Quantcast

Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union
Loading

CITY

City

800 Absentee Ballots Not Delivered to Board of Elections for 2017 Vote


voting booths
(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


In April, the New York City Board of Elections received a late delivery of 1,077 pieces of mail from the United States Postal Service, including what turned out to be 828 absentee ballots cast in the 2017 municipal elections. Of those, the BOE found 533 valid absentee ballots never counted, effectively disenfranchising hundreds of voters through no fault of their own, all of whom were attempting to vote in Brooklyn.

The postal service’s failure was “egregious,” BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan said at a public meeting of the board’s commissioners on Tuesday. “It’s not something that has been brought to my attention in my almost five years as executive director,” Ryan said. “It seems to be an anomaly and we are thankful that the U.S. Post Office has taken responsibility for their failure to deliver the mail as they were required to do.”

According to Ryan, the board received a trove of correspondence in April, including the 828 absentee ballots that had been filled and mailed in by people registered to vote in Brooklyn. Many of the ballots, 295 to be exact, had been postmarked after November 7, the date of the general election, or had illegible or missing postmarks, which meant they would have never been counted. For a ballot to be valid, it had to have been marked before midnight on Election Day and would have to be received by the board no later than seven days after the election.

“In any event that leaves us with 533 individuals who timely delivered their ballot to the post office and for whom the post office did not timely deliver the ballot to the Board of Elections,” Ryan said.

The BOE, which has faced withering criticism for its own failures in election and ballot management in the past, seems blameless in this particular situation. And though the USPS conceded its guilt in an official letter to the BOE, officials offered no plausible explanation of why the hundreds of ballots were simply set aside at a processing facility in Brooklyn for five months before being discovered and subsequently delivered. “They were all first class pieces of mail. So the Board of Elections was under no obligation whatsoever to pick any of that mail up from the facility. It was and remained the Post Office’s responsibility to deliver the mail to us,” Ryan said.

Many of the ballots, he noted, came from university towns such as Rochester and Ithaca, likely meaning they were cast by college students who hailed from the borough. They were also spread out across the borough, meaning they were unlikely to have had a significant effect on any one race. “Not that it made it appreciably better, but if it was something that occurred across the board and didn’t disproportionately impact one district over another, that was certainly better than a circumstance of having them all be concentrated in one area and then potentially cause the outcome of an election to be questioned or reconsidered,” Ryan said.

The 2017 general election in the city included races for the three citywide seats, including mayor, as well as the borough president positions and all of the seats on the City Council. Of those, there was only one remotely close general election for voters in Brooklyn, for City Council in the 43rd district, where Democrat Justin Brannan won by 794 votes.

Ryan insisted that he received assurances the postal service would avoid repeating its mistake and will correspond directly with the BOE’s central and borough offices.

“My conclusion is that the Brooklyn borough staff [of the BOE] did everything that they could possibly do to service the voters in this respect and this happens to be a mistake by the U.S. Post Office,” Ryan said. It was clear that Ryan was sensitive to how blame might be apportioned, particularly since the Brooklyn office was responsible for illegally purging thousands of voters from the rolls in 2016. He also said that, though it was not required, the BOE would in the future send staff to local post offices to pick up bulk mail deliveries during peak election time.

For those whose ballots were not delivered, the BOE will send out individual mailers to inform them that their vote did not count, Ryan said, and their individual voting record will also show scanned copies of their returned envelopes and the post office’s letter of explanation.

“Unfortunately under these circumstances there is nothing the Board of Elections could have done any differently,” he said.

***
by Samar Khurshid & Caitlin Bishop

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Mayoral Charter Revision Commission Announces Preliminary Agenda


img 5961

The charter revision commission meets (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission announced its initial areas of focus on Thursday, hewing closely to the mayor’s mandate that the members look at campaign finance and electoral reforms as they review the city’s governing document.

The commission homed in on its preliminary agenda after public hearings across the city in the last two months where the commissioners heard from elected officials, various advocacy groups, and members of the public in each borough. They also sought insight from city officials and heads of agencies.

In a resolution passed at Thursday’s meeting, the commission decided to delve deeper into a few broad areas: voter participation and measures to improve elections, including instant runoff voting; reforms to the city’s campaign finance system; fair representation in city government, particularly through independent redistricting of City Council districts; and strengthening civic engagement, including through exploring the role of community boards.

Over the next month, the commission plans to convene three hearings with subject matter experts to testify and participate in panel discussions on the preliminary agenda, even as it continues to drill down on the hundreds of recommendations made in the last few weeks to find areas of broader public interest.

Commission Chair Cesar Perales acknowledged early on in the Thursday meeting, held at the Pratt Institute in Manhattan, that the commission has a tight deadline for its work since its proposals are to go to the voters on the ballot in November, meaning they must be in to the Board of Elections in early September. He speculated that the commission may have to hold a fourth issue-focused hearing.

“Maybe on further analysis, we might find that there’s another issue that we ought to be focusing on, because the comments keep coming,” he said.

Matt Gewolb, executive director of the commission, echoed that sentiment. He said the initial agenda had been derived from more than 400 recommendations made by more than 100 people at the various hearings, on social media, through phone calls, and even snail mail to the commission’s office. But he noted that the agenda was not just limited to the issues approved on Thursday. “While these themes have emerged as most central, we continue to systematically review and consider each and every comment received by the commission,” he said.

In particular, Gewolb said the commission is still analyzing testimony around land use issues, which he said has emerged as an area of interest both in public testimony and for particular commissioners. For instance, at some hearings, people have recommended that community boards should have a greater voice in the city’s land use review procedure and that their role in those decisions should be more than just advisory.

“As neighborhoods are fighting back against gentrification, is this part of the impetus for wanting to review land use?,” wondered Commissioner Una Clarke, a former City Council Member from Brooklyn.

Perales agreed that it was an important aspect of the conversation. “I take that as a recommendation that when we, and I think we should but we haven’t made that decision yet, when we make land use part of our expert analysis and discussion, that we include not just facilitating development or building but that we also look at the issue of gentrification,” he said.

Wendy Weiser, another commissioner, suggested that land use be discussed in the same vein as the role of community boards and fostering civic engagement, “because that will be one of the main issues that people will want to get involved in in their communities that might bring them to participate.”

Land use also seemed to be a priority for Carlo Scissura, secretary of the commission, who is also president and CEO of the New York Building Congress. He emphasized that the commission should do “something separate on it,” possibly at one of the expert panels in June.

Commissioners raised various other questions and issues. Scissura brought up nonpartisan elections, which Gewolb said needs more review. Commissioner Kyle Bragg, secretary-treasurer of labor union 32BJ SEIU, said the commission could also look at representation in community boards and, separately, the structure and functions of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which examines complaints about police misconduct.

“I’m scared to death of having 42 expert hearings,” Perales said as he prepared to close the hearing. “I’m going to force staff to see if they can do this in a manageable way so that we can get expert counsel and advice on as many issues as possible. And If they have to eliminate some issues, it’ll have to be those that were not raised very often. We have to be guided by what the community said they were interested in.”

The first subject matter hearing is set for June 14. Following those hearings, the commission will release a report of its preliminary recommendations and will again put those to the public with another round of hearings in all the boroughs.

The commission’s final recommendations are due by September 7.

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

City Council Considers Requiring More Reporting on Required Reporting


City Council Cabrera Vallone

CMs Cabrera, left, and Vallone (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


How does the New York City Council check city government agencies without legislating agency operations, which it sometimes does not have the power to do? Reporting bills.

The Council often passes legislation that requires an agency under the direction of the mayor to produce a report, like Local Law 47, which compels the NYPD to compile data on subway fare-beating arrests. This bill, and the NYPD’s response, quickly became another flash point in tensions between city agencies and the Council, which has mandated oversight responsibilities along with its legislative powers.

The intention behind the bulk of reporting bills -- which, like other legislation passed by the Council, are typically signed into law by the mayor -- is more transparency into agencies that then allows both the public and Council members additional insight into government function, effectiveness, and efficiency, and indications of operational or budgetary reforms that may be needed. But, reporting bills can also be onerous, requiring valuable resources at city agencies mandated to compile information, and there are questions about how often required reports are even produced or used by the Council.

Now, a new bill at the Council is aimed at bringing additional oversight and transparency to the totality of required reporting -- but that bill itself is the source of disagreement. A recent hearing on the bill, which is sponsored by City Council Member Fernando Cabrera and would add new requirements for an online database of all required reports, saw discussion of the bill as well as the practice of passing reporting bills. The bill would add new information about when reports are due and put public pressure on city agencies to produce required reports.

According to the listing for the bill on the Council website, the bill would require the city’s Department of Records and Information Services, “which is currently required to receive and post all reports required to be produced by local law or executive order on its website, to list all required reports, when they were last received and when they are next due.” It would also require DORIS to send a request “to any agency that does not transmit a required report, and would require the posting of such request on the website in lieu of the required report until such report is received.”

At the April 26 hearing, representatives of the mayor’s office and the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS) testified in opposition to the bill, which also received a lukewarm public reception from some City Council members.

The bill currently has the sponsorship of only Council Member Cabrera, who chairs the Committee on Governmental Operations, which held the hearing, at which other Council members voiced concerns over the Council’s tendency to pass reporting laws and whether or not such laws do more to inundate agencies than substantially help the Council or the public.

If enacted, the bill -- known as Intro. 828 -- would enhance the DORIS-run digital database of reports required by local laws, executive orders, or mayoral directives. Currently, DORIS maintains the Government Publications Portal; however, the scope of this portal is limited by a mandatory keyword search engine as well as the fact that it lacks some of the most recent reports from city agencies. For example, the portal does not provide any reports from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) past the year 2014, despite reports being published as recently as this year.

Additionally, other recent reports by agencies such as the Department of Buildings, including those on gas utility risks or construction safety, or the Department of Criminal Justice, such as annual reports on jail population or crime rates, are similarly not accessible through the current portal.

DORIS and the Mayor’s Office of Operations cited unnecessary burden and premature planning as to why the bill should not be passed.

“With the continuous addition of legislated reports required of city agencies, we recognize the need to ensure strong administrative practices to support agency compliance,” said Emily Newman, the acting director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, at the hearing last month. “However, we do not believe that Intro. 828 identifies the most effective approach and that it is not in the city’s best interest to mandate a new process in advance of any relevant recommendations of the Report and Advisory Board Review Commission.”

The Report and Advisory Board Review Commission, which reviews reporting requirements and assesses the usefulness of such reports, among other objectives, was set to reconvene this month. The last time the commission met was in 2012, despite the city charter mandating that it has annual public meetings.

“Intro. 828, as drafted, includes requirements that would be onerous for DORIS to undertake in real-time,” Pauline Toole, the DORIS commissioner, said at the City Council hearing. “Some agencies submit reports on a weekly basis, some monthly, some quarterly, and updating the list for each submission would require extensive resources and, ultimately, not provide the public with a worthwhile service.” Toole said DORIS currently updates the site on a “regular basis.”

Toole also cited an increase in the number of reports submitted to the government publications portal, where over 21,000 reports have been submitted to the current DORIS portal today, a jump from 7,000 reports submitted in 2014.

Both Toole and Newman reaffirmed a desire to work on another possible solution in concert with the City Council in order to update the accessibility of all governmental reports online. Meanwhile, other concerns were additionally raised by Council members.

“I am as big on transparency as anything, but when we make demands out of agencies to do their jobs in other ways, I do worry that we are adding in so much onto them that is unfunded,” Council Member Keith Powers said at the hearing. “You know, we don’t fund new staff for that.”

Council Member Kalman Yeger also raised the concern of finances by considering what the potential savings would be if DORIS had a smaller annual quota for reports it must make available, which, according to Toole, currently stands at about 400 reports per year. “I’m curious to know how much we can save the taxpayers if we perhaps were to stop legislating the various agencies of this city to prepare information that is probably readily available by simply asking the agency to give the information out,” Yeger said at the hearing.

Alex Camarda, a senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, a government reform group focused on increased transparency, testified in support of the bill at the hearing – albeit, with some tweaks.

While the bill currently says that DORIS would send a letter of request of transmission to agencies ten days prior to a report’s deadline, and subsequently post that request on the website until the actual report is submitted, Camarda suggested that such a letter should be sent at the beginning of the fiscal year and that a seperate column listing all the agencies that did not yet transmit a report be created. Other proposed amendments to the bill include identifying which part of the charter administrative code requires the report as well as providing a brief summary of the report in the online database.

“We think government generally needs to move away from providing information that’s locked in static PDF reports and report data in an open, usable and dynamic form,” said Camarda.

Council Member Cabrera’s office did not respond to multiple requests to discuss the hearing and any modifications that he might consider making to the bill.

***
by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.



Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice


Gotham Gazette: Max & Murphy Podcast: Attorney General Candidate Zephyr Teachout Max & Murphy Podcast: Attorney General Candidate Zephyr Teachout Gotham Gazette: De Blasio 'Jails to Jobs' Program Launches De Blasio 'Jails to Jobs' Program Launches Gotham Gazette: New York Democrats' Season of Choosing New York Democrats' Season of Choosing Gotham Gazette: Bill to Create Prosecutorial Misconduct Commission Awaits Cuomo Decision Bill to Create Prosecutorial Misconduct Commission Awaits Cuomo Decision


Comments
Comment(s)

The comments section is provided as a free service to our readers. Gotham Gazette's editors reserve the right to delete any comments. Some reasons why comments might get deleted: inappropriate or offensive content, off-topic remarks or spam.