Officials, residents highlight needed reforms, challenges in election system

Aug 5, 2021

New York State Senators Samra Brouk (right),  Zellnor Myrie (center) and Edward A. Rath III (left) of the select committee on elections listen to public comment at the Monroe County Office Building.
Credit James Brown / WXXI News

A public hearing, sponsored by State Sen. Samra Brouk, was held at the Monroe County Office Building Thursday. Brouk sits on the New York State Senate’s Elections Committee; the hearing brought some to speak on challenges to the current election system.

Among the speakers was Justin Young, representing the New York chapter of the National Federation for the Blind. He is seeking more options for blind voters like remote ballot marking devices and delivery systems. These systems are often tablet-based and some states and municipalities integrate them with voting systems. 

“We want to make sure that blind voters, and voters with print disabilities can vote privately, securely and make sure that their voices are being heard like everyone else in New York state,” said Young. 

Young would also like to see poll workers trained on what to expect when working with a blind or disabled voter.

Judith Hunter, chair of the Rural Democratic Conference of New York state, objected to the removal of political parties from control of the board of elections in counties; Democrats and Republicans split control of each board in the state. She said removing that check could lead to abuse from either political party.

“If you did not have a mandated, bipartisan personnel structure, you would in fact have a partisan one,” said Hunter. “Whatever party dominated would be able to appoint the personnel and you would not have the checks and balances that the mirrored system of the two political parties offer.”

Every elections commissioner who spoke Thursday agreed with Hunter. Another point of agreement among the elections commissioners was on state mandates and the costs they incur. Democratic Elections Commissioner Jackie Ortiz said those costs should be covered by the state. 

“There are real costs that are associated with these reforms which means that every piece of legislation

National Federation for the Blind's Justin Young
Credit James Brown / WXXI News

that comes our way shouldn’t continue to say: no budgetary impact,” said Ortiz.

In particular, Ortiz took exception to New York’s new automatic recount rule which required the Monroe County Board of Elections to recount seven races by hand last month. The law requires that for all races that are won by 0.5% or 20 votes. 

The board recounted the ballots by machine in about a day. Then, Monroe County Judge candidate Van White filed suit and the board counted them by hand. Ortiz said it took 18 workers about a week and a half to come to the same results.

“There’s no way that the antiquated process of essentially using hundreds of paper grids, pens, tally tick marks, and transposing hundreds of sheets to a master tally sheet is somehow the gold standard for counting ballots,” Ortiz continued. “We trust and believe that the public wants nothing more than accurate counts and processes that don’t squander taxpayer dollars. We humbly request that the law be amended.”