DOJ and NY Attorney General Join Lawsuit Against NYC Board of Elections

DOJ and NY Attorney General Join Lawsuit Against NYC Board of Elections

Federal Justice Department and Attorney General Schneiderman join Common Cause Lawsuit against New York City Board of Elections

Common Cause New York’s continued efforts to protect the voice of voters received additional support from the Department of Justice and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this month. Both offices announced plans to join a lawsuit in which Common Cause/NY is the first named plaintiff to challenge the New York City Board of Elections’ negligible maintenance of its voter rolls.  

The lawsuit seeks to restore the voting rights of New York City voters who have been improperly removed from the rolls in violation of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). As a result of the lawsuit, filed five days before the November 2016 election, the NYC BOE previously consented to providing various forms of notice to poll workers and voters concerning the requirement that all voters who believe they are registered must be offered an affidavit ballot on Election Day. The NYC BOE also agreed to send absentee ballots to individual plaintiffs who had been improperly purged from the registration list.

Last April, ahead of the presidential primary, nearly 120,000 voters in Brooklyn were improperly removed from the voting rolls without a fair explanation. After an eight-month investigation into the issue, Schneiderman concluded that the purge was an alarming violation of both state and federal election laws.

While voters can be removed from the rolls if the Board has proper evidence that they are imprisoned, on parole, or deceased, the investigation found that several voters in Queens and Manhattan were removed for reasons that did not reflect proper verification procedures, such as not previously voting. For example, for voters who moved outside of the city and received written notice of their inactive voting status, the board is required by law to wait up to four years (two federal election cycles) before removing them from the rolls. However, evidence from Schneiderman’s complaint suggests that roughly 103,000 voters who did not respond to the cancellation notice were removed after only 14 days.

As our recently released Election Administration report shows, New York’s outdated voting laws and procedures have failed to keep up with modern election systems that have been adopted by several other states. As a result, voters are continually disenfranchised and face many avoidable barriers to access the polls.

As we confront the baseless accusations of voter fraud made by the Trump Administration last week, the Board of Election’s continued failure to maintain a reliable voter list is another troubling reminder of how voting rights continue to be undermined. We’re happy to see the Justice Department and the Attorney General intervene in addressing these inexcusable missteps from the Board of Elections that challenge voters’ faith in a fair and functional democracy. Common Cause/NY will continue our efforts to restore accountability and public trust through comprehensive reform.