A Poll Watcher’s Tale

| 02 Jul 2021 | 01:09

End of school story - It was nice to see the staff and faculty of the Loyola School enjoying some down time at Dylan Murphy’s pub on a late afternoon early last month as they said their summer farewells at the close of the school year. With masks at the ready, they stood, sat, raised their glasses, and shared heaps of nachos, chicken wings and sliders all in Dylan Murphy’s outdoor structure on 3rd Ave near 82nd St. And the sudden torrential rains didn’t slow it down.

Ballot Brouhaha - The Board of Elections takes front and center once again. And for reasons known and unknown, they’re never good. With new ranked voting on the ballot and new digs for the BOE, now located in Hudson Yards, I thought I’d sit in and see how it all worked. In order to do that, you have to be a poll watcher or a journalist. Both require credentials and I came to poll watch for District 5 City Council Candidate Tricia Shimamura. So with a Poll Watcher Certificate, I was seated at a table where the 73rd and 76th AD votes were being counted. It didn’t take long for me to see that poll watching wasn’t my strong suit. I went to another table and was assisted in my tally count by Erica Vladimer, an attorney and advocate, who was at the BOE on behalf of Borough Prez candidate Mark Levine.

I followed up with Erica to get her view of the new election process. She said she wasn’t surprised that the primary election inundated the week’s news cycle and said it was also no surprise that the negligently underfunded and unprofessionalized NYC Board of Elections made headlines in the city’s inaugural ranked-choice-voting election after mistakenly factoring in approximately 135,000 “dummy” votes into their calculations. Although 24 hours later they allegedly fixed this issue, and re-ran the ranked choice calculations, she said the results released the following day were not only unofficial, they were also incomplete with more than 125,000 absentee ballots yet to be factored into the first round of ballot counting.

And, she noted, that if history has taught us anything, it’s that absentee ballots can make or break an electoral outcome. “Even NYS election law points to the importance of absentee ballots, allowing campaign representatives,” as we were doing on the day before the actual count, “to observe bi-partisan pairs of BOE staff open up absentee ballot envelopes and quickly scan ballots for any invalidating defects” with some voters being afforded the opportunity to “cure” their ballot of a disqualifying defect. In fact, she said, “not only will the BOE notify a voter of this opportunity, but campaigns can also reach out to voters whose ballots need to be cured.” Vladimer opines that, “If elected officials and campaigns go to such great lengths to ensure the validity of absentee ballots, why would the BOE calculate and publicly release any election results without them? It’s difficult to rely on the transparency argument when real transparency would include preliminary ranked-choice votes on election night. But the BOE only released first-rank preliminary and followed it up with wholly botched calculations. Absolute transparency also includes following standard open-meeting laws, which the BOE failed to do when they held a secret meeting on Wednesday [the day after the count] to discuss the botched count. More so, the recent amendments to state law around absentee ballots resulted from massive flaws that disenfranchised thousands of mail-in ballots last year.”

As never before, absentee ballots can no longer be given short shrift and treated as an afterthought, or as Vladimer says, be “an asterisk on preliminary vote counts.” And there’s hope. State Senator Zellnor Myrie, Chair of the Elections Committee, is committed to holding public hearings on statutory election reform and ways to encourage New Yorkers to participate in elections.

That all came out of my experience as a poll watcher. The journalist part of me was intrigued by the BOE’s being on the same floor as Amazon at Brookfield Properties building at 450 West 33rd St.