“Please mute the background," said one Board of Elections member.
“Mr. Schley, we’re having a little bit of a technical issue. It seems that the people in the waiting room have been imported into the meeting," said another simultaneously.
It was a new approach to an age-old process.
The city Board of Elections is adjusting to the time of coronavirus by holding hearings virtually.
But the matter at hand is petition challenges, the inherently political means of booting opponents from the ballot over often-trivial violations.
“No objection. — Hearing none, the motion carries. Candidate will not appear on the ballot," said a board of elections member.
That was the ruling for Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, whose petition cover sheet was filed late.
The Manhattan Democrat’s campaign says she’s challenging the decision in court and also working to get on the general-election ballot as an independent.
But government watchdogs say the process more typically benefits party-backed incumbents, those looking to remove challengers from the vote.
“I think that it’s ridiculous that both the candidates and the workers at the Board of Elections have to risk sickness and endanger others for a process that has no benefit to democracy whatsoever," said Susan Lerner, executive director, Common Cause New York.
At least 10 Board of Elections workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least two have died.
They’re considered essential workers and many have been processing ballot-access challenges.
This Board of Elections employee signed a petition to close the offices until the June 23rd primaries, or at least until it’s safe to work.
She mourns the two colleagues who died at her Queens office.
“I know these people like the back of my hand, and I’m home and I get this bad news," Cynthia Pyne said. "You don’t really how bad this issue is until somebody that you know personally passes away.”
The Bronx activist who started the petition calling condemned having workers process ballot-access challenges.
“This is not essential work, knocking people off ballots," Roxanne Delgado said. "In fact, it’s against democracy.”
The Board of Elections has said it has reduced staff to meet its legal and statutory needs and allowed those over 60 to work from home.
Its shift to remote hearings is another step to keep people safe.
Manhattan Democratic Party leader Keith Wright called elections workers heroes and noted that they have even more work ahead with expanded absentee balloting, early voting and potentially, mail-in voting.
“It’s going to be even more arduous, even more perilous for the Board of Elections administration and those people that work there," he said.