Board of Elections employees failed to clear out ballots from a test run and no one caught the error. – Robert Miller
Anger mounted against the Board of Elections on Wednesday after the agency botched the initial tallies under the Big Apple’s new ranked-choice voting system — because employees failed to clear out ballots from a test run and no one caught the error.
“Yet again, the fundamental structural flaws of the Board of Elections are on display,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, who once offered the agency $20 million in 2016 to pay for reforms, only to be rebuffed by the political party bosses who control it under the state’s constitution.
“There must be an immediate, complete re-canvass of the BOE’s vote count and a clear explanation of what went wrong,” de Blasio added. “The record number of voters who turned out this election deserve nothing less.”
Elections officials admitted the giant flub in a statement sent late Tuesday night, acknowledging that employees failed to properly reset the ranked-choice computer system after a system test, which resulted in adding an erroneous 135,000 extra votes to the tally.
One leading mayoral contender, former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, took the airwaves to express her disgust.
Mayor Bill de Blasio offered the Board of Elections $20 million in 2016 to pay for reforms but was rebuffed by the political party leaders who control the agency. – Matthew McDermott
The now-retracted tentative results had shown her vaulting into second place and narrowly trailing front-runner Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams by just 16,000 votes — with more than 124,000 absentees still to be counted.
“I wish I was more surprised that the Board of Elections was struggling to get this right, but to be quite honest, after what we’ve seen over the last year or so, I’m not,” Garcia said Wednesday morning on WPIX-TV/Ch. 11. “This is an organization that really needs a full revamp. It needs to be professionalized.”
Longtime critics of ranked-choice voting renewed their calls late Tuesday for a referendum that could repeal the system, claiming that the Board of Elections was too incompenent to be trusted.
“We are hardly surprised by this evening’s announcement about the ‘discrepancy’ observed in the unofficial Board of Elections tally of RCV results given that the votes of nearly one million New Yorkers in the all-important primary election were entrusted to an inferior software program less than one month after it was approved by the State,” wrote the members of the Black, Latino Asian Caucus in an unsigned statement.
Boosters of ranked-choice voting, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, organized a Wednesday press conference to fire back — and pointed to the Board of Elections long history of screwing up simple elections to demand state lawmakers finally implement long-called-for reforms at the agency.
“We’ve seen some pretty bad errors before, but this one seems to be a national embarrassment,” Williams told reporters. “Hopefully, the national nature of this will finally spur some change.”
The list of recent BOE bungles is long.
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.
In 2018, its ballot scanners jammed across the city because they weren’t designed to operate in high levels of humidity. News reports eventually exposed BOE chief Mike Ryan for taking junkets from the manufacturer, Election Systems & Software, which gave officials inaccurate information about their machines as they bid for the contract.
And in 2020, 84,000 absentee ballots in the June primary were tossed over clerical issues that the Board of Elections eventually acknowledged were partially its fault.
Despite the litany of fiascos, reform efforts have stalled in Albany in years past because of opposition from local political parties, which often include the elected officials who would vote on any proposed changes to the BOE.
The chairs of The Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island Democratic parties are all lawmakers in Albany — state Sen. Jamaal Bailey, Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte and Assemblyman Mike Cuscik, respectively.
The chairman of the Queens party is a congressman, Rep. Gregory Meeks. The Manhattan Party is led by an ex-lawmaker turned lobbyist, Keith Wright.
“I wish I was more surprised that the Board of Elections was struggling to get this right,” candidate Kathryn Garcia said. – Matthew McDermott
They pick five of the 10 of the BOE’s commissioners and their positions give them outsized roles in placing political allies, friends and family members in other key positions at the agency.
Under the state constitution, the other five commissioners are appointed by the local Republican parties. They, in turn, get to control key positions and have shown little appetite for reform. It’s one of the few levels of local government where the GOP still exercises any influence.
For instance, the BOE’s deputy executive director position goes to a Republican appointee since a Democrat, Mike Ryan, is the executive director.
The current occupant of that role, Dawn Sandow, was a top aide to former Bronx GOP state Senator Guy Velella.
Ryan’s handling of the BOE was repeatedly criticized before he went out on medical leave and Sandow’s management in his stead has come under intense scrutiny following the counting fiasco.
In response to the latest mess, one of the local party leaders — Bichotte — called for an “independent” panel to be established to examine the BOE.
In an illustration of the tough hill reformers have to climb, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-The Bronx) — a former chairman of The Bronx Democratic Party, who Bailey worked for as an intern — put out a statement late Wednesday that labeled the situation “extremely concerning” but promised no action.
It stood in stark contrast to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’s promise to hold hearings and pass legislation reforming the BOE, calling the agency’s performance “a national embarrassment.”
Those results will be incomplete because they incorporate only the ballots cast during early voting and on Primary Day. The 125,000 absentee votes cast in the contest are currently being tallied separately and will be included in the July 6 re-run of the ranked-choice voting results.
Final certified tallies could come by July 12.
Additional reporting by Carl Campanile and Julia Marsh