‘We have always made it difficult for people to vote’: Public Advocate seeks election reforms after primary day miscues

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Protestors spent the night in a City Hall park calling on the city to defund the NYPD. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Election reform would make the November general election more inclusive and fair, advocates said at a press conference led by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams this morning.

Williams was joined by advocates from Common Cause New York calling for the Board of Elections to correct problems with mail-in balloting, and bringing voting up to speed so that the maximum number of people eligible to vote are able to do so in November and avoid voters being “disenfranchised.”

No, not pizza reform, but election reform is key to Public Advocate Williams for November. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Williams said he was concerned about what many New Yorkers experienced at the polls on primary day, nearly canceled because of COVID-19, but kept in place by the courts. Despite polls being open, more than 2 million people voted by paper ballot, something Williams would like continued for the general election.

He understood that the Board of Elections was working under hardship conditions because of COVID-19, but he said the problems were exacerbated by those issues.  Some of the problems voters experienced were not getting their mail-in ballots, not being able to confirm that their ballots were received, some people received the wrong district ballot or just half a ballot. In addition, there were shortages of poll workers and some polls opened later than mandated.

“We have always made it difficult for people to vote and we should make it as easy as possible including using absentee ballot – let’s keep whatever we have here now and allow people to vote again with absentee and make it permanent,” Williams said.  “Let’s get in the process of used to it, whether it is early voting, absentee voting, same-day registration – these are things we have to stop resisting. Things will get better, but we also have to get more funding into the system for training.”

He and advocates say the problems should be addressed now, before the all-important General Election in November.

“We know that the board of elections had a difficult time and still haven’t fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic – we’re still going through it,” he said. “What the pandemic did was expose many of the existing problems within the system. The November election is coming up and we will see more people exponentially coming out to vote. If we don’t start planing now we will see even more problems and have a disaster on our hands.”

Other complaints he received was some people couldn’t get to polls early because trains were not running till 5 a.m.

“My office and other community groups heard the complaints and November is another important election so we sent a letter to Michael Ryan of Board of Elections before we saw what we were seeing and will send another letter today about what we heard, witnessed. and we hope to get results.”

Wiliams added, “while we do understand some of the mitigating circumstances, it did exacerbate the underlying problems that were there, and we have to get them fixed.”

Williams sets up mic stand for media. (Photo by Todd Maisel)