Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bloomberg is Right to Fume

Mayor Bloomberg has joined the chorus. Yesterday, the Mayor fumed over the New York City Board of Election's troubling disorganization, just six days before Election Day.

"We keep making suggestions, putting a sample ballot on the Web, they won't do it. What about recruiting poll workers . . . [who] have to have training ... they don't pay any attention to it. What about poll workers from good government groups rather than just political parties? You know, this is an outrage," exclaimed the Mayor.

We couldn't agree more.

Brennan Center surveys in 2003 and in 2006 revealed widespread confusion among Boards of Election in New York about whether a person with a criminal conviction is eligible to vote. Thirty-eight percent of New York's 63 Boards of Election incorrectly responded that individuals on probation cannot vote. A third of the local boards also illegally asked for documentation before allowing persons with criminal convictions to register.

But the New York City boards were among the worst offenders. Three New York City offices—New York County, Queens County, and the New York City Board—incorrectly stated that people on probation are ineligible to vote. In addition, three New York City offices—New York County, Queens County and New York City—improperly required individuals to provide documentation before registering to vote.

This confusion among New York City boards is especially disturbing, considering the majority of people coming out of prison return to the five boroughs. Once the Board of Elections gives an individual the wrong information, it is unlikely he'll follow up a second time to get the right answer and he will be improperly disenfranchised for years, if not for life. In addition, misinformation on felony disenfranchisement spreads through communities, potentially dissuading hundreds of thousands of eligible voters. (and NYC is not alone, as we recently found in the report De Facto Disenfranchisement)

It is the Board of Election's duty to train every election official on the law and registration procedures for all New Yorkers, including those who have spent time in prison. Another solution is to notify people the minute that they leave prison or parole that they are eligible to vote.

Mayor Bloomberg is worried about chaos at the polls on Election Day, and wants the city's election officials to implement changes to reduce disenfranchising voters. In his words, "the public is as badly served by this agency as any city thing or state thing that I've ever seen."

Mr. Mayor, we have a few more things to add to your wish list

New Voting Systems: New York Can't Catch A Break

This won't help New York get new voting systems any faster.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Another Absentee Ballot Error

More than 3,000 absentee ballots were mailed to voters that listed Assemblywoman RoAnn DeStito as a candidate for the Conservative Party instead of the Working Families Party according to a story in Utica's Observer Dispatch.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Times to City BOE: Open Your Books Now

Voters in New York City may face an obstacle course of issues on November 4.

As a New York Times editorial points out today: more than 30,000 voters were purged from the rolls, which raises the questions--when, how and who was dropped in error; because of late mailings to voters, absentee ballots may not be received in time to be postmarked by November 3 in order to count; and new voters may not find their names on the rolls due to a surge in registrations and a backlog of entering data.

As the Times suggests, the city Board of Elections should address these issues immediately and inform the public of the status of each. The unfortunate alternative is the status quo, i.e., silence.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Obama/Osama Is Spellcheck's Fault!

Remember the news that Upstate New York's Rensselaer County mailed a few hundred absentee ballots with the name "Osama" instead of "Obama?"

It was spellcheck's fault! Or, as the Albany Times Union's headline puts it: "Blame the computer for the Obama-Osama goof, officials say."

A report released to the Legislature about the mistake said: ""This error may have been due to a spell-check function on the operating system of the computers utilized by the Board of Elections."

Here's a reasonable question: why rely on a spellcheck program to verify names? How many last names would the most up-to-date software recognize?

While my last name is recognized, most likely due to Casey Stengel, RNY's editor "Larry Norden" would become "Larry Noreen" if spellcheck had its way.

What would your name become?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

10%+ of NY Voters Purged from Roll,
But When and How?

According to a story out today by the ATU's Rick Karlin, 1.6 million named were purged from the voter rolls. To put that in perspective that's more than 10% of total registered voters (using the state Board of Election enrollment figures for March.)

The issue with purges, as detailed in a recent Brennan Center report, is that they're usually done in secret. As the report details tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of voters are wrongly purged around the country; that's scary.

There may be legal issues with New York's purge under the federal National Voter Registration Act and state election law. Basically, systematic purges cannot occur within 90 days on an election. (Tell that to Colorado's Secretary of State who is using the depends-on-your-definition-of-systematic defense for their state's purge that happened within the 90-day period.) Moreover, possible duplicate names shouldn't be removed from the rolls until they are moved to an inactive list and after two federal elections pass.

New York's purge may be entirely lawful, but given the large numbers involved the Board of Elections should immediately explain how and when those names were purged.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Where in the World Is "Osama?"
On Renssselar's Ballot

The Albany Times Union reported this weekend that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's last name was spelled "Osama" on 300 absentee ballots mailed in Rensselaer County last week.

According to the ATU story, a GOP Commissioner admitted that three staff members proof the ballots.

What are the chances of hitting "s" instead of the correct letter "b?" About 4% (or 3.84% to be exact).

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

NYPIRG's Last Chance Voter Reg

With New York's October 10 deadline for voter registration, NYPIRG has deployed more than 200 volunteers at tranist hubs across the city.

Tomorrow at 11am they're holding a press conference about the effort in the Times Square subway station.

Monday, October 06, 2008

1 Down, Still 211 to Go

Last week we posted Assemblyman Micah Kellner's ethics disclosure form and invited members of the state Legislature to send theirs to us too.

As the Observer's Azi Paybareh pointed out, there are 211 members of the Assembly and Senate left. One week later, we're still 1-212.

Friday, October 03, 2008

BC: No Position on Term Limits

From the Brennan Center homepage: The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law takes no official position on term limits. This comes after the NY Times reported today NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg "announced on Thursday he would abandon his earlier opposition to changing the term limits law and seek a third term as mayor, arguing that the economic crisis buffeting the nation called for continuity in municipal leadership." Bloomberg still maintains he supports term limits, despite his announcement to seek a third term. The Times reports that details of the legislation the mayor supports remain unclear, and many Council members are unsure how Bloomberg would alter the term limits law.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Voters Make Sure You're on the List

The state Coalition for Voter Involvement and Fair Elections is on the case of possible voter purges that may have removed people from the rolls in error.

A report released this week from Brennan Center called Voter Purges shows that the process by which people are removed from the polls is far too often done in secret and an inconsistent manner making in difficult, or in some cases, impossible to know how many eligible voters were removed in error.

While the coalition is working on the issue, Bo Lipari shrewdly recommends checking your registration. The state Board of Elections maintains a look up page. Following the steps listed on Bo's post is a good start and idea.