NYC Election Board Should Be Overhauled, Civic Groups Say

New York City civic groups and City Council members on Monday criticized the Board of Elections for a string of mishaps during the mayoral primaries and called for state reform of the board.

“We need to do everything we can to maintain public trust in our election system,” said councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Power of Southeast Queens during a hearing before state Assembly members in Brooklyn.

State lawmakers called the hearing on ranked-choice voting to analyze New York’s first citywide test of the system, which allows voters to pick their top five candidates. The lowest-finishing candidates are eliminated and second-choice votes are transferred to the other candidates, with the process repeated until a winner emerges. Eric Adams was named the Democratic nominee and will go up against Republican nominee Curtis Sliwa in the November general election.

The city Board of Elections committed repeated blunders during the first major city vote since the 2020 presidential election, which Donald Trump has falsely claimed was rigged against him nationally. On Monday, civic leaders and City Council members demanded a more reliable system to restore voter confidence, starting with professionalizing an agency now staffed through political patronage.

Civil-group leaders and council members applauded the ranked-choice system for increasing diversity among candidates, but said the system as a whole was sullied by errors in tabulating the results and a failure to educate voters.

“The right to vote is the bedrock of our democracy,” said Brooks-Powers, the Queens council member. “Especially after the widespread and unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud made following the 2020 election, New York City has a critical opportunity to lead by example and conduct fair, open and transparent elections.”

Last-Minute Rush

Many speakers at the hearing criticized the board, which has attracted complaints of incompetence for decades, for being ill prepared on Election Day. Ranked-choice voting for citywide primaries and special elections was adopted in 2019 by the majority of New Yorkers. Yet the board didn’t fully approve software to tally votes until a few weeks before the primary election.

After announcing round-by-round results a week after the vote, Board of Elections workers were forced to retract the results a few hours later, having failed to clear 135,000 test ballots. Voters voiced their frustration, while the board implored them to remain patient while they corrected the tabulations.

The Board of Elections still hasn’t officially certified the vote, and detailed round-by-round data hasn’t been released. No one from the agency attended the Monday hearing.

Spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez said after the hearing that officials were invited only Wednesday and that was too little notice. She said the election would be certified Tuesday. “We will provide written testimony after certification,” she said in a text message.

In The Dark

Civic leaders also talked about voter disenfranchisement at the hearing. They said there was limited access to online information about ranked-choice voting, especially in Black and Latino communities without broadband internet. That’s despite a $15 million city marketing blitz to educate voters.

“There are people now who are fed up with their experience and may not vote again,” said the Reverend Kirsten John Foy, founder of the Arc of Justice Foundation.

Foy said the failure to reach and teach minority voters might dissuade them from voting in the future.

“People who are vulnerable in every other aspect of their lives have been injured unnecessarily,” he said. “There’s a difference between losing an election and having your voice marginalized in that election.”

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