Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
City Board of Elections Mulls Lever Machines for Upcoming Vote
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
The New York City Board of Elections isn't ruling out bringing back the old lever voting machines (PDF) if the dates for the upcoming primary and runoff elections remain unchanged. It's just one of several options to account for a snafu with the new electronic voting machines.
The Board has said repeatedly that it can't run a primary election on September 10 and then turn around and hold a run-off two weeks later using the electronic machines because of all the time it takes to tally the votes, determine the top candidates, print ballots and test the machines.
A runoff applies to city-wide races and gets triggered when no single candidate gets more than 40 percent of the vote. That's something that becomes increasingly likely when there's a crowded field of candidates, like the race for mayor. So if the dates don't change, the Board is exploring contingency plans.
BOE president Fred Umane says bringing back those lever machines is a remote possibility.
"We have them. We’ve kept them just for emergencies so it might be something that ultimately could happen, but it’s unlikely," Umane said.
The BOE is also studying something called instant runoff voting, where a voter would pick their first and second choice at the same time. Right now the scanners aren't equipped to read that kind of ballot, so that would mean counting those second choices by hand.
Another option is using ballots that don't actually have the candidates name of them — just letters A and B. Then for the runoff, voters would take a guide into the privacy booth that would explain which letter corresponds with which candidate (note: see the full list of options on page 3 of the minutes below). Any of these options would require state approval.
The BOE has had problems executing elections of all sizes in the last year. In the low turnout June congressional primary, a narrow contest in upper Manhattan and the Bronx proved to be counting challenge and led the BOE to change their election night closing procedures, moving to use the memory sticks from the voting machines to report unofficial election night returns.
After the 2012 general election, the BOE also struggled to finalize the count, in part, because Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order on the eve of Election Day that permitted any voter in counties impacted by Sandy to vote by affidavit ballot at any poll site.
The BOE is also experiencing a shake up of its membership after Republican City Council members decided to take advantage of a section of election law that allows them to replace county commissioners if the party leader does not submit their name for Council approval within a certain number of days at the start of the year. There is a total of 10 commissioners - two from each borough by party. So far, the Republican commissioners from Brooklyn and Queens have been replaced; the status of the commissioners from Manhattan and the Bronx is unclear.