Critics call for election board reform after NYC primary voting mistake

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ByDan Krauth via WABC logo
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
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Government watchdogs are calling for change after an early counting discrepancy in the New York City Primary allowed for test ballots to be mixed in with the official ballots.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Some are calling the New York City primary a national embarrassment. Now government watchdogs are calling for change after an early counting discrepancy in the New York City primary allowed for test ballots to be mixed in with the official ballots.

When voters in New York City headed to the polls on primary day, they used a ranked choice voting system for the first time. Most voters didn't have problems.

But behind the scenes, an election worker didn't clean out 135,000 dummy test ballots from the system before the official counting started.

It was spotted and didn't affect the official count, but some critics say it's one of a handful of reasons the New York City Board of Elections should reform how it operates.

"So now who looks like the dummy?" said Michael Hendrix, who's the director of state and local policy at the Manhattan Institute. "If they can't be trusted to do the work how can they be trusted with local democracy."

It's not the first time the city has experienced election problems. Last year, thousands of voters in Brooklyn received absentee ballots with the wrong names and address.

In 2016, thousands of voters found they had been wrongfully purged from the voting rolls. The non-profit Common Cause filed a lawsuit at the time.

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"In the second largest voting jurisdiction in the country we really should have a professionalized board of elections," said Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York.

A lot of people work for the board of elections, more than 1,000 full and part time employees. In 2020, they had a payroll budget of $115 million.

It's run by Executive Director Michael Ryan and a board of commissioners.

There are ten of them, two from each borough. They include Frederic Umane, Miguelina Camilo, Jose Miguel Araujo, Gino Marmorato, Michael Michel, Rodney Pepe-Souvenir, Simon Shamoun, Patricia Anne Taylor, Tiffany Townsend and John Zaccone.

They're chosen by political parties and then appointed by city council to serve four year terms. Half are Democrats and half are Republicans. Most of them have full time jobs outside of their election duties.

"They get paid a per diem, they're really part time amateurs and that's different in New York City than other counties where commissioners really are full time people," Lerner said.

Critics are calling for the political appointees to be replaced by professionals. That would take changing the state's constitution, a process that could take at least two years.

"We could take the time to change the way the board is set up," Lerner said.

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The board met on Tuesday to give an update on election results. One of the management team members "apologized" for the election discrepancy in early unofficial counting but the board took to public comments or questions.

"These problems have been known for years and yet we do nothing about it but the stakes are bigger than ever," Hendrix said.

7 On Your Side Investigates has reached out numerous times to request interviews with the executive director and commissioners and after a week, hasn't received a return phone call or email.


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