'No Guarantee' City Can Handle Run-off as Scheduled, Election Officials Testify

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A potential run-off in citywide elections this year could be a disaster, elections officials told the City Council Thursday. Board of Elections officials also argued that chronic underfunding is partially to blame for some of the recent problems at city polls.

Even though the Board of Elections last week voted to adopt a run-off plan, the officials continued to express concerns that the current primary schedule does not give it adequate time for a potential run-off election with new voter machines. Election officials have pushed for the city primary to be moved up to June to allow more adequate time to prepare and test ballots, but that requires a change in state law, and Albany hasn’t budged.

Without a change in state law, the board is planning to test every possible run-off ballot ahead of time.

Still, the board's Pamela Perkins emphasized during a council budget hearing that the issue is not resolved, and the board is not sure whether the voting machines will run smoothly, or if the board will have adequate time to turn around after a September 24 run-off to prepare for the November general election.

“The options that this board put together are options that we are hoping will make a run-off possible, which means, there's no guarantee,” Pamela Perkins, the Board of Election’s administrative manager told the Government Operations Committee. “There’s no guarantee we’re going to make this date.”

Even so, council members seemed resigned to the idea that state legislators won't alter the primary schedule.  "I could have told you that a long time ago," Upper West Side Council member Gale Brewer said.

The board also complained that it's been chronically underfunded at a time when it’s been adjusting to new technology and running numerous separate elections for city, state and federal offices. The board asked the council for $62.5 million more than the mayor’s budget proposed, including $3.5 million to pay for 104 full-time positions it had previously requested that weren’t funded.

Those positions would have made a difference, Perkins testified. “City government, having not acted on this request, shares in the responsibility for some of the less than expected performances in recent elections."

Council members also got a look at the new voter information kiosks that the board has built into the massive metal shells of the old voter machines. The board said it will take $15 million to equip the city's 1,256 polling sites with two kiosks each. The portals will also allow poll workers to upload returns on-site, which could decrease delays in reporting after polls close.

"It's gorgeous!" Councilwoman Brewer exclaimed as board staff started a demonstration of using the touch screen for voters to look up their polling locations.

"It looks expensive,” Councilman Dan Halloran, a Republican, quipped in return, noting that he was very worried about the $6,000 per kiosk cost. “We’re scraping to get you the $3.5 million to get you the people you need.”

He added, though, that he does have some nostalgia for the hulking lever machines.

“These new voting machines, I will still say for the record, I think suck,” Councilman Halloran said. “The lever machines are something I wish for as we sit here.”