Missing Ballots, No-Show Poll Workers: Lawmakers Get An Earful At Election Reform Hearing


New York lawmakers flipped the script at a listening to on election reform and voting rights on Wednesday, shining the sunshine on voters and Election Day employees, to be adopted by an interrogation of elections officers in September. The message on the first of a collection of State Senate hearings was clear: Board of Elections officers are going to have lots to reply for.

Members of the Elections Committee heard from greater than two dozen individuals who shared tales of absent ballot employees, complicated data from Board of Elections workers, and a way that voters typically have misplaced confidence within the present system after a cascade of errors 12 months after 12 months.

State Senator Zellnor Myrie, committee chair, mentioned there have been too many examples of localities throughout the state failing to supply voters with a completely functioning democracy, citing voter purges, scanner breakdowns, missent absentee ballots, lengthy traces at ballot websites, lack of language interpreters, and most lately, incorrect preliminary main ends in the New York Metropolis mayor’s race.

The journey from “worst to first,” he mentioned, might require modifications to the construction of the Boards of Elections, and to the state legal guidelines that govern how elections are performed.

“All of that’s on the desk,” Myrie mentioned.

One theme of the testimony got here from Election Day employees who described not getting ample help from the New York Metropolis Board of Elections. For Jan Combopiano, who labored as a poll-site coordinator on the Dodge YMCA on Atlantic Avenue in June, that meant being left hanging when solely 9 of the 26 ballot employees assigned to her web site confirmed up.

She testified that she reached out to the Board of Elections for back-up ballot employees repeatedly and was informed nobody was obtainable and that the issue was occurring throughout the borough.

“As a result of I couldn’t get any assist from the BOE, I needed to ask the group,” mentioned Combopiano.

On a stage at Medgar Evers College, State Senators wear masks and listen to testimony


State Senators, together with Zellnor Myrie, the listening to on July 28, 2021

Brigid Bergin / WNYC

To assist fill the hole, she contacted her native district chief, Jesse Pierce, who in flip reached out to Gowanus Mutual Help, a volunteer group that tries to help group wants within the Park Slope, South Slope and Gowanus neighborhoods. The group managed to seek out about half a dozen volunteers, a few of whom had been former ballot employees, and others who needed to be educated on web site.

“So whenever you went out to recruit folks that will help you as a result of we’ve an election happening and we want our bodies, did these folks receives a commission later?” requested State Senator Liz Krueger.

“They did, as a result of I made certain,” Combopiano confirmed.

That anecdote prompted a dialog about permitting ballot employees, who’re supposed to start out at 5 a.m. and sometimes work till after 10 p.m., to work cut up shifts.

“For years, folks have identified {that a} 17-hour day is by most requirements inhuman, [let alone] the norm for election employees. And for years, we talked about payments to permit half-day schedules,” Krueger mentioned, including that native elections officers opposed the thought out of worry that employees wouldn’t present up for his or her shifts.

Voters lining up around the Brooklyn Museum


On the Brooklyn Museum for early voting on October 24, 2020

Scott Lynch / Gothamist

However since individuals are already not displaying up, Krueger requested if it was time to discover that once more, an concept Combopiano enthusiastically supported, noting that cut up shifts would assist alleviate the burdens on employees who need to juggle day jobs and household obligations.

One other troubling anecdote concerned confusion and misinformation from metropolis BOE workers about absentee ballots. Bonnie Nelson, one other Brooklyn voter, mentioned she dropped off an absentee poll at an early-voting web site in Brooklyn for her 97-year-old mother-in-law, who lives in Manhattan. Nelson, who additionally volunteers with the Brooklyn Voters Alliance, mentioned she went to the BOE’s absentee-ballot portal on-line and noticed the poll was not acquired.

When Nelson referred to as the board’s Manhattan workplace to test the standing of the poll, she was informed that she ought to have dropped it off in Manhattan, which is flawed. Absentee ballots may be dropped off at any early-voting location, a degree that’s burdened within the poll-worker coaching, based on BOE spokesperson Valerie Vasquez-Diaz.

“I by no means came upon what occurred to the poll, so I don’t know whether or not there’s a field of ballots that was by no means picked up and delivered, or whether or not ballots that had been delivered in a single borough by no means made it to a different borough,” mentioned Nelson, calling the entire occasion irritating particularly because it appeared the BOE workers who had been supposed to help her didn’t know the principles themselves.

“I by no means informed my mother-in-law that her poll wasn’t delivered,” Nelson added. “I simply didn’t have the center to do it.”

Past anecdotes, some voters provided ideas for methods to overhaul the company itself, together with eradicating the partisan patronage.

“Clearly, the best way the Board is structured now’s untenable,” mentioned Martin Ascher, an legal professional dwelling in Brooklyn who wrote an article whereas a pupil at New York College Regulation Faculty, proposing to take away the get together leaders from the appointment course of and require workers to satisfy sure skilled requirements.

Requested by lawmakers how a system that grants appointment energy to different elected officers, just like the mayor and metropolis council speaker, would possibly increase different considerations about political equity, particularly (as on this previous main) when a kind of people appeared as a candidate on the poll, Ascher acknowledged that no system could be completely devoid of politics.

However he additionally famous, “It will probably’t be worse.”

Extra hearings will likely be held subsequent Wednesday in Syracuse, Thursday in Rochester and the next week in Westchester.