Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mayor Attacking 'Waste' at Board Of Elections

New York Sun, by GRACE RAUH, July 22, 2008

Mayor Bloomberg is denouncing the city's Board of Elections for using money set aside to implement the Help America Vote Act to pay for salaries and regular budget expenses.

The board "couldn't be more wrong here," he said, calling it a "terribly run organization that should be ashamed of saying exactly what they've done."

"Everybody in this city — every city agency has an obligation to do more with less, and they certainly don't have a record that they should be proud of," he said. "Maybe it is time to do something different."

Mr. Bloomberg's remarks came after a report disclosed that the Board of Elections, which is an independent agency, was using some $20 million set aside for the federal voting requirements for other budgetary purposes.

The mayor said yesterday that the board, which has had a surplus over the past few years, needed to learn how to function with less money from the city.

"That there's no waste and there's no ability to economize is ridiculous," he said.

The board's executive director, Marcus Cederqvist, disputed the city's contention that it is misusing its funding, saying the money the city argues was set aside for compliance with the voting act can be used for anything.

Mr. Cederqvist said the board's budget was cut by about $6.5 million and argued that it did not get any money to hire extra poll workers to help voters use new machines being installed in the city's more than 1,350 polling places. He also said the city's budget set aside $15 million, not $20 million, for the voting act.

"This is the first time we are doing this implementation and it's going to be busy, with the presidential election, as you can imagine," he said. "We wanted dedicated poll workers to man these machines."

The board is using about $6.5 million of the money earmarked for HAVA to hire a public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, to launch a campaign to teach New Yorkers about the new voting machines, Mr. Cederqvist said.

City officials are anticipating that the Board of Elections will draft a letter to the state Board of Elections, outlining its budget complaints.

The dispute between City Hall and the Board of Elections was first reported in the New York Post.

Mr. Bloomberg has called for the board, which is controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties, to be overhauled, but a change would require support from Albany lawmakers.