• 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.
• 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.
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.
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.
Gerald Benjamin.“The Board of Elections: Is It Time to Restructure?”
Decision 1997: Constitutional Change in New York, Gerald Benjamin and Henrik Dullea (ed.)
Task Force on Election Modernization: Voting in New York in the 21st Century (2002)
Nonpartisan Election Administration: Model Legislation for the States (July, 2009)
– Linda Wharton, Professor of Political Science, Stockton University, from “STATE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENTS REVISITED: EVALUATING THEIR EFFECTIVENESS IN ADVANCING PROTECTION AGAINST SEX DISCRIMINATION”