Head of New York City Board of Elections Fired One Week Before Election

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

George Gonzalez, the executive director of the Board of Elections, has been fired from his job, just one week before the General Election. The Board of Elections turned him out with a vote of 6 to 0 at a meeting Tuesday. Four members abstained from voting.

Election officials say this will be no impact on next week's election.

Sources at the Board of Elections say Gonzalez was fired over irregularities that initially appeared on the ballot of a special election in Queens for the City Council seat in the 28th district. The ballot in question had all of the candidates lined up one slot to the right of where they should have appeared. For example, the name of the first candidate on the ballot slot, Democrat Reuben Wills, was listed under the slate of Republican candidates. However, the ballot that voters will receive on November 2 has been corrected.

The issue is still under investigation by the New York Department of Investigations. Election officials won't say the ballot in Queens is the reason for Gonzalez's firing, but sources say it played a major role.

The Board has been heavily criticized for major voting problems on Primary Day in September that included lack of privacy, difficulty reading the new paper ballots, late opening of polling centers, missing optical scanners and untrained poll workers.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says that problems at the BOE are not limited to any one person and that the lack of accountability harkens back to Tammany Hall.

Problems with the new paper ballot and scanning system Bloomberg to call it a "royal screwup."

Last week, the Brennan Center for Justice reported that on a sample ballot the instructions incorrectly instructed voters to fill in the oval above the candidate's name, when the correct voting method is to fill in the oval below the candidate's name.

The firing, first reported by NY1, took place Tuesday afternoon during a meeting of New York City BOE Commissioners, which include Democrats and Republicans from each of the five counties that make up New York City.

Following the September primaries, Gonzalez complained to the City Council that the Board of Elections didn't have enough money to properly staff and train poll workers.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who is currently running for reelection, released a report last week criticizing the Board for wide-ranging voting issues that he said disenfranchised New York voters. "There's nothing worse than a democracy that can't hold an election," DiNapoli said.

At a Board hearing after the primary elections, Gonzalez said the problems were "blown out of proportion."

Julie Dent, the Board of Elections President said, "I take full responsibility for everything that went well or didn't go as planned. But I do ask that we, collectively, come together and address all the concerns which will enable us to do a better job on Election Day, November 2, 2010."

No replacement has been named, but NY1 is quoting an unnamed source who says the Board may appoint Pamela Perkins, a BOE administrator and the wife of State Sen. Bill Perkins, to be the interim director.

The New York Public Interest Research Group is calling on the BOE to hire a new executive director with a commitment to transparency and says in a statement, "the voters of New York don’t need sacrificial lambs. What is needed, is a fundamental change in the administration of the Board."

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