The responsibilities of the New York City Board of Elections are fairly straightforward: conduct elections, maintain voter rolls, and perform voter outreach.

Critics say it has failed at all three.

"It is making it harder for people to vote, not easier," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "It is part of the problem. It must change."

De Blasio, like mayors before him, has long called for an overhaul of the agency, which has as much to do with political patronage as professional pedigree.

The board of commissioners consists of 10 members: two from each borough, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, recommended by party bosses and confirmed by the City Council. The board, in turn, appoints the agency's more than 1,000 staff members. That includes the executive director, currently Mike Ryan, who's taken heat for Tuesday's debacle, and his explanations for it:


But reform has been hard to come by. The city funds the agency's budget, which totaled $143 million last year, and its staff members are city employees. Yet, the mayor has little say over the board, which is a creation of state law — a law that dates back to the 1890s. The idea of letting Democrats and Republicans split responsibility was to prevent any one party from fixing elections.

Instead, critics argue, the agency has become a patronage mill, where jobs are filled based not on merit, but on party loyalty or nepotism. A 2013 report from the city's Department of Investigation found that at least 69 employees, and likely many more, were related. That was close to 10 percent of the workforce.

"This is an arcane institution," de Blasio said. "It must be changed once and for all."