The head of the city Board of Elections slammed Chancellor Richard Carranza Friday, saying the schools boss blindsided him with objections to using 20 schools and nine child care facilities as early voting sites for nine days leading up to the Nov. 3 general election.
Elections executive director Michael Ryan said his staff had been working “very closely” with Department of Education officials for months about the designation of early voting sites amid the coronavirus pandemic and “no one told us there was a problem.”
Ryan said he was taken aback by a Sept. 11 letter he received from Carranza and Dept. of Youth and Community Development Commissioner Bill Chong, who told him the 29 designated sites could not be used and demanded the BOE “must find alternative sites” because of COVID-19 safety concerns.
“I’ll also say I have a phone that works and getting a phone call instead of a letter may have been a better way to have that initial conversation,” a clearly miffed Ryan said during a City Council hearing.
Ryan suggested that Carranza and Chong flunked Common Sense 101, noting that 15 of the 20 schools used as early voting sites during the June 23 primary election had entrances that went directly to the room used as a poll site and therefore did not disrupt school operations.
Ryan said it’s too late to change the sites and insisted the 29 school and child care sites must be used.
“We cannot conduct early voting in the way we want to — while maintaining social distancing and providing many convenient locations for folks to vote — without these 29 sites,” Ryan said.
He said it’s “past time” to “move along.”
Unlike during early voting — at select sites from Oct. 24 through Nov. 1 — all public schools are closed on Nov. 3 Election Day so use of the facilities as poll sites is not a problem on that day.
In the letter, Carranza and Chong said “these sites were presented extremely late, with no opportunity for feedback from the Department of Education.”
“Similarly, during last year’s general election, the City Board of Elections selected early voting sites behind closed doors. Although we worked diligently to make sure early voting ran smoothly during school instruction, it was ultimately very disruptive for students, faculty, and our school communities,” the said.
“The Administration and Department of Education have been very clear that continuing to use schools as early voting sites while school is in session is not realistic moving forward. It is even more critical this fall when we are tasked with ensuring that social distancing is maintained during in-school learning and that our schools are safe for students and staff.
“At present, asking the Department of Education to shoulder the responsibility of hosting early voting while trying to educate children during a pandemic is unacceptable and not operationally feasible,” the educators maintained.
In other matters, Ryan said he expects more than 1 million city residents will apply to receive a mail-in ballot for the Nov. 3 election. More than 520,000 absentee ballots are already being sent to voters who requested one.
State election officials are bracing for as many as 5 million absentee ballots — and government watchdog groups are concerned whether the city BOE and other local election agencies will be prepared for the onslaught, such as counting an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots in a timely manner.
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is being pressured to cough up $50 million to help with election administration, has offered to assign the National Guard to assist at polling sites.
The city elections agency mailed out 775,000 absentee ballots for the June 23 primary and 326,000 were received and counted. But 23 percent of the mail-in ballots were disqualified because of defects, including failing to provide a signature and post-mark snafus that triggered a federal lawsuit alleging voter disenfranchisement.
A recently approved state law allows for voters to correct such defects, which should reduce the number of invalidated ballots.
New York Post
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