NEW YORK - Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed major reforms to the Board of Elections on Wednesday. The announcement comes five days into early voting in New York City and one day after de Blasio waited in line for hours to cast his vote at a polling site in Brooklyn.
“I felt the passion of the people that I was with who cared so much they would stand in line no matter what to vote,” he said. “They were positive. They were supporting each other. They were determined to vote—that's the good news. The bad news is for all of us. It was an extraordinarily frustrating experience to be in the line for hours.”
Early voting began on Saturday and polling sites across the city experienced hours-long lines that sometimes wrapped around several blocks. The mayor said that the entire early voting experience has been contradictory to its purpose.
“The whole idea was to make it easier for people,” he said. “And be ready to make it a positive experience, and that's what we did not see from the Board of Elections.”
The mayor’s first proposal is a change that could take place immediately. He encouraged lawmakers in Albany to pass a state senate bill that would professionalize the Board of Elections. It would give more power to the executive director to run the board more effectively.
The second proposal would change the structure of the board to operate more like the Campaign Finance Board, which is nonpartisan. This move would require approval by the state legislature and governor to change the model while staying within the constraints of the state constitution, which calls for representation from both political parties.
“A model that we can look at here is our Campaign Finance Board,” he said. “It is not perfect—I’ll be the first to say.” He went on to explain: “We can also say it is a modern professional organization. It is not patronage-based.”
The Campaign Finance Board is composed of a board of leaders that makes decisions and a nonpartisan staff that executes those decisions.
The last proposal is a more fundamental change which is a New York State constitutional amendment. Instead of a system that requires representation and leadership from political parties, which de Blasio called “a broken system,” he called for a system that does not rely on party affiliation as a decisive factor in who staffs and runs the board.
“We need profound change ahead of next year’s mayoral election,” he said. “This is going to be a crucial election. We expect very high turnout. We can’t experience what we’ve been experiencing here.”
He pointed to issues in the past including voters’ names incorrectly taken off of the rolls, the frustration people have when trying to figure out the location of their polling location and the long lines.
“Let’s face it, the fundamental problem is the Board of Elections,” he said. “The Board of Elections structure simply doesn't work. It’s arcane. It’s from literally another century.”