Capital New York Advocates welcome BOE 'Incentive funding'but urge broader overhaul by Miranda Neubauer

Capital New York
Capital New York
Advocates welcome BOE 'Incentive funding'but urge broader overhaul
Miranda Neubauer
A poll worker, left, helps people sign in to vote on April 19, 2016, in Flushing, Queens. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Lawmakers and advocates are welcoming plans for $20 million to spur reforms at the city's Board of Elections, but they also say a broader overhaul on both the city and state level is needed, in the wake of election-day complaints and reports of purged voter rolls.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday morning that the city would make $20 million in "incentive funding" available to the BOE if it signs a binding agreement by June 1 to implement several reforms — including hiring an outside firm to review last week's presidential primary, improving poll-worker staffing and developing a panel of election experts. The board also must independently review and confirm voter data, track absentee ballots and hire a records manager and records officer.

At an unrelated press conference Monday, he also stressed the need for more legislative change in Albany.

"For decades and decades, it's been a strange combination of government-sanctioned but party-run, and it's time for a more professional approach," he said.

A city BOE spokeswoman declined to comment on the mayor's proposal. The board is set to hold its next regular meeting Tuesday.

At a separate press conference Monday, lawmakers, good-government groups and immigrant advocates organized by the New York Immigration Coalition called not only for an evaluation of the BOE but also for the passage of several bills at the state level.

Immigrant advocates said they had received a number of complaints Tuesday after spending months registering thousands of new voters. 

"What happened this past Tuesday," NYIC executive director Steve Choi said, "that was nothing short of a crime."

"State laws were broken, and it's clear that the investigations now underway should also be considering whether criminal investigation is also warranted," said New York Public Interest Research Group government reform coordinator Neil Rosenstein.

State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who is running in the congressional race to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel, said voters in his district had been moved around to far-away polling sites, or had approached him at a subway station about having to vote by affidavit ballot.

"That's another form of disenfranchisement," he said. "We should have an independent board, one that is not run by the party bosses ... one that is professionally run. That's what we really need, in addition to the $20 million."

In addition to calling for early voting and same-day registration, Assemblywoman Latrice Walker called for passing legislation to establish a pre-clearance provision to let the state attorney general examine any changes to voting rolls and procedures and potentially nullify them. Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh said he had been introducing related bills for the past decade.

And at a separate City Hall press conference Monday, Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda unveiled bills that would make it a felony for boards of election to remove voters from rolls except when there is confirmation of death or relocation and that would require them to notify voters by email about poll-site changes.

Councilman Ben Kallos — who chairs the Council's government operations committee, and who last year introduced legislation to establish a voter information portal that would allow for absentee ballot tracking — told POLITICO New York last week he hopes to hold a June hearing examining the problems.

At last month's preliminary budget hearing, Kallos had commended BOE executive director Michael Ryan for working with the Council to address the issues raised in a 2013 report by the Department of Investigation that was broadly critical of the board.

The Daily News suggested over the weekend that the reported voter-roll purge may have been an "overreaction" to that report's findings.

And an analysis by CUNY's Center for Urban Research of changes to voter lists, in Brooklyn and citywide, suggests that Brooklyn lost 140,000 voters from 2015 to 2016 — around 60 percent of the city's net voter loss.

"The recent investigations announced by New York's attorney general and the city's comptroller hopefully will uncover the reasons why voter counts in New York City have been changing inconsistently, and recommend improvements to managing the city's voter data," the analysis concludes.