State officials in New York should institute changes at local elections boards that would overhaul ethics requirements, root out patronage and professionally train election workers, the New York State Bar Association recommended on Monday in a report on democracy and voting rights.
The bar association is the latest organization to call for changes to local elections boards as efforts to "professionalize" the administration of elections have stalled in Albany over the last several years.
Election oversight on the local level is performed by boards that have Republican and Democratic appointees. In some areas, those officials are political figures themselves, either party officials or elected officeholders.
Local elections officials and their ability to administer elections have come under scrutiny for years. Election boards can be rife with political appointees not qualified for their posts, and those arrangements have been blamed whenever problems arise.
But those making calls for changes believe the stakes are now higher.
The bar association is making its recommendations against the backdrop of false claims by former President Donald Trump and his supporters that the 2020 election was stolen. Making the changes, they argue, is integral to showing democracy works.
“Make no mistake that the right to vote in America is under attack,” said NYSBA President Sherry Levin Wallach. “While the problems voters face in New York are not the same as those encountered by residents of Georgia, we still have much work to do to make our elections work for the people, and not against them.”
An 11-page report released by the group outlined a package of proposed changes, including banning the participation of election workers in partisan events and requiring officials to take an oath pledging to not use their position to sway the outcome of the election.
The report was also released as Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday approved a package of measures meant to bar discrimination at the ballot box and enable the state attorney general's office to review claims of voter disenfranchisement.
“This report represents a clear pathway for New York to modernize and professionalize its election infrastructure,” said Jerry Goldfeder, a longtime election lawyer who helped make the recommendations and chairs the group's democracy task force. “The vote in America is sacred. Our legislature should continue its work in reforming our election laws and procedures.”