Redistricting Battle Threatens to Leave Election Day in Chaos, Critics Say

By Jill Colvin on March 19, 2012 7:03am 

Experts worry that delays in the redistricting process will result in chaos on ballot day.
Experts worry that delays in the redistricting process will result in chaos on ballot day.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Tara Kyle

CITY HALL — The drawn-out redistricting battle in Albany has paved the way for election day chaos in New York City, critics warn.

As legislators and the courts finally wrap up the bitter fight over how to carve up the state following the latest census count, the city’s already-strained Board of Elections has been struggling to make preparations while voting districts were still in flux.

“I don’t think they will be ready,” said City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who is planning to outline her concerns about the board’s ability to be adequately prepared for the races in a letter addressed to the state’s Board of Elections later this week.

Brewer, who chairs the council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, said she has heard from staffers at the city board concerned about whether they’ll be ready for the petitioning process, which is set to kick off Tuesday, and then the state's primaries, expected to take place June 26.

“Nothing is clear. I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Brewer said.

The once-in-a-decade redistricting process has dragged out for months as legislators battled over how to to re-draw their district lines to reflect population changes tracked in the 2010 census count.

After threatening to veto any partisan lines, Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to sign off on maps that largely benefit the parties that wrote them — the Republicans in the Senate and the Democrats in the Assembly — in exchange for a constitutional amendment intended to improve the process next time around.

Congressional lines are still in the process of being finalized by the courts after lawmakers were deemed incapable of making a deal.

But throughout the heated debates, the clock has been ticking.

In addition to figuring out how to allocate voting machines and where to deploy staff on voting days, the city’s Board of Elections is responsible for determining which candidates appear on which ballots and creating voter rolls that lay out where people vote.

They also typically provide prospective candidates with detailed district maps and voter lists to help them collect the signatures they need to appear on the ballot.

But none of that could begin until the lines are set.

"The candidates and the voters have no idea where the lines will be," said J.C. Polanco, a commissioner of the city’s Board of Elections told DNAinfo last week. He said that staff were under “intense pressure."

"I don’t even know where the election districts will be."

Polanco declined to discuss specifics about what work had been done and the minimum time needed to achieve key tasks. But he said staff had been adequately preparing for a last-minute deal, doing as much of the legwork as they could to have paperwork ready on time.

“They’re working around the clock,” he said of his staff. “We cannot be caught off-guard.”

The board came under intense fire during the last major election when the rollout of new electronic voting machines during the 2010 primary was plagued with problems, including malfunctioning machines, poll workers who failed to show up on time, long voting lines and fears that votes had not be counted.

The incident prompted Mayor Michael Bloomberg to slam the board as "incompetent" and led to the eventual ouster of its executive director, George Gonzalez, one week before the general election.
The board is still without a replacement.

As a result, many doubt the board is capable of being prepared in time.

“It’s going to be chaos," said Baruch College Professor Doug Muzzio, who said the board is “incompetent” under even normal circumstance.

"Will they be ready in time?" he said, “It’s going to be impossible to do."

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement