NYC Department of Investigation: End Partisanship in Board of Elections

Talk about your new year’s resolutions!

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To round out 2013, the NYC Department of Investigation (DOI) released a 70-page report offered by its new Inspector General’s Unit resulting from an exhaustive 6-month investigation into the operations of the much-maligned NYC Board of Elections. The report included a list of much-needed reforms that the agency encouraged the board to adopt for future elections.

The findings are enough to make a reformer’s head spin. In addition to DOI’s substantiation of four cases of nepotism, including two cases involving BOE commissioners which will be referred to the City Conflicts of Interest Board, the report details disturbing practices and procedures permeating the entire agency.

DOI placed undercover investigators as ineligible voters and BOE employees and interviewed all levels of executive and borough office staff. Investigators posing as ineligible voters — either deceased, felons,or voters who moved out of the city, among others — all infiltrated the polls and were cleared to cast an illegal ballot. Other investigators training as poll inspectors found instructors allowing cheating on qualifying exams and turning a blind eye to institutional incompetence.

From outdated voter rolls to confusing election day procedures for voters and employees alike, DOI left virtually no stone un-turned.

“The City’s Board of Elections performs one of the most important missions in government, enabling our citizens to exercise their right and civic responsibility to vote in free and fair elections,” said DOI Commissioner Rose Hearn, who will soon take over the reins at the NYC Campaign Finance Board.

“Without minimizing the enormity and complexity of BOE’s work, DOI found significant areas that require a steadfast resolve to strengthen and improve operations if BOE is to raise its level of performance to one in which our City can take pride, and to which we are all entitled.”

The bar the DOI sets is very high. The agency made more than 40 recommendations for changes to policies and procedures at BOE that can be addressed internally without a change in the law, ranging from internal hiring procedures to ballot font size to election day operations and post-election canvassing.

Among these findings is support for “the elimination of the bipartisan composition of boards of elections, which requires equal representation of the two major political parties throughout BOE, replaced by professional boards designed to conduct election administration in a non-partisan manner.” Immediate implementation is highly unlikely, as such a momentous change would require revision to NY Election Law, which mandates the bipartisan structure statewide.

A requirement of non-partisan election administration would not only curtail the influence of the county committees, but also, could facilitate the professional administration of elections by individuals selected based on merit.   – NYC Department of Investigations

DOI also recommends opening employment opportunities to the public based on standardized, merit-based practices which would put an end to the Tammany Hall-era practice of hiring primarily based on partisan committee recommendations and/or nepotism and the “unwritten rule” conditioning public employment on one’s political activity.

Also of note is the DOI’s statement in favor of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) to replace NYC’s additional runoff elections, which this past election cycle cost the city $13 million for a single city-wide runoff.To date, the BOE has gone on record with “no position” with respect to IRV.

For election reformers, the DOI report sounds like starting the new year on the right foot. But, like most resolutions this time of year, staying power and stick-to-it-iveness will be the key to any real reform.