While the city primary elections are four months away, the New York City Board of Elections has already sounded the alarm that it will not be able to implement a run-off election with the procedures required for the new voting machines that were put into place in 2010. State law requires that a run-off election occur between the top two finishers two weeks after the primary for citywide offices (mayor, public advocate and comptroller) if no candidate receives 40 percent of the vote.
The new procedures following the passage of the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, require more time for the printing of paper ballots, the testing of scanners to read the ballots, and transportation of the machines to and from the poll sites. Even with the old lever machines, the top two candidates for a run-off were sometimes not known until days before the run-off. The already tight schedule has been exacerbated by the new voting machines.
Some good government groups are recommending the state legislature pass Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) to replace the separate run-off election. With IRV, voters rank candidates from first to last based on preference. The process starts by the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Ballots assigned to eliminated candidate are recounted and assigned to one of the remaining candidates based on the next preference on each ballot. This process continues until one candidate wins by obtaining more than half the votes.
Another option besides IRV includes extending by a week to three-weeks the timing of the run-off election. Other less favorable options include using the old lever machines, pre-printing all possible ballots in advance, using ballots with “candidate A” and “candidate B” as placeholders for actual candidates made known through a separate card given to voters at the poll.
State Senator Marty Golden has sponsored a bill, and the Senate passed it, that would require the New York City Board of Elections to bring back the old-fashioned lever machines.
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said there were no plans to take up the Assembly bill and passed a Senate bill allowing for three weeks between the primary and a runoff, which the SEnate feels should be sufficient to reprogram the new machines.
But using lever machines brings many legal problems like: No required paper trail, not ADA compliant, not HAVA or state approved, and not able to display all the new approved languages. There is also the need to get the run-off ballots to overseas and military voters. And finally, many of the lever machines in storage need mechanical repair that will require the expense of cannibalizing machines for parts and finding technicians who know how to fix them and a printer for the lever ballots.
NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote!
Michael H. Drucker
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