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Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has imposed an “unreasonable” delay on an office relocation plan for the state Board of Elections that’s left the agency pleading with Albany’s legislative leaders for help, The Post has learned.
“We have worked with the Division of Budget and Office of General Services but we feel to no avail. Our numerous requests for assistance with senior staff at the Executive Chamber have been for naught,” wrote Board of Elections executive directors Todd Valentine and Robert Brehm in a June 22 letter obtained by The Post.
The letter went to the top Democratic legislative leaders, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and their GOP counterparts, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt and Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay.
“Time is of the essence as any renovation of existing office space or movement to new office space must be done to accommodate our existing needs in our future growth all while not disrupting the state board’s core mission to conduct the 2021 and 2022 elections.”
In the letter, the fed-up agency describes two years of “inordinate” and “unreasonable” delays — despite 70 new election reform laws on the books, and the anticipated expansion of publicly funded elections to upstate, meaning they will need to expand their footprint.
“Our attempts to develop a space plan that incorporated our current and forecasted space needs has been met with what we believe to be inordinate and unreasonable delay from our governmental partners at DOB and OGS.”
In 2020, due to the pandemic, more New Yorkers than in previous years cast absentee mail-in ballots, in a cycle rife with errors, delays and dysfunction — caused in part by insufficient funds dedicated for the board to perform their duties, the BOE has said. In addition, the governor in April 2020 instructed the board to send absentee ballots to all New York voters.
In a six-page memo accompanying the letter, the BOE executive directors spell out what the current renovation plan lacks. The prevailing blueprint does not have adequate space for board and team meetings, storage, and women’s bathrooms, the agency claims.
The BOE also argues they don’t have enough space to conduct private human resource meetings to discuss “medical, benefits, sexual harassment, discrimination, domestic compensation” issues.
The New York Public Interest Research Group ripped the governor’s miserly budget management.
“While we’re not big fans of the state board, starving elections administration makes no sense,” Blair Horner, the group’s executive director, told The Post.
“Lack of such funding leads to confusion at the polls and can result in voter disenfranchisement,” he added. “If the Cuomo Administration can make the case that these moves are not needed, they should do so. Otherwise, show the board the money.”
State Sen. Zellnor Myrie, chair of the legislature’s elections committee, said the Cuomo administration should devote more resources to the agency because of its added workload.
“The State Board of Elections performs a critical role in ensuring our elections are administered fairly, securely and efficiently. Their responsibilities and headcount have grown in recent years — most recently with a newly-enacted public campaign finance system — and their physical space should reflect this growth and responsibilities,” Myrie told The Post in a statement.
“I encourage the governor to work with the BOE to ensure their space needs are met, and look forward to discussing this in further depth at our Elections hearing later this year.”
The Division of Budget, DOB, has denied a previously approved moving plan, arguing the BOE would be fine after renovating its current space. In response to the latest entreaty, a Cuomo rep said the BOE’s staff can fit in its current headquarters.
“OGS evaluated BOE space needs based on their approved staffing plan, which includes a nearly 100% increase in staff, and it is false that OGS approved a plan that DOB denied,” said Freeman Klopott, a New York state budget spokesman.
“This staffing can be properly accommodated under New Yok State office guidelines used for all new and redesigned office space at agencies,” the statement continued. “BOE has been offered numerous, appropriate facility plan options at 40 North Pearl Street in Albany, and they need to pick one rather than dissemble and delay.”
A Board of Elections spokesman responded, “We continue to await a response from DOB regarding the correct staff level so that OGS can then provide sufficient space for the State Board’s needs for the shortage of space we have now and for the growth to accommodate the increased programs that have been added to the agency’s portfolio.”
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