Mayor de Blasio to Make $20 Million Available to City Board of Elections for Vital Reforms

April 25, 2016

Administration calls for outside consultant, enhanced poll worker training, email and text notification for voters

Mayor to advance State legislation transferring day-to-day BOE operations to its executive management

NEW YORK­––­In the wake of reports of potentially widespread voter disenfranchisement in last Tuesday’s election, Mayor de Blasio today proposed vital reforms to the City Board of Elections (“BOE”) and announced that $20 million will be made available to fund them. These reforms include hiring an outside operations consultant, empaneling a blue-ribbon commission to identify failures, enhancing poll worker training, and providing new email and text notifications for voters. In addition, the City will advance State legislation that transfers responsibility of day-to-day operations and personnel decisions from the BOE commissioners to executive management.

“The Board of Elections is an outdated organization in dire need of modernization – and we need to make these changes now. We cannot allow a single voter to be disenfranchised because of the Board of Elections’ outdated operations. These common-sense reforms will bring much-needed transparency, modernize practices, and help ensure we do not experience an election day like last week’s again,” said Mayor de Blasio.

As a condition of receiving the $20 million in incentive funding, the BOE would be required by the de Blasio administration to sign a binding agreement by June 1 regarding implementation of reforms. Included in the Executive Budget will be $1.5 million to enable the Board to promptly commence implementation once they have signed the agreement with the City. Once the Board signs the agreement, the administration will recommend an additional $18.5 million at Adoption for the additional reforms, beyond the outside consultant, as outlined below.

The BOE is charged by State law with administering elections in the City. It is made up of 10 Commissioners that receive City Council appointment based upon recommendation of the political parties.

KEY ELEMENTS OF INCENTIVE FUNDING REFORMS

Identify systemic challenges: ($1.5 million)

In consultation with the City, the BOE would be required to take the following steps to identify and rectify systemic challenges within the organization:

  • Promptly retain an outside consultant to review the April 19th primary, provide recommendations and analyze overall operational issues.
  • Develop a Blue Ribbon Panel of leading management and election experts.
  • Comply with the Comptroller’s Audit’s feasible recommendations, including a plan to implement these steps as soon as possible after the audit’s release.
  • Guarantee transparency in Hiring by posting all job vacancies prior to hiring.

Improve poll worker staffing: ($10 million)

The BOE would be required to submit details for an expanded poll worker training curriculum and enhanced recruitment strategy. Once approved, the City will provide funding to:

  • Enhance poll worker training.
  • Increase poll worker salaries.
  • Increase poll workers bonuses for attending multiple election events in one year.

Communicate clearly with voters: ($8.1 million)

Based on collaborative efforts with the City Council to reform the electoral process, the City would require the BOE to provide the City with a timeline and strategy to:

  • Add email and text message notification for voters.
  • Resend everyone voter registration information and conduct coordinated media outreach.
  • Independently review and confirm voter registration information with an outside consultant.
  • Hire professional records manager and records officer.
  • Hire logistics specialist and team to address Election Day issues.
  • Independently review integrity of poll worker training and testing through an outside consultant.
  • Create absentee ballot tracking for voters.
  • Add poll site relocation signage.

In addition, the City will advance State legislation that transfers responsibility of day-to-day operations and personnel decisions from the Board of Elections commissioners to its executive management. This legislation will affirm the Board’s primary responsibility to set policy and appoint executive management. The administration will also begin engaging key stakeholders to examine a broader set of reforms requiring additional State legislation.

The administration has already taken multiple steps to increase participation in the electoral process and reduce barriers to voting. The Mayor issued Directive #1 expanding the requirements for agency-based voter registration, including a requirement that agencies provide assistance in completing voter registration forms if requested, and has worked with the Council to expand the agencies covered by the law. Additionally, the administration is working to expand language-accessible voter registration forms, and is currently implementing a pilot project to provide electric agency-based voter registration.

"We need to overhaul our city's Board of Elections with the staffing, training and equipment needed to run 21st century elections. I appreciate Mayor de Blasio's response to the issues related with the operation of the presidential primary in our borough, including his focus on the need for additional funding to be linked to a commitment for reform," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

"We thank the Mayor for proposing funds in the budget to support some necessary elections reforms – ­including better communication to voters when poll sites are relocated. We look forward to passing a law defining the best practices in the City Council," said Council Member Daniel Garodnick.

"Among the measures proposed today, I'm pleased that the mayor has incorporated my legislation which would provide email and text notifications to voters, including poll site changes and information regarding upcoming primaries and elections. This as well as other measures are needed to make the Board of Elections a more effective agency," said Council Member James Vacca.

“As we saw on primary day, the Board of Elections is in need of a serious update, and I applaud Mayor de Blasio for funding these common sense reforms,” said Council Member Brad Lander. "Every New Yorker needs to know that their vote will count and that our elections will run smoothly. Wide-spread voter disenfranchisement like we saw last week is unacceptable. The reforms suggested by Mayor de Blasio, including merit based (rather than patronage) hiring, better training and clearer communication, will create a Board of Elections New Yorkers can trust again.”

"The Board of Elections is a patronage driven entity, funded by public dollars, that willfully flouts its responsibility to tax payers," said Common Cause/NY Executive Director Susan Lerner. "Common Cause/NY applauds the Mayor for introducing these significant reforms to deliver an efficient system of elections that works for all New Yorkers. Voters should not have to tolerate another election day like the last, and we urge the New York City Board to work with the Mayor and implement these well-thought-out proposals."

"These proposed reforms are important to the larger effort of truly revamping the Board of Elections," said Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. "For too long New York's voters – and immigrant voters – have been disenfranchised by missteps and lack of access. We look forward to working with the Mayor and our other partners to overhaul the BOE to ensure that the right to vote is protected for all New Yorkers."

“It’s now clear that the Board of Elections illegally tossed 126,000 Brooklyn voters from the rolls. That’s disgraceful. In the past, City politicians sought to pass the buck for scandals like this by only pointing to Albany and the state’s election laws. We commend Mayor de Blasio for seeking to address many of the Board’s shortcomings head-on and most importantly, to require a binding agreement that the patronage controlled Board uses these taxpayer funds wisely,” said Neal Rosenstein, Government Reform Coordinator of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

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