[Image courtesy of snow-tire-chains]

The long-running battle between the New York City Board of Elections, the Mayor and the city press went to another level this week as the City’s Department of Investigation announced that it was setting up a special unit to examine the Board’s practices and spending. The New York Times has more:

A New York City agency said on Wednesday that it was creating a unit to investigate fraud, waste and corruption problems at the Board of Elections, long a bête noire of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg …

The Department of Investigation, which will house the new unit, said earlier this month that it had found that the board had wasted $2.4 million in city funds by overstaffing poll sites for an off-year election in November 2011, in which roughly 90 percent of poll sites had 10 or fewer voters per poll worker.

With its staff of six and an annual budget of $824,000, the unit will be only a fraction of the size of the board; it has about 350 employees and an annual budget of $72.5 million.

The New York Daily News, which has repeatedly hammered the BOE for its problems, took some share of credit for the announcement, saying

The DOI investigation followed a Daily News editorial warning that the board was about to waste millions of dollars padding its 2011 Election Day staffing with unnecessary patronage hires.

The DOI oversight will be another attempt by the Mayor to get some control over the BOE, which he has criticized as mismanaged and wasteful. When asked about the new unit, he said “You can’t have a more dysfunctional organization [at the BOE] than we have now. It certainly can’t hurt.”

This initiative is especially timely given the upcoming election this fall for Mayor and other city offices. The BOE has already expressed concern about its ability to handle three elections – a primary, a runoff and a general – on a compressed timeframe, saying that it might even consider pulling its old lever machines from mothballs to pull it off.

Rest assured that as the work continues that DOI, the Mayor – and especially the Times and Daily News – will be watching v-e-r-y closely.

If possible, New York City elections just got even more interesting. Stay tuned.