Friday, November 5, 2004

New York Votes, With Difficulty

New York Times Editorial, November 5, 2004

New York City's local election results were bereft of suspense this year, with candidates from John Kerry to state legislators rolling up local landslides. That was fortunate because the city's system - both its human and machine components - could never handle a close election.

Across the city's five boroughs, there were complaints about broken machines, ill-trained workers and lines that were hours long. Callers who simply needed to know where they should vote could not get through to the Board of Elections, and the board's shamefully underdeveloped Web site continues to be of little help. In addition, the board didn't distinguish itself in the weeks leading up to the election. There's enough anecdotal evidence to show that its handling of registrations and absentee ballots was chaotic.

The greatest frustrations may have been with the antiquated machinery, 40-year-old hulks that are finally to be replaced by 2006. While new machines may offer other complications, we hope that they'll be more dependable: 5 percent of the ones in use now regularly break down. On Tuesday, that problem was further complicated by unprepared poll workers, some of whom did not even know how to substitute paper ballots or - at least at one site - where to find them. The voters who hung in there deserve credit for tenacity.

Both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council speaker, Gifford Miller, have angrily demanded improvements by next year, when both are expected to run for mayor. A good start would be better preparation for poll workers; some of them still show up without attending a single training session. But the entire structure of the Board of Elections, a panel of political appointees selected by county leaders, needs reform. Since the board's executive director, John Ravitz, has been effusive in his praise of how the system worked, fixing the mess will clearly mean looking elsewhere.

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