Before I head up to the Bronx to do some exit polling I thought I’d share a column I wrote for my column writing class, “800 Words.” It deals with Board of Elections snafus.
Twenty-seven phone calls to the Board of Elections
Ask not what the Board of Elections can do for you (the answer is “nothing”) but what you can do for the Board of Elections (the answer is “their jobs”).
With the general election coming up on Tuesday it’s only natural that the New York City Board of Elections might be in a Black Friday-like panic. There’s drama and controversy surrounding the new voting machines, which caused errors in September’s primary elections—so much so that George Gonzalez, the Board of Elections Chief, was fired this past Tuesday.
But why wait until a week before the election that will decide New York’s next governor and attorney general to fire the man in charge? Isn’t that slightly more irresponsible than opening the polls late (like in the primary)?
According to the Board of Elections: no.
“I can’t really talk about it,” a knowledgeable secretary said over the phone. “Rumors around the office are that someone new will be announced before Tuesday.”
“How is this new person supposed to make sure Election Day runs smoothly,” I asked.
“I don’t know. That’s all I know,” she said quickly and then hung up the phone.
Only knowing that you don’t know. That’s a new one.
The Board of Elections is about as useful to a constituent as Adderall has been to Lindsay Lohan’s career—that is to say, not at all. When researching for a story on the State Assembly race in the 76th District in the Bronx I heard an all too familiar premature phone “click” four times in a half hour and 15 times throughout my nine hours of reporting.
All I was looking for was a phone number for State Assembly Candidate Steven Stern, who oddly enough for this day and age, has practically no Internet footprint. So I made an innocent phone call.
“Good morning, Bronx County Board of Elections. How can I help you?”
“Hi, I’m calling from Columbia Journalism School where I write for The Bronx Ink and I was looking for some information on how to reach an assembly candidate in the 76th district.”
“We don’t have that information here, ma’am. You need to call the office downtown.”
“O.K. who should I ask…” CLICK. Thanks for your kindness and consideration.
And so it went on for a half an hour until I finally reached someone in the main office in Manhattan. After six call transfers to the same two people I finally reached a very pleasant fellow who seemed like he might be able to help me. I asked him for the phone number and he put me on hold while he looked up Mr. Stern’s records.
Insert a half hour of Yanni hold music here.
“Miss, it seems Mr. Stern didn’t file a phone number with us,” he said.
“Is that normal,” I asked. “Isn’t a phone number kind of important information to include on an application?”
“He just left it off,” he said. “I have an address if you want that. 1743…”
“Fillmore Avenue,” I interrupted. I had gotten that much from Google. “Is there any other record that might have his phone number? I’ve tried phone books, white pages, Google…”
And the now, very flustered young man went to check while I listened to another half hour of Yanni accompanied by a didgeridoo—until the epic crescendo was cut short but another CLICK.
Earlier in the day I had left a message with a press secretary at the Bronx Borough office of the Board of Elections looking for the same phone number. The woman called me back and said she couldn’t give me a phone number because they didn’t have one on file either.
The next time anyone applies for a job they should only put their address on the application and see how far that gets them. I brought this issue up with nine-term State Assemblyman Peter Rivera, D-NY, (Steven Stern’s incumbent opponent) and he voiced his happy displeasure.
“I’m not sure why it’s not required but it’s good for me,” he said with a laugh. “If no one can get in touch with my opponent than that leaves me with the advantage, doesn’t it?”
Rivera and Stern’s Green Party opponent Walter Nestler has a website and a listed phone number at least—but he doesn’t often return calls and he has no known office which can be staked out.
What’s worse: the fact that Steven Stern is running a campaign without a website, office, email address or phone number or the fact that the Board of Elections, the gatekeeper of America’s democratic process, doesn’t find it necessary to require such information.
The office of the institution that creates the cornerstone of democracy is run more like the military under “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“It’s weird,” said the secretary of her workplace. “I’m not even sure how it works.”