ELECTION COMMISSIONERS’ ASSOCIATION OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK: OBSTACLES FACED IN 2020
New York’s Board of Elections (BOE) Commissioners and our staff-members are dedicated public servants, duty sworn to administer free and fair elections, and our work this year was nothing short of miraculous. In our selected careers, we endeavor to make elections better in New York for the 13 million voters we serve in each of our respective counties. Working together with lawmakers and advocacy groups we can forge an improved election system that makes sure the needs of voters, candidates, and parties are equally considered with full transparency while strengthening our bi-partisan system. We must build upon the many successes of 2020 while identifying and resolving inadequacies, reform laws that need fixing, provide comprehensive and standardized training and persuade our state and local lawmakers that adequate funding is essential to the public’s confidence in our democratic system.
As BOEs headed into 2020, we expected this Presidential cycle would be difficult, but nobody could’ve predicted the year that will go down in the history books. We prepared to hold 3 different elections; anticipated intense campaigning with overwhelming turnout, limited resources, and increasing rhetoric about the integrity of elections that were arguably “not helpful”. Then in March as the specter of COVID-19 started to appear, like every facet of our daily lives, the election world was turned on its head. The already challenging election season became a perilous race filled with ever changing obstacles, last-minute Executive Orders, weekly rule changes and now a life-threatening environment for Election Day workers and officials deemed essential whom didn’t have the option of staying home.
Throughout the entire season, Boards of Elections equally represented by both major parties rose to meet these challenges and deserve support as we continue to face hurdles in 2021. It is always an Election year for us.
Hindsight is 20/20 therefore it is helpful to remember all the obstacles that we faced in the year 2020:
- Petition process that enables ballot access was abruptly cut short.
- The Presidential election scheduled for April was moved, then cancelled, then reinstated.
- A host of special elections were moved and then cancelled.
- County budgets that fund BOEs went dry.
- Primary Elections became hybrids of federal and local contests for a system designed to hold one election at a time.
- Training and recruiting election inspectors during a raging pandemic proved to be nearly impossible.
- Absentee Ballot use rose by over 400% not only creating a fiscal burden but also staffing requirements on our infrastructure designed for in-person voting.
- Polling sites refusing to open their doors and those who did had to be re-imagined for the implementation of “social distancing”.
All these obstacles were met and largely overcome despite record turnout, the ever-changing goal posts and local governments facing bankruptcy. Voters were provided safe and reasonable voting options through absentee voting, Election Day voting and Early Voting with significantly more sites offered above the minimum established by the statute. Republican and Democratic Commissioners alike provided assurances to voters and candidates that the election results, though painstakingly methodical, are accurate. No election is perfect, and we must learn from the challenges these obstacles provided, pray that 2020 is an isolated anomaly and adapt. The answers though do not point to a radical redesign of the very election system that met the herculean challenges of 2020. Working to strengthen BOEs while identifying areas that need to be improved is the best way forward for New York.
We urge the State legislature to provide adequate funding to the State BOE to meet the ever-increasing responsibilities that have been assigned to it over the last few years. We must analyze and revise our laws accordingly to provide standardization and a uniform fix to administering elections during times of local, national and worldwide strife. Finally, we must provide resources to County Board of Elections so they can adequately comply with their mandates while enabling Commissioners to fulfill their oaths of office and insulate them from partisan retribution for faithfully carrying out their duties.
Dustin M. Czarny, Democratic Caucus Chair, Commissioner Onondaga County (D)
Erik J. Haight, Republican Caucus Chair, Commissioner Dutchess County (R)