Even A Broken Clock Is Right Twice A Day

by Peter LaVenia

In Wednesday's NY Times, Mayor Bloomberg was quoted as calling for the elimination of the patronage system from the NYC Board of Elections.
"I think the real answer here is: We should reform this system,� he said.It should not be two parties and county leaders picking their buddies to supervise the basis of our citizenship."

We don't have a system for the 21st century, he continued. It's just a disgrace."

Well, duh, Mike. Thanks for acknowledging what the majority of us already know: the patronage system enshrined in our state constitution serves no one well except the Democratic and Republican parties.

Transforming the Board of Elections is a very baseline reform in what needs to be a complete overhaul of how we conduct elections in New York. Those of us interested in expanding grassroots democracy have been saying this for years.

We need a professional organization with a highly trained and competent staff that is, to the best of its ability, fair to all candidates and voters regardless of their party, or lack of party, status. This certainly won't happen until we stop letting the foxes guard the henhouse: as Greens we know very well the BOE has little interest in helping our candidates, and have heard horror stories over the years from candidates and voters.

Some very basic reforms that would have an immediate impact:

  • make all jobs at the BOE civil service positions, at all local and state boards.

  • increase training and pay for election inspectors and employees. For such an important part of our democracy, poll workers are essentially volunteers and rarely compensated well. At worst they are cronies of local parties and involved in voter fraud. Let's professionalize them and eliminate this possibility while increasing responsiveness.

  • Expand polling sites & allow for mail-in, early ballots. Why should we have long lines to vote?

  • Eliminate the registration problem in one fell swoop by declaring all citizens over the age of 18 registered and qualified voters, with the responsibility of the government to keep the lists updated. Think it can't be done? It's the law in Italy (http://aceproject.org/electoral-advice/archive/questions/replies/897208261). If you're a citizen of the United States you already have the de-facto right to vote. Let's enshrine that and remove the cumbersome procedures that discourage citizens from showing up at polling sites.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of electoral reform (proportional representation, IRV, and full public campaign financing, anyone?).

If Mayor Bloomberg's words are going to be anything but hot air - as are the words of most politicians in New York when actual electoral reforms are mentioned - it's going to be up to us to push them into reality.

Peter LaVenia
Secretary, GPNYS