The Board of Elections Blames the Mayor
September 29th, 2010

Two weeks ago, after the primary, Mayor Michael Bloomberg accused the city Board of Elections of a royal screw-up in its handling of the first city election using new voting technology. With New Yorkers complaining about polling places opening late and machines that did not work, Bloomberg did not mince words.

“Sometimes you sit there and you say, ‘Could it possibly get any worse?’ And then you look at our Board of Elections, and, yes it can,” Bloomberg told reporters. “What happened is a disgrace and it never should have happened.”

Today at a State Senate committee hearing, the board had a chance to fire back — and it did — aiming at the mayor himself for not giving the board the money it needed to make the transition.

“There is no cheap way to run an election,” Commissioner J.R. Polanco told the senators at the downtown Manhattan hearing. He said the board had asked for $16 million to conduct public education on the new system but received $10 million less.

Executive director George Gonzalez said the board repeatedly told the city the switch would be “a challenge under any circumstances,” but, he continued, it was made worse “by a lack of adequate funding” — a shortfall he calculated at some $19 million overall. He said, the board figured it needed — and still needs –102 new staff, including 23 voting machine technicians. The city, he said, instead reduced staff by six.

“It is clear that the voters of this city received what their elected officials were willing to pay for,” Gonzalez said. Despite that he pledged, “November will definitely be better.”
Pressed by Sen. Daniel Squadron as to whether all the problem — delays in equipment, poll sites that didn’t open on time and so on — could be blamed on funding Gonzalez held his ground, growing combative.

“You have to pay for this,” he said. “People didn’t see that. … I’m hindered because I dont have the staff. Let me do my job and at the end of the day, you’ll be proud.”

The mayor and the board, which is independent, long have had a contentious relationship.

In 2008, when the board used money from the Help America Vote Act to pay regular expenses, Bloomberg assailed it as a “terribly run organization” adding ” they certainly don’t have a record that they should be proud of.”

Later than same year, he charged, “The public is as badly served by this agency as any city thing or state thing that Ive ever seen.”

With the dispute showing no sign of abating, state election commissioner Douglas Kellner, co chair of the state Board of Elections, called for a truce. The board, he said, “should do more to mend the rift with the mayor’s office,” such as making its data on voting problems available to the administration.

As for the mayor, Kellner criticized him for blaming delays in the opening of some polling places o the elections board when they were due to police not showing up on time at the site and school custodians not being on hand to open buildings early in the morning. “It would,” Kellner said, “helpful for the mayor to build some trust.”

By on September 29, 2010, 9:02 pm
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