As the State Legislature heads into a new session, voting reform must be among its top priorities. That must include an overhaul to the city’s Board of Elections.
The need for change has been obvious since Election Day was plagued with broken scanners, hours of waiting, and a lack of technical expertise and trained volunteers. But it became even more clear after reports that the company that supplies the ballot scanners had paid for Michael Ryan, the NYC Board of Elections’ executive director, to go to conferences across the country over the last four years. To make matters worse, Ryan didn’t fill out required disclosures, and never got necessary approvals from the Board of Elections or Conflicts of Interest Board.
If Ryan won’t resign, he must be removed from the Board of Elections. Unfortunately, only the board’s 10 commissioners, all political party appointees, have that power.
The conflicts, combined with the Election Day mess and the problems in 2016, when more than 100,000 Brooklyn voters were purged from the rolls — show there’s far more to be done. The City Council has held hearings, and City Hall has tried to offer city elections officials funds for training, an outside consultant and other improvements.
But the real change has to come from the state. The commissioner set-up, with two from each borough appointed by the Democratic and Republican party committees, is a process ripe for patronage. The group lacks the leadership and authority to make tough decisions, and the teeth to change how it conducts elections, trains personnel and prepares for the next go-round. While the board is funded by NYC, its structure and power come from the state. It’s up to state lawmakers to reform the board so it has conflict-free leaders and the authority to make changes.
They can’t stop there. Many of NYC’s Election Day problems would have been alleviated with early voting, no-excuse absentee balloting and other ways to make voting easier. The legislature has to take up those fixes, too.
NYC voters have the right to expect conflict-free, glitch-free elections.