By Carolyn James, PCLI FOI Chair
Here’s the good news: The Nassau and Suffolk boards of elections provided minutes from their meetings following a Freedom of Information Law request made by the New York Coalition for Open Government.
The request was part of an overall review of compliance by these boards to FOIL and Open Meetings Laws throughout New York State. Only 10 out of 19 boards of elections provided meeting minutes, a success rate of 53 percent.
Here’s the bad news: The initial request by NYCOG was sent to the boards on July 14, 2021. Nassau acknowledged receipt of the request on July 21, while Suffolk did not respond at all. A second request was made on August 18. This time Suffolk responded the next day.
County election boards are subject to the Freedom of Information Law and are required to respond to FOIL requests within five business days of receiving them. The response must acknowledge the request and provide a timeframe by which the information will be provided or deny the request and provide the method of appeal.
Prior to sending the requests, members of NYCOG contacted as many boards as they could by email and telephone asking four questions:
The lack of compliance with FOIL statewide shown in the full report is yet another example of how open government laws are disregarded without consequences.
There is no entity in New York that has the power to enforce violations. Grievances against those who violate the law can be filed with the New York State Committee on Open Government, which can render a response and opinion, but again, there are no penalties for noncompliance.
Boards of elections are not the only entities in New York that disregard FOIL and Open Meetings Laws. It happens every day as many reporters, and even members of the public, know and have experienced.
NYCOG is recommending that the New York State Legislature make it clear that the New York State Board of Elections and all county boards of elections are required to conduct business through public meetings. We need to bring the patronage hiring and other business occurring behind closed doors into the sunlight for everyone to see.