Fix the NYC Board of Elections or face endless mayhem

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Here’s the silver lining in the latest grand screwup by the city’s Board of Elections: By inadvertently including 135,000 test ballots in Tuesday’s preliminary report on results of the June 22 Democratic primary, the BOE all but ensured it won’t make that same mistake in a few weeks when it releases the final tally, supposedly by July 12.

But it could still botch something else.

Yes, this was the first citywide tally under the city’s new ranked-choice voting system, with software the BOE is plainly still getting a handle on. But that prompts the question: Why didn’t anyone look carefully at the numbers and spot check them against the raw election night totals and so discover the glaring discrepancies?

Heck, why even offer a public not-at-all-final tally before you’ve actually made sure you’ve ironed out every glitch? Why not do the responsible thing and wait until all the votes are tallied?

Under state law, the BOE is run by, and for, political hacks — that’s why. Heck, some of the politicians now pointing fingers over this mess surely have patronage hires working somewhere at the BOE.

The board’s current executive director, Michael Ryan, is generally thought a competent fellow, but he’s out on medical leave. That left his deputy, Dawn Sandow, in charge; at least one fellow Republican official calls her a “disaster” and unqualified to run a large agency.

The fiasco has plenty of people calling for major BOE reforms, but most changes require action by the Legislature (which would likely impact all Boards of Election across the state, upsetting lots of patronage applecarts) or even amendments to the state Constitution.

A faster, city-only fix requires only action by the 10 chairs of the county Democratic and Republican parties: They need only agree to require proven competence of their appointees, who can then clean house among the lower ranks.

City and state lawmakers also ought to be more cautious about blithely rewriting election rules, since the BOE pretty routinely runs into some disaster whenever it’s required to handle anything new.

But beware calls to make it a “nonpartisan” agency: With Democrats so dominant in the city and statewide these days, that could easily fuel even more public distrust than the regular errors under the current setup.

For now, the best move is simply to insist the political bosses put a premium on competence for the future and cross your fingers that the board ruthlessly checks its own work before releasing the final certified tallies later this month.

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