Wednesday in Brooklyn, the state Senate will hold the first in a series of hearings about the experiences and challenges faced by New York voters. No doubt the witnesses will testify to the notorious dysfunction at the city’s Board of Elections, which has disenfranchised thousands of New Yorkers and demoralized many more. For years, city and state leaders have channeled the public’s deep frustration with the agency, initiating investigations, lawsuits and partial reforms.
Yet the pattern of fiascos continues. Last month, the agency failed to exclude approximately 135,000 test ballots before announcing an early vote count for the mayoral primary. It’s time to stop this problem where it starts: the board’s very structure, which makes it resistant to public accountability, even for its most serious failures.
Some suggest that bold structural change can’t happen without altering the state Constitution, a process that requires passage by two consecutive legislatures and a ballot referendum. But state legislators have other options. As a forthcoming Brennan Center report will detail, the Legislature can make important changes to the Board to create public accountability, improve leadership, and mandate best practices in election administration. A constitutional change may still be in order, but these more immediate reforms would go a long way toward curing what ails this agency.
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