[Image courtesy of nydailynews / Christie Farriella]
One of the longest-running sagas on this blog – New York’s inability to adapt its election calendar to the requirements of federal laws on military and overseas voting – just got another chapter.
With New York City-wide elections for Mayor, Public Advocate and Controller looming later this year, the Legislature’s failure to decide what to do about the state’s September primary has the City Board of Elections – still recovering from Hurricane Sandy and already deeply challenged in an uneventful election – facing a real crunch on the calendar. From a recent Daily News editorial:
Voters enrolled in the two major parties will select their mayoral candidates through primary elections scheduled for September. They will also choose their horses for public advocate and controller at the same time.
To win nomination, candidates for those offices must score at least 40% of the vote. If no contender breaks the barrier, the two top primary finishers will go head-to-head in a runoff election two weeks later.
Then, party standard-bearers will compete in November.
The problem is that the compressed schedule leaves the City Board of Elections little time – and no room for error:
[T]he vote scanners cannot process three elections in the span of eight weeks, let alone two contests in two weeks.
Programing, testing and certifying the 3,643 machines to be used on Election Day takes more than a week. Hapless as it is, the Board of Elections should be able to get the scanners ready for the Sept. 10 primary.
But then will come the task of counting votes. The scanners can spit out instant results, but those are acceptable only when candidates are separated by wide margins. Close races require a hand count of paper ballots that can take weeks.
Then comes the work of recalibrating the machines for the next election.
The initial solution, as discussed on this blog numerous times, has been to move the primary earlier in order to give voters at home and abroad (as well as the Board of Elections) time to manage multiple elections. That effort has failed to date.
What’s interesting is that the Daily News’ solution to this old problem involves even older technology; namely, bringing back the City’s lever machines:
Let’s get it done right. Let’s take a break from electronic ballot scanners. Let’s press the old, tried-and-true mechanical voting machines back into service …
The old lever machines are sitting in a Brooklyn warehouse, protected from dust by plastic covers. Wheel them out and run the elections just the way the city did for decades.
I’m guessing it isn’t quite that simple; I have no idea in what shape the lever machines are, nor whether the Board of Elections still has the capacity to deliver the units to polling places across the City. The editorial does point out that lever machines were abandoned as a result of the Help America Vote Act, which only covers federal elections, but I’m not sure that’s enough to bring the machines out of mothballs.
Still, the situation is a vivid reminder of what can happen when policymakers can’t, or won’t, address the need to update procedures in the wake of changing circumstances. The Daily News’ frustration with the City’s elections is long-running and justified, but I’m not convinced that a “once and future lever” policy is the way to go in 2013.