Echoes of A Board of Elections Past

The New York Times’ editorial board asks why New York City can’t count votes. (Photo: NY1)

The Board of Elections will soon begin counting paper absentee and affidavit ballots this morning, taking another step in resolving the race between Congressman Charlie Rangel and State Senator Adriano Espaillat. At the same time, Mr. Espaillat’s lawsuit to open up the process and have a judge evaluate Election Day “irregularities” will proceed at the New York State Supreme Court. And despite all the tension and drama, New Yorkers have seen this show before.

For example, one of the Espaillat campaign’s chief complaints is that 79 precincts were reported with zero votes cast in last Tuesday’s Democratic primary, which the Board of Elections blamed on police officers and local inspectors rather than a flawed system. Mayor Michael Bloomberg subsequently blasted the board as “the most easily corruptible” in the world, with editorial boards weighing in with their own criticism as well.

And if one were to replace then-Senator Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s names with Mr. Espaillat and Mr. Rangel, this story from the 2008 election would basically be identical to the current excitement:

The board was criticized after unofficial vote tallies undercounted Mr. Obama’s performance in New York, showing him winning zero votes in about 80 election districts. The undercount prompted Mayor Bloomberg to allege vote “fraud.”

A spokeswoman for the board, Valerie Vazquez-Rivera, said an investigation found that inspectors in 35 election districts were responsible for the error showing Mr. Obama winning no votes, and that members of the police department, who help tally the votes on election night, were responsible for the error in 20 election districts.

The city’s Board of Elections is one of the patronage relics of a past era, where political parties still hand out key positions and the count is tabulated by hand. And it shows.

Or, as The New York Times‘ Michael Powell put it, “The board’s incompetence … is well established.”

“There is broken, and maddening, and politically wired, not to mention patronage-encrusted,” he wrote. “Then there is the New York City Board of Elections, which manages to ball all of those into a wildly dysfunctional planet.”

Echoes of A Board of Elections Past