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Editorial: Rockland party boss shouldn't run elections

Melissa Salgado, 23, of West Nyack, votes at

Melissa Salgado, 23, of West Nyack, votes at Nyack Elementary school in Nyack. (Nov. 6, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

Rockland County is poised to follow the lead of so many other misguided counties across New York State that have party bosses running elections.

That's too bad for voters, for this dual role too often blurs the line between partisan politics and the proper administering of elections.

Democrats in Rockland recently put forward their party chairwoman, Kristen Zebrowski Stavisky, as Democratic commissioner of the county's Board of Elections. If the Board of Legislators -- where Democrats hold the majority -- approves this $86,901-a-year appointment later this month, Rockland will join a not-so-distinguished list of places where a perceived self-interest trumps better judgment and sound policy.

In Westchester County, for example, the two commissioners -- Democrat Reginald Lafayette and Republican Doug Colety -- are also leaders of their respective political parties. For their county posts, each receives $155,245 a year in salary, and a car, all funded by taxpayers. And if that doesn't strike you as a conflict, Colety also profits from a printing business used by candidates, mostly Republicans, all across the state.

While it's all legal under New York State law, it certainly doesn't look right.

Election boards are notoriously partisan places, and in New York, defenders -- including Stavisky -- say it's precisely that sort of structure that allows Republicans and Democrats to police each other.

In reality, however, these boards are loaded with patronage hires who often play varying roles in the campaigns of the very elections they are supposed to administer. In New York City, where the Board of Elections has a reputation of incompetence, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long said the system needs an overhaul.

When you consider that party leaders are heavily involved in promoting candidates, fundraising and political negotiations, and commissioners are in charge of counting the votes, ensuring campaign finance compliance and vetting candidate petitions, it's hard to know where a leader's loyalties would lie -- to the party or the voters.

Good government groups, including New York Public Interest Research Group and Citizens Union, say this sort of "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" culture is clearly rotten. They want wholesale changes to strip the partisanship out of the elections.

If those criticisms aren't enough, even Rockland's Republican Party chairman, Vincent Reda -- who in 2001 served just three months as a party leader and elections commissioner before resigning -- said it's impossible to balance the interests of the party with the job as chief elections inspector. "This is not going to work . . . it's going to be a mess," he said of Stavisky's situation.

As one of only two states in this country hanging on to this archaic model, New York needs elections reforms.

With this vote, Rockland lawmakers can show whether they support those changes or condone the broken status quo.