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Election reforms have 'put a burden' on local boards of elections, state officials say

Dan Clark
New York Now

While New York has worked to expand access to voting and the fair handling of elections in recent years, those changes have put new pressure on boards of elections across the state that weren't set up to handle that shift, state elections officials said Tuesday.

That was part of what the state’s top election administrators told the state Legislature Tuesday in Albany, where lawmakers held a public hearing on the state’s voting and election laws.

“I would be remiss not to note that over the last couple of years, there has been a great change,” said Peter Kosinski, co-chair of the State Board of Elections. “But they’ve really put a burden on our boards.”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, Kosinski said, highlighting that those reforms have made it significantly easier for many New Yorkers to reach the ballot box.

In recent years, New York has implemented a series of reforms aimed at making voting easier, like early voting and the option to cure absentee ballots with errors, but local boards of elections have faced challenges to implement those changes.

That’s partly due to funding for those boards, which elections officials have underscored in recent years. Ahead of last year’s elections, state officials went as far as to suggest that local boards of elections apply for grants in lieu of help from the state.

Some boards of elections across New York haven’t had significant problems with the new reforms, the commissioners said. But others, particularly those with smaller staff, have faced hurdles in complying with the new laws.

“People should understand that our boards are relatively small,” said Anthony Casale, a commissioner of the State Board. “So, when you’re asking these boards to absorb such a large number of changes, you have to appreciate the size of these boards.”

It didn’t help that some of those reforms were implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, the commissioners said.

Sen. Zellnor Myrie, who chairs the Elections Committee, said that, if there are problems with New York’s current way of administering elections — or ways to improve voter access — lawmakers would be looking at ways to address those issues.

“If democracy is the foundation on which the rest of society is built, it is incumbent on us , those who write the laws, and incumbent on those who administer the laws, that that foundation is sound,” Myrie said.

Myrie’s planning to take the testimony heard at Tuesday’s hearing, and others he’s held around the state in recent weeks, and introduce new legislation to build on New York’s current voting and election laws.

That legislation won’t be considered until January, when lawmakers are scheduled to return to Albany for the legislative session.

Dan Clark is the host and producer of New York NOW, a weekly television show focusing on state government produced by WMHT in Albany. Clark has been reporting on New York state government and politics for the last six years, during which time he's worked out of the state Capitol in Albany. Clark reported for the national political fact-checking publication PolitiFact, the Buffalo News, the statewide political television show Capital Tonight, and most recently the New York Law Journal. At the New York Law Journal, Clark has focused on state legal challenges to President Donald Trump, as well as litigation concerning laws enacted by the New York State Legislature. Clark covered the Legislature in each role he's held and is a familiar face to state lawmakers and staff. Clark is a native of Afton, NY in Chenango County. He's lived in Albany with his husband since 2011.