Reinvent Albany Provides City Council With Sensible Solutions to NYC Election Day Problems
Fixes Can Be Implemented Without Change to State Law
At a City Council hearing today, Reinvent Albany provided numerous solutions to the many problems that surfaced on Election Day in New York City. All of Reinvent Albany’s recommended fixes can be made without state action.
“There are many things the NYC Board of Elections can do to fix its election administration problems,” said Alex Camarda, Senior Policy Advisor at Reinvent Albany. “The state can assist by passing laws like early voting and the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, but the Board and the City can greatly improve operations on their own.”
Malfunctioning Scanners/Ballot Design
The root cause of problems on Election Day was malfunctioning scanners. Executive Director Ryan testified last week before the State Assembly that preliminary data showed a whopping 2,631 Election Day incidents with the city’s 4,064 scanners.
The NYC Board of Elections blamed the malfunctions in part on the two-page ballot, which caused jams when torn incorrectly or fed improperly into the scanner. Yet the City Board of Elections can reduce the length of the ballot by putting fewer languages on each ballot which will also make ballots more readable. The ballot in Staten Island, which only had English and Spanish, was one page and 12-point font. Meanwhile, voters in the other boroughs struggled to see the microscopic ballot questions, which 25 percent of voters did not vote on. The NYC Board of Elections has resisted reducing the number of languages on ballots for years because it creates more ballot styles and increases operational complexity for poll workers.
Municipal Poll Worker Program
Reinvent Albany supports using the city’s municipal workforce as poll workers to ensure better election administration. The Board faces a daunting challenge in recruiting over 35,000 high-performing temporary poll workers and the district leaders are unable to provide enough workers. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, “nearly 65 percent of jurisdictions reported that it was “very difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to obtain a sufficient number of poll workers.” A better solution is to use the city’s permanent non-emergency workforce to fill the void.
The temporary poll workers struggled when scanner malfunctions occurred, which had a cascading effect of long lines, overcrowding and compromised ballot security and privacy. Reinvent Albany therefore supports the Board hire an operations consultant as offered by Mayor de Blasio, and allow voters to vote with emergency ballots anytime one scanner is down for an extended period rather than requiring all scanners to be malfunctioning, as the Board’s Poll Worker Manual directs (see p. 66). Activating the Emergency Ballot Procedure when scanning lines get too long would require a simple change in protocol and training and could reduce wait times and voter discouragement.
More broadly, the NYC BOE needs to significantly change operations by professionalizing hiring, digitizing many paper-based processes, and eliminating redundant bipartisan staff and increasing salaries as part of a quality over quantity approach.