Heard Around Town

Ousted BOE co-chair still in the dark on why he was booted

Douglas Kellner served on the state Board of Elections for 18 years.

Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images The make-up of the state BOE is shifting.

After learning through a phone call on Friday that he would be replaced as co-chair of the state Board of Elections, Douglas Kellner told City & State on Monday that he still had no further information about his ouster, first reported by Politico New York. Kellner said that he received a call on Friday from Howard Vargas, executive counsel to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, but nothing more since then. “I still have very little information on an explanation, I haven’t had any communication with anybody from Senate staff,” Kellner said, adding that he also hasn’t received any notice in writing.

According to Politico, legislative leaders have tapped Henry Berger, who previously served as special counsel to former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and on the commission that created the state’s public campaign finance program, to serve as the new Democratic co-chair of the state Board of Elections. In a statement to the outlet, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said Berger “will continue upholding the reforms we’ve worked so hard to enact.”

The state Board of Elections has four voting members – two co-chairs and two commissioners, split evenly among Democrats and Republicans. Kellner was the Democratic co-chair, serving with Republican Peter Kosinski as the other co-chair. The BOE oversees elections across the state and administers the state’s election laws. The governor technically appoints all four commissioners, but party leaders make the recommendations. 

Kellner said he believes that Berger would make a fine replacement, but expressed surprise at the sudden ouster after nearly two decades on the job. “It’s a little strange after 18 years that nobody would call me and level with me,” Kellner said. “But, it has been 18 years, so I’m not complaining.”

In what may become one of his final acts as BOE co-chair, Kellner opposed the certification of new touch-screen voting machines that election security experts and voting advocates argued are unreliable. Some advocates recently filed a lawsuit against the BOE to block municipalities from purchasing any of those voting machines and, according to Politico, some believe that Kellner was involved in drafting that suit. “I did not discuss that lawsuit with anybody,” Kellner said. “And, and if you look at the papers that they filed, you can see it's not written in my style.”

It would mark a somewhat ironic end to Kellner’s tenure considering he got his start ushering in hand-marked paper ballots nearly 20 years ago to replace old-school lever voting machines. “That was a big success, and I feel that we accomplished our goal by having most voters use hand-marked paper ballots that are verifiable, with a robust audit process that ensures the integrity of the elections,” Kellner said. He called it “disappointing” that the touch-screen machines got certified despite his opposition. “And that may very well be the reason that I got replaced.”