Why do the political parties have a stranglehold on the Board of Elections?
In 1892, New York Governor Pettibone Roswell Flower noted that “the mere fact that election [administrators] are divided equally among the two great parties adds not an iota to the honesty of the elections.”  (Decision 1997: Constitutional Change in New York, Gerald Benjamin and Henrik Dullea (ed.)).

• Our election administration that manages the existing system is inefficient, corrupt and toothless.

• Written in 1894, back in the days of political machines, New York’s Constitution is one of only two in the country that enshrines the top two political parties in control of the state, city and local boards of election (Illinois is the other). This creates a large number of patronage jobs for the parties and helps prevent third parties or insurgent candidates from winning.

•Perhaps worst of all, all the boards have an even number of members, so the boards immediately deadlock on any difficult or political decisions. In this structure, no one person is responsible for the success or failure of election management, and everyone involved is free to pass the buck.

• As Dr. Gerald Benjamin of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz has written:

In New York a constitutional amendment is needed if reform is to be achieved.  One model for an alternative approach has been proposed by the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University.  If adopted, it would create a nonpartisan state election commission and the post of independent chief state elections officer, acceptable to all parties but not representative of any one of them, to oversee and manage elections.

• This would get the parties out of managing elections, eliminate patronage and waste, and empower a leader who would be responsible for election management.

What do you think?

• According to The New York Times, New York’s Board of Elections created a gigantic loophole when it decided limited liability companies were no different from people when it came to campaign donations. Corporations are limited to political donations of $5,000 a year, but LLCs can donate $60,800 a year to any statewide candidate, just like individuals.

This has led to major donators creating a series of LLCs to donate theoretically unlimited amounts of money to a campaign. The Board of Elections could simply reverse that decision, but in April 2015, the Board split 2/2 on the issue (2 Republicans voting to keep the loophole v. 2 Democrats voting to end it.) With no way to resolve an even split, the loophole remains.

• The New York State Board of Elections has issues only five formal opinions since 1990.

Read More

Suffrage (Language from the 1894 Amendment)
[Bi-partisan registration and election boards]
§8. All laws creating, regulating or affecting boards or officers charged with the duty of qualifying voters, or of distributing ballots to voters, or of receiving, recording or counting votes at elections, shall secure equal representation of the two political parties which, at the general election next preceding that for which such boards or officers are to serve, cast the highest and the next highest number of votes. All such boards and officers shall be appointed or elected in such manner, and upon the nomination of such representatives of said parties respectively, as the legislature may direct. Existing laws on this subject shall continue until the legislature shall otherwise provide. This section shall not apply to town, or village elections. (Formerly §6. Renumbered and amended by Constitutional Convention of 1938 and approved by vote of the people November 8, 1938; further amended by vote of the people November 7, 1995.)

As Professor Gerald Benjamin wrote, “One leading scholar has concluded that: “[e]mployees of election boards are closely tied to and dependent upon dominant politicians and political parties. These boards of elections are in fact,” he continues, “vestiges of the state’s fabled political machines… [L]ike the corpus of election law they are mandated to implement, …[they]…essentially function as an extension of the party system.” (Elections and Election Management in New York, Gerald Benjamin (ed)).

Read More

New York is one of nine states that constitutionally specifies a method for election administration. The others are Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Vermont, West Virginia and Virginia.  Of these, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Vermont and West Virginia give this duty to an elected Secretary of State; in Texas a Secretary of State appointed by the Governor (with no legislative advice and consent) is responsible.

Read More

The Board of Elections: Is It Time to Restructure?” by Gerald Benjamin.

California Fair Practices Commission

Comparative Election Administration: Can We Learn Anything From the Australian Electoral Commission?” by Kenneth R. Mayer, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Decision 1997: Constitutional Change in New York, Gerald Benjamin and Henrik Dullea (ed.)

Elections and Election Management in New York, Gerald Benjamin (ed),N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Everyone Is Angry at the New York City Board of Elections,” by Jillian Jorgensen, Observer, April 25, 2016.

Formal Opinions: New York State Board of Elections” Office of the Special Counsel, New York Board of Elections.

George W. Bush vs. Al Gore, 15 years later: We really did inaugurate the wrong guy,” by Edward Foley, Salon, December 19, 2015.

Jeb Bush’s Elephant in the Room: Role in Bush v. Gore Recount,” by Robert Weiner and Daniel Wallace, The Des Moines Register, April 16, 2015.

New York Needs Election Reform Now” Citizen Union, 2009.

Nonpartisan Election Administration: Model Legislation for the States,” July, 2009.

Task Force on Election Modernization: Voting in New York in the 21st Century, 2002.

Voting in California,” Ballotpedia.

Walker Signs Bills Scrapping State Elections Board, Overhauling Campaign Finance Rules,” by John K. Wilson and Shawn Johnson, WPR, December 16, 2015.

What? There’s a Nonpartisan Way to Run Elections!?”, by Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, September 24, 2012.