The Hits Keep Coming: NYCBOE Criticized for Election Day Overstaffing


[Image courtesy of nydailynews]

Few things in the field of election news are more entertaining than the long-running war between the New York City Board of Elections (NYCBOE) and the New York Daily News.

The latest salvo comes in response to a report by the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI) that NYCBOE overstaffed polling places in the low-turnout 2011 election to the tune of $2.5 million dollars. Here’s the Daily News:

The Board of Elections wasted nearly $2.5 million by ignoring recommendations that it reduce staffing for the low-turnout 2011 election, according to a blistering report Monday by the city Department of Investigation.

With a paltry voter turnout of 3.9%, the city averaged one poll worker for every six voters, the report charged. At 12 poll sites, election workers actually outnumbered voters.

Moreover, it’s not like the low turnout was a surprise; DOI flagged the issue before Election Day, as did the newspaper. But NYCBOE went ahead, with astonishing results:

A mere 169,000 of the city’s 4.4 million registered voters showed up. The election cost taxpayers $5.6 million — or nearly $2.5 million more than was needed, the DOI charged.

According to the DOI report, at one poll site, in the Rockaways in Queens at the Services for the UnderServed building, 13 staffers handled a grand total of nine voters all day. At Intermediate School 71 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 30 voters showed up and were greeted by 40 assigned poll workers. At Civil Court in lower Manhattan, 18 assigned poll workers managed to handle 17 voters.

What makes this story especially interesting is the NYCBOE’s explanation for the staffing levels: on-the-job training for election workers: “J.C. Polanco, the board’s Bronx Republican commissioner, defended the decision, telling the DOI that anything less than full staffing would be ‘malpractice’ given the opportunity to ‘practice’ on new machines.”

DOI was unimpressed:

“Fully staffing all polling sites in the face of such low voter turnout is a costly way to do training,” DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn said Monday. “The (Board of Elections) should not use a low-turnout election to train its staff without first doing the math.”

Neither is the Daily News. From an editorial (“Told Ya So”) accompanying the story:

The city’s Democratic and Republican bosses name the board’s commissioners. All jobs at the board, including poll workers, are divided by party organizations.

That’s why the board went ahead with paying everyone — not because the board saw a chance to train its staff in using electronic vote scanners, as Bronx Republican Commissioner J.C. Polanco continues to insist with a straight face.

It is a fact that for many jurisdictions, pollworkers get their first real experience with machines on Election Day, despite the efforts to recruit and train them in advance. But it’s hard to believe that the time spent on a low-turnout election did very much to prepare the NYCBOE and its workers for what will be a busy 2013.

If nothing else, NYCBOE has probably forfeited the right to use the “lack of training” excuse if anything goes wrong this year. But you can bet the Daily News hopes they try.

Stay tuned!

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