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Legislature Eyes Board Of Elections Conflicts

Conflicts of interest rules involving elections officials may be getting much more stringent.

Both houses of the state Legislature have approved legislation (S.612/A.1244) prohibits any board of elections employee from engaging or participating in any trade or business that creates or tends to create an actual or potential conflict of interest.

The bill prohibits any board of elections employee from remaining on the board’s payroll while running for an office that is supervised by the board at which they are employed. Employees running for office can remain in “leave without pay” status until their candidacy ends. When there are no primary elections for the office being sought, the bill provides that the candidate may remain on the board’s payroll for no more than 90 days prior to

the general election.

“As my colleague mentioned this would apply to any Board of Elections employees including poll workers and it would apply to any election involving the Board of Elections, which means that if any of your poll workers were running for a village trustee or City Council or town board member, maybe even school board member, you wouldn’t be able to hire him as a poll watcher,” said Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown. “Which is amazing you wouldn’t even be allowed to allow them to work as a poll watcher in a district that had nothing whatsoever to do with their own election. So in my county if you’re running to be on the Board of Trustees for a town in the southern end of the county this bill would say you wouldn’t be allowed to be a poll worker on the other end of my county – which is a 45-minute drive.”

The bill prohibits a board of elections employee from maintaining any direct or indirect financial interest in a company that provides services to a candidate who has an election overseen by that employee’s office. The bill also prohibits a board of elections employee from maintaining any direct or indirect financial interest in a company that sells voting machines, electronic poll books or other electronic equipment to the board.

There would be no conflict of interest for Elections Board employees who file designating petitions for a party position unless there would be a primary for the position. It would also not be a conflict of interest for a Board of Elections employee who is a member of the county committee, a district leader, a member of the state committee, or a delegate to a national party convention and who endorses or supports a candidate for a party or public office as part of their duties in their party position.

“Democracy is under attack,” said Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, D-Newburgh. “Our electoral system is questioned on a regular, if not daily basis. A lot of this questioning does not have a basis in fact, but merely conspiracy theories and these attacks have undermined the public’s confidence in the system and our Boards of Elections and the basic work that they do for a democratic process. To work, the public must have faith that the boards of elections are acting in the best interests of the public and not themselves.

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