Despite the historic results, the 2018 midterm election will be remembered by many New Yorkers for the miserable voting experience caused by a two-page, perforated ballot; rain and humidity; and aging electronic ballot scanners that largely failed to keep up with the high voter turnout and additional ballots. And now it turns out that the head of New York City's Board of Elections has been taking trips on the scanner company's dime—and he apparently failed to properly disclose those jaunts.
NY1 reports that NYC has paid Election Systems and Software, which makes the DS200 scanning machine used in NYC elections, $43 million since 2009. And in the wake of last month's Election Day fiasco, NYC Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan has defended the scanners, which experienced widespread malfunctions throughout Election Day, causing long lines at some locations. "We only had to replace about 56 scanners citywide which is a relatively low number," Ryan said in an interview, though that number does not take into account the undisclosed number of on-site repairs that were needed.
Asked why some 1,000 additional ballot scanners were not even deployed on Election Day, Ryan said, "Getting hung up on the hyper-technical, ‘100 scanners here, 200 scanners there’ is not the appropriate direction for this conversation. The appropriate direction for this conversation is, ‘how do we, in a spirit of professionalism and collegiality, work to make this system better together."
Now NY1 has revealed that Ryan has been on multiple trips paid for by ES&S:
Since 2014, ES&S has paid for Ryan to go to at least nine so-called conferences all across the country. It's part of Ryan's role as a member of a secretive advisory board for ES&S, something it calls the "National Customer Advisory Board." Ryan was invited to join it in 2013...
This all means a major contractor for Ryan's agency is paying for him to fly across the country, stay in posh hotels, and bankroll fancy dinners.
In 2014, he went to Omaha, Nebraska, where ES&S is headquartered, as well as Buffalo. In February 2015, Ryan went to Tucson, Arizona as part of this so-called advisory board. Just six months later, he was off again to Omaha. In 2016, it was Fort Lauderdale in Florida. A few months later, the board was hosting Ryan right here in New York City. In 2017, ES&S paid for Ryan to go to Las Vegas; later that year, it was back to Omaha. This year, Ryan went to Charleston, South Carolina.
When NY1 asked Ryan how many trips he had been on, he replied, "I don't recall off the top of my head. Some years it's been two. Some years it's been one. I think last year it was none." NY1 found that there were actually two trips in 2017.
Ryan says he received permission for the paid trips, but NY1 "checked with the city's Conflicts of Interest Board, and Ryan actually never got the required waiver, which is needed if someone takes an advisory position with a company that does business with the city." The station also found that Ryan has been "filing inaccurate annual disclosure forms with the city's Conflicts of Interest Board"; for instance, he didn't mention trips to Arizona, or Florida, or South Carolina.
After the election, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson had said Ryan should resign:
Every election is like Groundhog Day: long lines, polling site issues, huge problems. Now we’re blaming the weather? It’s unacceptable & unfair to voters. Michael Ryan should resign & we should begin a top to bottom review of how this happened. It’s time for new leadership at BOE https://t.co/nxl5swtCeb
— Corey Johnson (@CoreyinNYC) November 6, 2018
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause, said that Ryan must go, calling his presence on ES&S's board and acceptance of paid trips an "outrageous conflict of interest."