This year’s elections and a lawsuit filed this week against the city together demonstrate the need for two reforms in the electoral process.
First off, voters are entitled to privacy when voting, but under the system being used now, they’re not getting it. Mayor Bloomberg himself said that a poll worker had seen his ballot.
With the old lever machines, you cast your ballot behind a curtain, it got tallied and no one knew for whom you had voted. But under the new system, you have to carry your paper ballot to a scanner, and poll workers can easily see your choices when you process your votes. Yes, there is a cardboard sleeve you’re supposed to hold to prevent anyone from seeing your selections, but it’s not always used and it’s awkward when it is.
Unfortunately, there’s no going back to the old machines — even though they were used in this year’s primaries because the Board of Elections knew it could count votes faster that way. The lever machines come with their own problems, and too much has been invested in the new system to just discard it.
Maybe it would be enough just to order all poll workers to stand far enough away from the scanners so they can’t see your votes. Enforcement obviously would have to be a key part of that.
The other area that needs reform is campaign finance — but not in the way you might think. As we’ve said before, the amount of matching funds candidates get should be reduced, from the current $6 for every dollar raised to $4 for every dollar, or even less. It seems the temptation to load up campaign coffers with taxpayer funds is just too great for some candidates.
Case in point is outgoing Comptroller John Liu, who ran in the Democratic primary for mayor. Liu’s campaign treasurer and one of his fundraisers were convicted of illegally raising money. Sure, they might do that even if there were no matching funds, but the temptation is much greater when every $100 you bring in adds another $600 to the coffers that you didn’t even have to work for.
Liu was denied matching funds because of the criminality. But now he’s suing the city for damages, claiming he was wrongly denied the money, to the detriment of his campaign. This although he was in fourth place in the polls before the denial, and he came in fourth place when the ballots were cast.
We wonder what he thinks he’s entitled to. Maybe the mayor’s salary for four years? And if he wins the suit, will he use the money to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines he still owes the city from his 2009 run for comptroller?
The taxpayers should not have to pay Liu anything. We hope he will drop the suit and gracefully return to the private sector.