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Election officials vote to rein in independent watchdog

August 8, 2018

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York state’s Board of Elections voted to weaken the powers of an independent elections law watchdog Wednesday in a move widely criticized by good-government groups, elected officials and candidates.

On a vote of 3-1, the board decided to require the state’s independent enforcement counsel to justify in writing each subpoena they want to issue when investigating alleged campaign finance and election law cases.

The board already had control over whether subpoenas could be issued in any particular case, but the new rule means the counsel must get approval on a subpoena-by-subpoena basis.

The Board of Elections is comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats picked by legislative and party leaders and appointed by the governor. Board members who supported the change on Wednesday said it was intended to give them more information and oversight over important investigations.

Critics including state Attorney General Barbara Underwood, a Democrat, blasted the new rule.

“Gutting the enforcement counsel’s authority and independence will only serve to encourage more corruption in New York,” Underwood said in a statement.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office opposed the change, calling it unnecessary, according to spokesman Tyrone Stevens. Current counsel Risa Sugarman also had warned against the rule when it was proposed.

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