(Today I sent a letter to Governor Hochul, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Speaker Heastie as they finalize the 2023 New York State Budget. For transparency’s sake I am posting it here.)
Governor Kathy Hochul
Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Speaker Carl E. Heastie
NYS Capitol Building
State St. and Washington Ave.
Albany, NY 12224
March 27, 2023
RE: Funding request from the Democratic Caucus of NYS Elections Commissioner Association
Dear Governor Hochul, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Speaker Heastie,
I am writing on behalf of the Democratic Caucus of the New York State Elections Commissioner Association. As you enter the final phases of budget talks, I would like you to urge you to remember County Board of elections need funding this year to prepare for the 2024 election cycle. The executive budget, the senate budget, and the assembly budget all have various levels of funding for local County Boards. Our caucus appreciate that New York State recognizes that county Board of Elections need assistance. All three budgets reauthorize existing grants, fully fund the State Board of Elections, and sets money aside for reimbursement of the prepaid absentee costs.
Both the Senate and Assembly one-house budgets have gone beyond the Executive budget. The Assembly has included $10 million in Aide to localities. The Senate Budget goes further with $15 million in Aide to localities and $15 million in capital funding. Furthermore, the Senate Budget includes two program bills that are high priorities for both my caucus and the NYS Elections Commissioner Association. S644/A1258 providing minimum staffing requirements for Boards of Election & and S611/A919 which mandates all Elections Commissioners to be full time.
The Board of Elections have faced many hurdles over the last few years and has risen to the challenge. Since 2019 we have implemented election reforms such as Early Voting, Electronic Pollbooks, Universal transfer of registrations. Implementing a cure system to prevent accidental disenfranchisement of absentee voters over technical deficiencies. We have met the challenge of modernizing our absentee counting procedure with pre-canvassing of absentees.
We are implementing online and automatic voter registration this year along with a new 10-day voter registration deadline that will surge our registration rolls as well as the data entry work of local boards. We will also be instituting changes to affidavit balloting which will add to the workload of the post-election process. We have done all that in the middle of a multi-year pandemic that challenged the very nature of our mostly in-person voting system and put the health of our election workers at risk. While no system that is made up of human workers is without its flaws, our Boards have risen to the challenge, and kept our electoral system afloat in New York.
Now is the time to invest in our local Board of Elections. We need both Aide to Locality funding and Capital funding to continue to meet the goals of this legislature that you have laid out for us. The Aide to Locality funding will help us recruit and train staff in 2023 to meet the upcoming challenges of the new registration requirements as well as staff up in time for the 2024 Presidential year which will see 2 primaries and many experts predict one of the largest turnout elections in generations. Capital funding will help us transition from older equipment that is still in use. Many counties still use precinct level scanners that are up to 15 years old. This year next generation precinct scanners will be certified by the New York State Board of Elections. Providing funding in this budgetary cycle will allow Boards to make purchases to be ready for 2024. We believe that Boards of Elections are in similar circumstances to 2019 when the legislature authorized $10 million in Aide to Locality funding and $25 million in Capital funding.
Finally, we urge the legislature to adopt two program bills in the NY Senate Budget. S644/A1258 providing minimum staffing requirements for Boards of Election & and S611/A919 which mandates all Elections Commissioners to be full time. These bills have bipartisan support amongst the New York State Elections Commissioner Association and are laid it in their legislative agenda as well as the Democratic Caucus list of priorities. Passing these bills will bring parity to local county boards of elections as we prepare for 2024. Defining minimum staffing levels will make sure every county in New York State has the proper staffing at their local Board of Elections to continue to meet our obligations to voters. Having full time commissioners is necessary with the modern political Calendar passed in 2019. There is no more off time at local Board of Elections and full-time commissioners will not only make sure our work is done, but it will also make it easier to find qualified and adequate replacements as commissioners retire.
For more information you can read and watch my testimony at the Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Local Government Officials/ General Government on Wednesday February 15, 2023 (https://dustinczarny.com/2023/02/16/2023-testimony-local-government-officials-general-government-new-york-state-budget-public-hearing/), Supplemental Testimony (https://dustinczarny.com/2023/03/08/submitted-testimony-to-new-york-state-independent-redistricting-commission/), NYSECA Democratic Caucus Legislative priorities (https://dustinczarny.com/2023/01/25/2023-nys-elections-commissioner-association-democratic-caucus-legislative-priorities/), NYSECA Bi-Partisan 2023 Legislative Agenda (https://www.nyseca.com/_files/ugd/b48daa_991666b7e7054944b6df18d0bd9f75aa.pdf), Democratic Caucus Support Memo S644/A1258 (https://dustinczarny.com/2023/03/14/memorandum-of-support-s644-a1258-minimum-staffing-bill/), Democratic Caucus Support Memo S611/A919 (https://dustinczarny.com/2023/03/14/memorandum-of-support-s611-a919-full-time-elections-commissioners/). All documents are attached to this email as well.
The Democratic Caucus looks forward to continuing to work together with our legislative partners to modernize the New York State electoral system. I wish you well as you finalize the New York State 2023 budget and will work with you on further electoral reforms in the 2023 legislative session. Thank you for all you do for New York State Voters.
Dustin M. Czarny
Democratic Caucus Chair, NYS Elections Commissioner Association
Elections Commissioner (D), Onondaga County.