our state’s elections will require advocates like us to stand up and organize. So here’s a list of everything that went wrong on Tuesday, and what we can do to fix it:
PROBLEM: Tens of thousands of New Yorkers didn’t receive their absentee ballots. On June 19, the BOE reported that 29,000 ballots still had not been sent. It’s likely that many more NYers never received one – we’ll never know because the BOE can’t interview every ballot requestor in the state.
SOLUTION #1: Move to a full vote-by-mail system. Nobody saw this pandemic coming, so to some extent, we can’t blame the BOE for struggling to deal with ten times more absentee ballots than usual. If NY follows Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Utah and switches to vote by mail, the infrastructure will be there. And what better time to switch than during a global pandemic?
SOLUTION #2: Bail out the post office. We can’t stress this enough – a decline in demand has placed the post office in an unprecedented crisis, making it harder than ever for one of our nation’s most celebrated institutions to handle a large and sudden influx of absentee ballots. Without help, vote by mail can’t be the success that advocates envision.
PROBLEM: Many voters only received one ballot, not two. If you lived in a district with competitive state/local primaries in addition to the presidential primary, you should have received two ballots. Unfortunately, some poll workers didn’t know this, and only gave out a single ballot, preventing some voters from fully participating in the election. The BOE ultimately had to send out a message to staff clarifying that Democratic primary voters could receive two ballots. In another, similar misstep, people received the wrong ballots – in Queens, 845 people voted in the SAM party primary. The SAM party only has 21 enrolled members in Queens.
SOLUTION: Let municipal employees work the polls. Most poll workers have little actual experience running elections, thus little training – so it’s not surprising that stories of poll worker error are so common. Hiring municipal workers and having them run elections regularly would result in better trained staff and lower errors.
PROBLEM: At least one candidate’s staff allegedly helped voters fill out their ballots. Shocker: The candidate was Hiram Monserrate, a former pol who has been convicted of corruption and spousal abuse on multiple occasions.
SOLUTION: Temporarily ban those with a history of corruption from running for office. It doesn’t seem right to ban a person from elected office for life, but there is one bill in the City Council that would ban those who have abused the public trust from running for at least 5-10 years. Bad actors may always be there, so New York needs some mechanism to prevent voters from being exploited.
PROBLEM: At least 43 candidates for state legislative office failed to file financial disclosure forms ahead of the primary. Filing is required of every candidate for state office.
SOLUTION: Replace New York’s ethics enforcement bodies with new entities that actually do their jobs. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, NY’s official ethics enforcement body, is notoriously ineffective – we called for its abolition and replacement in our #FixNYDemocracy pledge. The Conflicts of Interest Board provides one potential model for an effective ethics enforcement agency — they just fined the BOE director $2,500.
SOLUTION: Repeal and replace the Board of Elections. Ross Barkan says it best in this 2019 op-ed: If there is not systemic change, these mishaps will keep happening. It’s time to replace the Board.
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