The cyberattack and the upcoming election
Betty Manzella first started working at the Suffolk County Board of Elections in 1995, when, she says, “everything was paper.”
Now the GOP elections commissioner, she’s recently been thinking about that bygone era, as the BOE deals with fallout from a September cyberattack on Suffolk County systems.
In response to that apparent intrusion, the county took down public-facing internet infrastructure, including websites and emails, disruptive in an age when so much is done online. Election officials have had to activate contingency plans and use workarounds while systems return. That includes working with the Department of Motor Vehicles to process online voter registration applications, some of which are "hanging in cyberspace right now,” Manzella said Wednesday.
And the BOE’s website with all its election information has been out, replaced by a short blurb on the county’s temporary landing website at suffolkcountyny.gov.
That blurb includes the same general inquiry email address as usual, BOEinfo@suffolkcountyny.gov, and Manzella says she has access to it, so inquiries about absentee ballots and voter registration are coming in and can be answered.
The temporary landing website also has the phone number for the BOE, which voters can call with questions. And New York State still has its own website where voters can check their registration and more.
All of which is to say that Manzella thinks “we're in pretty good shape" as the November elections approach, despite the hectic past few days. She says the board will soon be putting out a schedule for early voting, which starts Oct. 29, and she and her colleagues are on track to get military ballots mailed on Friday, as required by law.
The election won’t be “impeded,” she says.
Even so, she’s thinking about the less technologically connected aspects of the beginning of her career, such as stick machines that didn’t require Wi-Fi.
“There's something to be said about the old ways,” she mused.
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
Hempstead town vehicle audit could get some mileage
An audit by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released this month found that the Town of Hempstead lacked adequate record keeping and documentation to keep track of town cars and other vehicles and didn’t have appropriate procedures to monitor fuel usage.
The audit initially covered the 2018-2019 time frame, but then was updated through February 2021, straddling the administrations of former Town Supervisor Laura Gillen and current Town Supervisor Don Clavin.
The report showed that while there was no centralized inventory of town vehicles, a department-by-department analysis indicated that the town had 1,236 vehicles as of February 2021. Three departments — parks and recreation, highway, and sanitation — held the bulk of those vehicles, accounting for 62%. But the town also didn’t adequately maintain title documentation, as it kept nearly two dozen titles in unsecured locations, and was unable to locate two of them.
The comptroller found the town had 553 passenger vehicles, 96 of which were permitted to be taken home. But the audit found that there was no documentation providing explanations for why employees were allowed to take their vehicles home, and the employees weren’t required to maintain logs to show how their town cars were used.
Then there’s fuel. The comptroller found that no one was monitoring fuel usage and, in drilling down further, that there were several problematic records. One user, for instance, recorded 919 gallons pumped, but only drove the vehicle 1,413 miles, translating into an absurd 1.54 miles per gallon. Others rounded their vehicle mileage recordings, or wrote in numbers that were clearly incorrect.
Hempstead General Services Commissioner Gerald C. Marino responded to DiNapoli’s audit in a letter issued last month and published in the audit itself. Marino noted that since 2020, when Clavin took office, “the Town has proactively taken steps to mitigate the concerns raised in the report.” The town also promised to review the comptroller’s recommendations and “take them under advisement and implement them, where necessary.”
Marino said town officials were reviewing the town’s “vehicle use policy” and already has tried to start centralizing inventory records. What’s more, the town “has essentially eliminated the use of take-home vehicles, except in very limited circumstances,” he wrote, also promising to provide guidance to individuals regarding fuel use, and to monitor that use going forward.
Perhaps that’ll start with tightening reporting procedures so it doesn't appear town cars are getting only 1.54 miles per gallon.
— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
A New (York) headache
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War and diplomacy through the years
The circus otherwise known as the U.N. General Assembly comes to town the third week of every September, and this year is no exception. But as world leaders pontificate and delegates network in Manhattan while global tensions remain high, it’s sobering to realize that the details of debates might change over the years, but the substance sadly remains the same.
Fifty-five years ago, Newsday’s editorial board considered the U.N. speech given by American Ambassador Arthur J. Goldberg, observing that “what’s needed is a mutual recognition that wars cannot be ended unless national rights are respected,” in a Sept. 22, 1967 piece called “Laying It On the Line.”
That prescription could have been written for the current conflict in Ukraine. But Goldberg and the board were referencing war in Vietnam and turbulence in the Middle East — one long resolved, the other sadly still roiling in its infinity of permutations.
In his address, Goldberg attempted to link a proposed end of American bombing with a willingness by the North Vietnamese to begin peace negotiations.
“Does North Vietnam conceive that the cessation of bombing would or should lead to any other results than meaningful negotiations or discussions under circumstances which would not disadvantage either side?” Goldberg asked.
The board said Goldberg was “laying it on the line” and delved into a debate on the difference between “could” and “would” in terms of the intentions of North Vietnam to talk.
Five years earlier, the board reflected on U.N. speeches given by American Ambassador Adlai E. Stevenson and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei I. Gromyko amid growing tensions in Cuba. Stevenson’s speech was “a reasoned appeal for world peace and disarmament,” the board wrote in “Two Faces of Mankind,” which was published on Sept. 22, 1962. Gromyko’s address, on the other hand, “was a mélange of bluster and threats, an appeal to both passion and to fear.”
Analogies, of course, are not perfect. All conflicts have similarities and differences. The Vietnam War continued for another eight bloody years, the Middle East remains a hotbed of conflict, and the fraught situation in Cuba culminated less than a month after Stevenson’s address in the Cuban missile crisis, when the world worried nuclear war would break out until a diplomatic solution was found.
But the editorial board’s conclusion in 1962 remains wincingly relevant: “So the General Assembly gets under way with the lines drawn but with no issues resolved. What goes on behind the scenes may well determine how much of the roaring and bellowing by [fill in this blank] is genuine and how much is part of the stage setting.”