You want to breed mistrust and lack of confidence in your election system?
Conduct it in secret.
Want the citizens to believe an election is being conducted fairly and competently?
Let the public know what’s happening all the way through the process.
New York, believe it or not (that’s sarcasm), is not fully transparent when it comes its election process, most notably the process of counting and announcing the results of absentee ballots.
A recent Associated Press story, complemented by our own reporting, spotlighted the issue of New York being one of the only states that doesn’t reveal ongoing tallies as ballots are being counted.
That practice often leaves candidates, the media and the public in the dark about how an election is going until the final tallies are released.
The problem became particularly evident this year as a record 2 million New Yorkers cast their ballots by mail due to a relaxation of the rules regarding eligibility in the wake of the covid crisis.
Even though the general election was over more than a month ago, only recently has the public learned the results of several races.
That’s because county boards of election set their own rules regarding when to release ongoing tallies and to whom. Many just refuse to release the running count at all, leaving even the candidates in the dark about how they’re doing.
Keeping results from the candidates prevents them from mounting timely legal challenges to the process, which puts those on the losing end at a disadvantage for contesting the outcome.
Some boards just release the results to the candidates and no one else, leaving the public in the dark and reliant on the candidates for this information.
Part of the reason why we’re not finding out the results of elections until now is a New York law that prohibits boards of elections from counting ballots until about a week after the election.
That delays the outcome of elections unnecessarily, and it’s one reason why last month we supported a bill (A11168/S9089) to allow boards to start the ballot validation and counting process for incoming absentees much earlier than they do now.
But the bill doesn’t go far enough, in that boards can still withhold information on the counting of legitimate ballots for as long as they want.
This lack of transparency breeds mistrust, and helps form the basis for conspiracy theories that elections are corrupt.
We see no threat to the integrity of the election process of releasing the running tallies daily, and no justification for boards to keep the results a secret until the end.
So the next step New York should take is passing a state law that requires county boards of election to release to the public the running tally of absentee ballots on a daily basis, just like many other states do.
It will demonstrate openness and transparency, and give citizens one less reason to doubt the integrity of our elections.