Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
The NYC Board of Elections is setting aside its 20th century reporting techniques in favor of something more modern. The board unanimously approved a plan on Tuesday to streamline how it reports results on election night — opting to take advantage of the technology that already exists in the new voting machines.
The new process will allow the board to tabulate unofficial election night returns using memory sticks, technically called portable memory devices or PMDs, in the new voting machines. The PMDs would be removed from the machines at the end of the night and taken back to police precincts where the data would be uploaded and reported to the press and the public.
Even though the new optical scanner voting machines have always been equipped with this technology, the board tallies the votes in a manual way — think paper and pencil — based on its interpretation of state election law.
The old process involved printing strips of paper from each voting machine, which, cutting the paper by election district; compiling the strips by election district for each race; adding up the results; writing the results on a tally sheet; providing the sheets to police officers stationed at poll sites; bringing the tally sheets to police precincts; typing the results in to police precinct computers; and transmitting the results to the press.
On June 26, that process led to several election districts reporting 0 returns in the heated primary race between Congressman Charles Rangel and his closest competitor, State Senator Adriano Espaillat. In reality, hundreds of votes were cast in those districts and it took more than ten days to certify the results.
Bronx Commissioner J.C. Polanco, who proposed changing the current process at last week’s NYC BOE meeting, applauded the Board for approving the new process.
“We’ve eliminated the reality of human error,” Polanco said. “New Yorkers are going to feel much more confident that the numbers they get on election night, those preliminary tallies will closely reflect the certified numbers at the end of the day.”
The new process was widely supported by good government groups including Citizens’ Union, which submit a legal justification to the board for why it could change its process under current election law, arguing in essence that the law offered the city options.
That legal argument was shared by the New York State Board of Elections, represented at the meeting by Doug Kellner, a co-chair of the State Board and a former New York City Board of Elections Commissioner.
“The state law does provide an alternative for those boards that have electronic voting machines to use the electronic output for the initial report to the press,” Kellner said. “Obviously that’s going to be a lot faster and more accurate than doing it by hand the way the city board does it now.”