Should the 2 Political Parties Control the Board of Elections?


• Election administration as outlined in our state constitution is inefficient, corrupt and toothless.
• Written 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 suggested, the current board of elections should be replaced with a nonpartisan state election commission and independent election administrator.
• This would get the parties out of managing elections, eliminate patronage and waste, and empower a leader who would be responsible for election management.
• A system as described above, much like the one that already exists in California, would help ensure the highest standards for New York elections.

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.
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Suffrage (Language from the 1894 Amendment)
Bi-partisan registration and election boards
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.

Unlike most states, which use elected officials or professionals to oversee elections, New York has a constitutional mandate to let the major political parties run our Boards of Elections.

Since the 1894 amendment, the New York State Constitution has required that state and local elections be administrated by boards on which the two political parties receiving the most and next most votes in the immediately preceding election (i.e. the Democrats and Republicans).

In accord with the statute implementing this constitutional requirement, the New York Board of Elections has four members appointed by the governor, one each designated by the state party chairs of each of the major parties and one each nominated together by the leaders in both legislative houses of the two major parties. By law, the nominees of the legislative leaders must serve as co-chairs of the Board.
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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.

Virginia’s constitution makes no provision for a state election board: it calls for three-member city and county election boards, with representation assured for the two major parties. Only New York has a constitutional provision that specifies the use of a board at both the state and local levels to oversee election administration.
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Elections and Election Management in New York, Gerald Benjamin (ed). The Oxford Handbook of New York State Government and Politics (N.Y.: Oxford University Press).

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

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

Paule Gronke. “Public Opinion and election Reform: Valence Issues vs. Choice Issues”

“Comparative Election Administration: Can We Learn Anything From the Australian Electoral Commission?” Kenneth R. Mayer

Task Force on Election Modernization: Voting in New York in the 21st Century (2002)

Nonpartisan Election Administration: Model Legislation for the States (July, 2009)

“New York Needs Election Reform Now” (2009), Citizen Union

EXPERT OPINION: “In light of serious inadequacies in the protection offered by the Federal Constitution, state ERAs remain important legal tools for combating sex discrimination. Indeed, especially in this age of new judicial federalism, in which many state courts are interpreting state constitutions as independent, and often broader, sources of protection for individual liberties, state ERAs provide the potential for a more broadly-based framework of sex discrimination jurisprudence that goes well beyond the protection afforded under the Federal Constitution.”