A powerful Manhattan lawmaker revealed the embattled city Board of Elections blew off state regulators seeking reforms as she tore into the agency over the recent string of voting fiascos that left thousands uncertain if their ballots were tallied.
“The failure of the NYC Board of Elections over the last several elections has been appalling,” wrote Democratic state Senator Liz Krueger, chairwoman of the chamber’s all-important budget committee, in an email to other top lawmakers and city officials. “If we are in politics or party leadership or press, we all share some blame.”
She sent the furious missive Wednesday morning to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and several other city councilmembers and state lawmakers, which was obtained by The Post.
Krueger also revealed in her email that commissioners from the City Board of Elections blew off state regulators who demanded a meeting to discuss changes after the agency bungled the June 2020 Democratic primaries in the city, potentially leaving thousands of votes uncounted.
The longtime state lawmaker wrote that she urged the officials at the state’s election agency to take their concerns public and included the recommendations they hoped to present to the City Board in her email.
“To those voters who did not have an opportunity to cast their ballots in the primary election, we should apologize for not doing more,” wrote Douglas Kellner, the co-chair of the state’s Board of Elections, in the memo. “Elected officials and others warned that we were not deploying sufficient resources to mail out absentee ballots in a timely manner, and in hindsight, we could have done more to address the problem.”
The six-page document calls on the City Board to:
- Ensure there is proper staffing at polling places during the November election to ensure lines are no longer than 30 minutes;
- To tally absentee ballots more quickly than the six weeks it took to certify results from the primary;
- And to plan for processing “double or triple” the number of absentee applications.
“Add new capacity to process the applications in a timely manner now. Do not wait for a backlog from which you can never recover,” he added.
City lawyers admitted in Manhattan federal court last week that they were still mailing absentee ballots the day before the June primary, leaving little chance they could reach voters in time.
Stacks of ballots are prepared to be checked by a worker at a Board of Elections facility.
The emails included with Krueger’s Wednesday message show that Kellner wrote to the City Board of Election’s two top commissioners — President Patricia Anne Taylor (D-Staten Island) and Secretary Fred Umane (R-Manhattan) — on July 31, seeking to present the recommendations at their next board meeting.
Kellner emailed the pair again on August 4, decrying the decision to block his presentation.
“I regret that the commissioners have declined to afford me the courtesy to present my recommendations directly to the commissioners,” Kellner wrote. “Nevertheless, I request that you distribute the attached memorandum to the commissioners and the executive staff, and that we try to work together to make it possible for every eligible voter to cast a ballot and have that ballot counted notwithstanding the very significant hurdles that we need to overcome.”
Krueger told The Post that the City Board of Election’s obstinance was unconscionable.
“Yesterday morning, Doug reached out to me to say he was actually fairly shocked that the New York City Board of Elections was refusing to allow him to address them with his recommendations on what he felt they must do to avoid even worse problems in the November election,” she said, explaining why she sent the blistering missive.
“You’re the Board of Elections, you can’t even tell people what the results of an election are when you have one?” added the exasperated lawmaker. “I feel like there’s this total collapse in the Board of Elections.”
Legislators in Albany recently passed a slew of bills aimed at making it easier to cast absentee ballots, which Krueger said she hopes Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs.
“We can’t constitutionally take them apart and rebuild them before November,” she added, of the Board of Elections. “We can maybe count on the governor to sign the bills we passed.”
By state law, the New York City Board of Elections is run by appointees from the Democratic and Republican parties in each borough. Under the setup, City Hall must pay the City BOE’s bills but has almost no say in its management.
The arrangement means the patronage-laden Board has remained virtually immune to oversight and reform efforts, despite widespread complaints following a slew of scandals and bungled elections.
In 2016, it botched a purge of voter rolls before the Democratic presidential primary between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Subsequent investigations by The Post and NY1 revealed the manufacturer of the machines misled the BOE about their vulnerability to inclement weather and that the BOE’s executive director, Mike Ryan, scored free trips from the firm as part of its national advisory board.
And, most recently during the Democratic primary in June, the Board of Elections capsized under a tsunami of absentee ballots requests after eligibility to vote by mail was following the outbreak of COVID-19.
Thousands of New Yorkers were forced to go to the polls after not receiving their requested ballots, while thousands of more votes were discarded because the Post Office failed to postmark them or because voters failed to sign the correct portion of a confusingly-designed ballot envelope.
“It is the party chairs for the Democratic and Republican Parties that have filled the Board of Elections with patronage to the point where it can no longer function,” said Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), who sits on the committee that oversees the embattled state-sanctioned agency.
“The party hacks rule and it has to end,” Kallos said. “They think there’s nothing anyone can do about it and it has to end.”
The City Board of Elections claimed that it has an “excellent working relationship” with its state regulators and that the Kellner snub was nothing more than a scheduling conflict.
“We invited the Commissioner, who was seeking to speak to us in his individual capacity and not as a representative of the State Board, to meet with senior management and the Commissioners, on a day that we were not certifying the election and paying tribute to our staff for their hard work and honoring the losses that we suffered,” said the City BOE’s Taylor and Umane in a statement. “Commissioner Kellner chose to submit his comments in writing instead, which staff and the Commissioners are currently reviewing.”