Capital New York State elections board requests city plan to reduce voting lines by Bill Mahoney
Commissioners at the New York State Board of Elections are asking their New York City counterparts to develop an explicit plan to combat the long lines that have plagued the city’s polling places in recent elections.
New York City voters frequently have to deal with long lines that can run hundreds of people long or last hours. In 2012, these problems were exacerbated by Hurricane Sandy, though they have existed in most high-turnout elections held in previous years.
At the B.O.E. commissioners’ meeting Monday, co-executive director Bob Brehm described several discussions with the city B.O.E., in which they discussed plans to experiment with changes in the elections that will precede the presidential election in November 2016.
“Bob, to be very short, this is nonsense,” replied co-chair Douglas Kellner. “You haven’t described any approach that will solve the fundamental problem [which] is that there will be a huge turnout relatively in November of 2016 just as there was in November 2012 and November 2008 and November 2004. And I haven’t heard anything significant that would bring New York City into compliance with our regulation that requires the county boards to staff their elections in a matter that the lines will not be longer than 30 minutes.”
Over the course of a nearly half-hour discussion, Kellner and other participants suggested that the city needs to focus on increasing the number of poll workers at busy locations and finding larger spaces that can accommodate more tables.
The commissioners voted unanimously to request a formal plan from the New York City board by September 30 that would lay out their plan for coming into compliance with the regulation mandating a maximum 30-minute wait time by next year.
The executive director of the city board, Michael J. Ryan, disputed the idea that his agency hadn’t done enough.
“If that’s the impression that’s out there, that’s an erroneous impression, and we are constantly evaluating and reevaluating everything we do from top to bottom,” he told Capital in a phone interview.
Ryan pointed to specific changes the board has recently made, such as the elimination of voter cards. The requirement that voters fill out those cards had been criticized as unnecessarily duplicative and time-consuming in the era of optical-scan voting. The B.O.E. has also recently added tabs to their polling books, making it easier for workers to find registrants’ names.
New York City Councilman Ben Kallos, who chairs the Council's governmental operations committee, have the board credit for improvements, saying that “great strides” had been made to “improve the process.”
“However, I grow concerned as 2016 approaches and the presidential election, being an election which people will come out and vote for in numbers we haven’t seen since 2012 and most likely 2008 beforehand ... that the N.Y.C. B.O.E. is not relocating staffers to problem areas where lines form,” Kallos told Capital.
Ryan was also unhappy with the state board’s decision to discuss the matter publicly:
“Typically, when the Board of Elections has an issue with one of our government partners, we address that issue with the partner directly," Ryan said. "We don’t take the opportunity to address that in a public meeting before we’ve spoken with anybody else, so I’m not going to comment on their public opining on matters that haven’t been addressed to me specifically."