New York’s Missing Votes

As the churning focus of the Democratic presidential primary campaign has moved on from New York and back west across the country, there’s some unfinished business here in the city that calls out for an investigation conducted by Governor Eliot Spitzer or Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Reporting by The New York Times has shown wide discrepancies between votes reported publicly on primary night and the actual tallies in many districts in New York City.

The discrepancies are not minor: In 80 districts, initial election night figures indicated that Barack Obama did not receive a single vote. And several of those districts are in areas of Harlem and Brooklyn with significant African-American populations, where the prospect of zero votes being cast for Mr. Obama is profoundly unlikely.

The city’s ongoing review of the primary night results bears this out: In the 94th Election District in Harlem, primary night returns showed Hillary Clinton beating Mr. Obama 141 to 0. Election officials now say the vote was actually 261 to 136. In a Brooklyn district, a review of Mrs. Clinton’s primary-night victory of 118 to 0 is showing the actual numbers to be 118 to 116.

The Times reports, too, that in a handful of districts, Mrs. Clinton was shown having received zero votes. In other words, both candidates were ill-served by New York’s voting system. Once the city’s returns have been corrected, it’s even possible the delegate count from New York will shift slightly.

These sorts of discrepancies are precisely what cause voters to lose faith that their votes matter, and end up depressing turnout on Election Day. A vigorous investigation by the governor or attorney general is needed to demand accountability. The board of elections is currently operated as a relic, serving the interests of party leaders. The city’s voting machines are over 50 years old, predating scanners and touch screens, and it’s almost impossible to get replacement parts when they break down. Shockingly, buying a lottery ticket in this state is a smoother and more modern process than voting: Computers are located in proximity to all neighborhoods. Voting, meanwhile, is done with manual machines and in a restricted number of polling places, and with absolutely no assurance of quality in counting the votes.

After completing an investigation into the recent Democratic primary discrepancies, Governor Spitzer should pioneer the modernization of the state’s entire system of registration and voting, deploying modern information technology for record keeping, recording votes, and totaling them. What’s the point of having a democratic system if we don’t have the competency to use it?

New York’s Missing Votes