Only 238 days after voters headed to the polls and gave President Barack Obama a second term, New York City certified on Tuesday that Obama did indeed beat Mitt Romney.
However, the Board of Elections’ reputation won’t exactly be burnished by this late certification, the third since the presidential election last November. It comes after a memory stick with 1,579 ballots from two Brooklyn precincts that were never counted was “found.”
And it leaves deep questions for those charged with overseeing three mayoral elections over the next four months that are expected to be decided by slim margins.
The mayoral primaries, where at least seven Democrats and two Republicans go head to head, are scheduled for Sept. 10, with a probable runoff three weeks later. The general election is on Nov. 5.
“There’s three weeks between the primary and the runoff election, and the board is going to have to perform at an optimal level,” Alex Camarda of the Citizens Union, a good-government group, told the Daily News.
“The fact that they’re discovering these uncounted votes [only now] casts doubt on their ability to do that,” he added. “It diminishes public confidence in the integrity of the election system.”
The city’s troubles with electronic voting began immediately after it purchased the new machines for the 2010 elections, the last in the country to do so following a federal mandate for a paper trail. Votes were discovered weeks after the election concluded, and it took more time than expected to certify elections.
Both the state Assembly and Senate passed a bill last week allowing the city to switch back to lever-machine voting, which worked relatively well. It awaits Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime critic of the board, which is run by the two main political parties independently of the mayor, demanded earlier this year that lever voting be brought back.
“We are running a real risk of not being able to decide who the mayor is for months,” Bloomberg said. “Because if you can’t figure out the runoff, and then it takes a while, and then you have to have the general election, who knows what’s going to happen?”
The latest headache began during a routine review in April, when a disparity was noticed between the number of people who turned up to vote and ballots actually cast. An internal investigation narrowed it down to precincts at Brooklyn Borough Hall and the Carroll Gardens Public Library. People voted, but for some reason their votes never made it into the main database.
So officials last week conducted a hand recount using the paper trail. On Tuesday, they recertified the results, this time including the information from the 1,579 ballots. They did not say if either Obama or Romney gained votes in the latest total.
But both districts are in New York’s liberal heartland, so Obama probably padded his approximately 60-40 margin in the state by the new ballot find. In New York City specifically, Obama won with 81 percent to Romney’s 18 percent — the best showing by any candidate in Big Apple history.
A similar debacle may very well affect the tight mayoral race this year. Three candidates are bunched into the top tier, with former congressman Anthony Weiner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson polling at or near 20 percent. Forty percent is needed to avoid a runoff.