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Clean up Board of Elections Audit shows carelessness, wasted money; state law needs to change its operations

Auditors examining Erie County's Board of Elections uncovered another patronage pit -- albeit one operating in plain sight. Now it's time to institute real change.

Auditors discovered lax oversight, $13,000 in checks awaiting deposit and a staff that is not exactly overworked. This is not stunning news to anyone familiar with the Byzantine manner in which Board of Elections staff and top officials obtain their jobs -- that is, they're all political appointees.

But the audit is notable for shining a bright light on the dark situation. It's also an easy excuse for the county control board to make sure money is saved, operations are streamlined and the taxpayer is better served.

The audit, begun by former interim County Comptroller James M. Hartman, began reviewing the Elections Board late in 2005, going back to operations as of Oct. 1, 2004. Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra insisted that the board be scrutinized if he was going to sign off on another $234,000 that commissioners said was necessary for the November general election, and county lawmakers agreed. Good call.

State election law requires that commissioners and workers be appointed with "equal representation from the major political parties." The notion of Democrat and Republican commissioners keeping an eye on each other might sound good on paper but, in reality, falls short.

State election law should be changed to offer the possibility of nonpolitical appointments. Voter confidence is especially important as voting reforms ordered by the federal government are implemented. And there is a special election Feb. 28.

The State Senate seat vacated by Byron W. Brown when he became mayor in January, along with the federal Help America Vote Act, require a new approach. And that new approach needs to include civil service employees and someone at the top not affiliated with the major parties -- in this case, Republican and Democrat -- to make sure everyone's interests are being considered.

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