From the Right: New York election boards mired in patronage

Writing 48 hours before the polls open in New York, I am devoting this pre-election column to describing my anxiety about the ability of election boards to properly tally the results.

As a conservative commentator on 1010 WINS after the second presidential debate, I voiced my concerns about the possibility of an absentee ballot counting crisis in New York. I pointed out that I was confident the U.S. Post Office would deliver the mail-in-ballots but had little faith in the abilities of Board of Elections political appointees to handle properly the increased volume throughout the entire state.

I’m worried because county election boards are best known for being populated with political hacks. The fact is, when political bosses can’t find jobs for party faithful in village, town, city or county governments, they dump them in Board of Elections offices.

New York election law permits county leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties to appoint local election commissioners and scores of their minions. This means that in Nassau County, GOP boss Joe Cairo, and Democratic boss Jay Jacobs appoint loyal lieutenants to the top jobs that pay six-figure salaries and recommend people to lower level jobs.

For example, in the 1980s, then Democratic County leader John W. Matthews appointed himself election commissioner. He also received a government car. Why did the commissioner need a car paid for by taxpayers? Got me. It’s not as though there are emergency elections the chief must rush to.

In 2017, days after Hempstead’s Republican Town Supervisor Anthony Santino lost re-election to Democrat Laura Gillen he was rewarded for failure. He was named to an administrative assistant job at the Board of Elections that paid $160,000 annually.

When Newsday asked Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, about the Santino appointment, he replied, “It’s business as usual.”

Political cronyism at the county Board of Elections is pandemic, especially in New York City.

In 1940, a government investigation concluded the city boards were afflicted with “illegality, inefficiency, laxity and waste.”

And since then little has changed.

A 2013 report issued by New York City’s Department of Investigation noted that in the five borough offices, 10 percent of employees were related to one another and found “illegalities, misconduct, and antiquated operations.”

As for the current cronyism problem, The New York Times recently reported a long list of relatives of public officials who have patronage jobs at the Board of Elections.

“It’s like being in line at a concert,” said one former employee who received her job through a City Council member. “People just get swept in.”

The Times article noted that the Board of Elections “is chronically dysfunctional” and “has a culture where ineptitude is common and accountability is rare.”

It is not unusual for staffers to show up late, punch in and go shopping or to watch Netflix on their computers, The Times said.

Pervasive incompetence may help explain the disgraceful Election Board antics in recent years which included the improper purging of 200,000 voters from the New York City registration rolls.

As for this year, The Times has reported that the city Board of Elections “failed to mail out many absentee ballots until the day before the [June] primary, disenfranchising voters, and sent erroneous general election ballot packages to many other residents, spreading confusion….”

Counting absentee ballots after the low turnout primary took over a month in Manhattan’s 12th Congressional District represented by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney.  One can only imagine how long it will take in a general election with voter turnout that could break 70 percent.

While Biden will likely carry New York by a very wide margin, delays in vote tabulations may not matter as much as it will in the tightly contested states of Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Michigan. Nevertheless, that does not excuse the astounding incompetence of Boards of Elections employees throughout the Empire State.

But whatever happens on Election Day, don’t expect pols to rush back to Albany to implement reforms.

They will continue to tolerate the “semi-functioning anachronism” because protecting the patronage jobs of their family members, friends and political sidekicks is the first priority of the political class.

In other words, expect “business as usual.”

About the author

George J Marlin

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