On November 6, voters across New York City came out in droves to cast their ballots in the long-awaited midterm elections. New Yorkers are choosing their next governor as well as one senator and member of Congress; some state-level positions are on the ballot too.
But voters faced very long lines and, in many cases, broken equipment as they tried to cast their ballots. The executive director of New York City’s Board of Elections, Michael Ryan, said the problems were due to record high voter turnout and to the rainy weather. But some people say that Ryan himself is the biggest part of the problem.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson Wants Ryan to Step Down & Is Calling for an Investigation
Around New York City, voters spent hours waiting on line to cast their ballot. In many polling stations, ballot scanners were broken or malfunctioning, lengthening the wait even further. A polling station at the Breukelen Houses in Canarsie opened at least two hours late, so that voters who wanted to cast their ballots before heading to work were turned away. In other locations, lines were so long that some people walked out of the polling stations without voting — just so that they could make it to work on time.
Board of Elections chief Michael Ryan said that the problems were due to high voter turnout, and to the rain, which was making paper ballots soggy and causing them to jam up ballot scanners. You can watch Ryan explain those issues here. But some of Ryan’s critics said that he should have predicted the high voter turnout and the weather — and that he should have put a plan in place to deal with both issues.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said these problems are nothing new — and, he said, the Board of Elections should have fixed them a long time ago. He tweeted, “Every election is like Groundhog Day: long lines, polling site issues, huge problems. Now we’re blaming the weather? It’s unacceptable & unfair to voters. Michael Ryan should resign & we should begin a top to bottom review of how this happened. It’s time for new leadership at BOE.”
2. New York Mayor De Blasio Also Slammed the Board of Elections for Polling Problems
New York’s mayor also told reporters that he has a problem with the Board of Elections’ handling of the voting process. The mayor didn’t mention Michael Ryan by name. But he criticized the BoE for failing to prepare better for the large turnout.
“This is my critique of the Board of Elections — with all due respect to them — we’ve offered them $20 million to make improvements, reforms. They won’t accept it,” he said. “It’s not working for people. How in the 21st century do you still have poll sites that don’t open? That would not be accepted — if a school didn’t open in the morning, people wouldn’t accept it, right?”
Ryan’s predecessor, George Gonzalez, was fired as executive director of the Board of Elections back in 2010. Gonzalez lost his job after a series of malfunctions in New York’s computerized voting system during the 2010 primary election.
3. Ryan, a Staten Island Native, Took Over as Board of Elections Chief in 2013
Michael Ryan grew up in Staten Island and went to Msgr Farrell High School, a Catholic school in Oakwood, Staten Island. Dan Donovan, a congressman from New York, attended the same high school. Ryan earned his BA at St John’s University, graduating in 1988, and went on to earn a law degree at NYU. He worked at a series of city government jobs before eventually opening a private law practice in 2011.
In 2013, he was elected to be executive director of the New York City Board of Elections. The job pays $172,000 per year and has been described as one of the “most coveted” positions in New York City government. Before Ryan took over, the post had been empty for three years. That’s because the previous executive director, George Gonzalez, was kicked out of the position back in 2010. Gonzalez lost his job after the primary election in 2010, amid a widely publicized series of problems with New York City’s new computerized voting equipment.
4. Ryan Ran for District Attorney of Staten Island Twice & Failed Both Times
Ryan, a Democrat, ran for District Attorney of Staten Island (Richmond County) twice: once in 2007, and again in 2011. Both times he lost to the Democrat Dan Donovan. Donovan is now serving as congressman for New York’s 11th congressional district, after a special election in 2015.
In 2013, Ryan was elected to be the executive director of the Board of Elections. The Democratic Party headquarters issued a statement saying, in part: “I’m proud that a Staten Islander will be leading the Board of Elections at this critical juncture. I know he will perform his duties with the same passion and sense of responsibility he has displayed throughout his career.”
5. Ryan, a Democrat, Worked for the Giuliani Administration’s Criminal Justice Division in the Late 90s
Shortly after graduating from law school, Ryan took a job with Mayor Giuliani’s administration. He served as assistant deputy coordinator in the office of the mayor’s criminal justice department.
He spent two years in that role before going on to serve as deputy director in the office of the governor of the state of New York division of criminal justice services. Ryan then went into private practice, eventually opening his own firm, Michael J. Ryan, Attorney at Law. He shuttered the firm in 2013 when he took over as executive director of the Board of Elections.