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Rangel-Espaillat race highlights need for statewide election standards in NY

Board of elections officials LaCheryl Karmadozie, left, and

Board of elections officials LaCheryl Karmadozie, left, and Christopher Ofner count paper ballots in the primary race between State Sen. Adriano Espaillat and U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel as an observer, foreground, watches. (July 5, 2012 ) Credit: AP

If messy primaries in New York are any indication of what's to come in November, voters should have little faith that things will get better. With presidential, congressional and state races on the ballot, things could even get a lot worse.

For sure, having three primaries in 2012 at three different times -- April, June and September -- isn't making anything easier. But the lack of statewide standards for the way local boards of elections count votes and report results is complicating matters. To improve the process, the State Legislature must make sure New York is in full compliance with federal laws, has a uniform code of best practices for all 62 counties, and squeezes out the patronage that leads to the hiring of poll workers who may be incapable of understanding electronic machines or, worse, conflicted by their party affiliations.

In a nationally watched race for the Democratic nomination in New York City's 13th Congressional District, there is still no certified winner. On election night, Rep. Charles Rangel declared victory with a lead of 20 percentage points over challenger Adriano Espaillat, a state senator. That's because many election districts initially reported zeros. Now Rangel's lead is down to low single-digits. Espaillat is mounting a legal challenge. The discrepancy, however, stems from poll workers unnecessarily and unhelpfully reporting the results from a manual count, rather than from the flash drives in the new electronic machines.

In a Conservative Party primary in Nassau County's 4th Congressional District, write-in candidate Frank Scaturro bested, by 52 votes, party designee Francis Becker Jr., who also was on the Republican line. Some registered Conservatives are complaining they were handed Republican write-in ballots. In fact, Scaturro got 27 such votes on the GOP ballot. A write-in on that ballot was meaningless, however, because of Becker's overwhelming GOP support. Clearly, getting the correct ballot made a difference.

And in last year's Westchester County Board of Legislators races, the outcome for a few swing seats wasn't known for weeks as leads changed on a regular basis. Votes were counted and recounted with lawyers for each party doing their best to knock off ballots any way they could.

No system is foolproof, but September's primary is the last chance to get it right before big crowds turn out this presidential year, in the toughest test yet of our electronic voting machines.