After a slew of problems plagued September's state and local primary elections (yes, those happened) City Councilwoman Gale Brewer introduced new legislation at a hearing yesterday intended to make things run a little smoother for next month's presidential election. Of course, no law is mighty enough to put an end to idiocy at the US Postal service—at yesterday's hearing it emerged that some voters weren't informed about their polling place changing addresses because a postal worker had simply dumped the notices in his locker. All that and more below!
Brewer and other council members like Jessica Lappin and Jumaane Williams said they were hounded by complaints from constituents—shuffled poll sites! Tiny ballot font! Low voter turnout!—with many elderly and disabled voters finding themselves forced to travel long distances from one poll site to another due to redistricting. In response, the council members crafted several pieces of legislation, including a law that would require the Board of Elections to send email notifications to registered voters who sign up for them, a law requiring voter registration forms to be given to parents who are enrolling their children in school, and a law expanding the City's Voter Guide so voters are more informed about contests on local and state election ballots (the teensy 7 point type on many Brooklyn and Manhattan ballots has since been enlarged).
"The government has a responsibility to try to maximize the potential of voters coming out and registering," Council Member Williams, who sponsored a bill requiring the BOE to provide voter registration forms to New Yorkers seeking city services, said. "For whatever reason, we're definitely not maximizing, and it seems like we're doing the minimal amount."
Representatives from the BOE were on hand to respond to the Council, noting that they were working hard to solve voter issues and had already made progress despite tight budget constraints. "Our current dedicated staff of three is insufficient to meet the ongoing need," said Dawn Sandow, the BOE's deputy executive director, said. "The upcoming post-presidential election period requires this Board to complete many significant tasks. In order to meet our current obligations, the Board has and will continue to incur significant overtime expenses while pushing our dedicated staff to their limits." (Queens City Council Member and noted Holocaust poetry revisionist Dan Halloran promised to purchase iPads for BOE polling places in the future).
Sandow also said that the BOE had been implementing new technology providing poll site information online, and that an extra mailing notice would be sent out informing registered voters of polling place changes right before the general election. She pointed out that the BOE had sent out notices informing voters of poll site changes prior to the primary and was investigating issues with delivery, including one case in which a USPS mail carrier had been found with 186 missing poll site change notices in his locker. "[The USPS] said they feel that they can not prosecute because it has nothing to do with drugs," Sandow said.
And while citizen groups the NYCLU and League of Women Voters testified in support of the Council's legislature, some individuals noted some of the proposals might be problematic in the future: "The Board of Elections has enough trouble keeping voters' mailing addresses up to date," Edith Prentiss of the advocate group Disabled in Action said. "How do you think they're going to do with email addresses?" New York State polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on November 6; make sure to check your registered polling place at the BOE website before heading out to vote.