The legislature must restore election transparency
To the editor:
This past June, the state’s highest court dealt a heavy blow to election transparency. For years, New Yorkers have been able to request, via the Freedom of Information Law, electronic copies of ballot scans from their local board of elections. These images have absolutely no voter-identifying information on them, but are critical to assessing the performance and integrity of voting machines as well as for studying voting patterns. Unlike paper ballots — which have to be held in a lockbox for two years — ballot images can be freely copied and shared without any risk of tampering.
In 2015, I requested the ballot images from the general election, only to be rebuffed by Essex County — this despite the fact they released them the year before. They claimed that Election Law Section 3-222, which governs “Preservation of ballots and records of voting machines,” prohibits their release. I sued and won at the Supreme Court and the Appellate Division levels, before the Court of Appeals, in a narrow 4-3 decision, saw fit to undermine public access to election data.
Despite Judge Fahey’s bold assertion at oral argument that “truth does not undermine anything,” he and three other members of the court held that finality of elections was more important than transparency. As a result, New Yorkers must now wait two years from an election to request the images, once the statute allows the paper ballots to be disclosed.
I finally have the images, but it should never have taken this long to get them. It is incumbent upon the legislature to fix this grave error and restore public access to election results.