New York Advocates Call for Evaluation of Board of Election Practices in Light of Massive Voter Disenfranchisement
- Susan Lerner
With More than 100,000 Voters Purged from Voter Rolls, Advocates Seek Accountability and Better Voter Systems
NEW YORK, NY — On the steps of City Hall in Manhattan today, dozens of advocates gathered to decry the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters in New York’s primary elections held on Tuesday, April 19th. Immigrant advocacy, legal service, and good government organizations called for top-level evaluation of the funding and practices of the Board of Elections, an agency they point to as hindering democracy for those voting across the state. The advocates called for significant measures to be taken to avoid further setbacks for eager New York voters during this year’s crowded election calendar.
Nonprofits, government agencies, and elected officials were inundated last Tuesday when would-be voters arrived at polling stations to find them closed, or to learn that their names had simply been removed from lists of party registrants. With New York’s strict closed primary rules, some individuals found that the political party with which they had registered had been switched without their consent, effectively making then ineligible to cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice.
“During the April 19th Presidential primary elections across New York, we saw first-hand how arcane and disempowering our election system is,” said Steve Choi, executive director, New York Immigration Coalition. “We stand with our members, allies, and partners to call upon the State legislature to rein in and reform the Board of Elections. In a year with four separate elections, we need to ensure that our poll workers are properly and adequately trained to allow for our citizens to fully exercise their right to vote without infringement. The BOE must make the necessary changes internally to ensure that the inexcusable issues we witnessed on April 19th do not ever occur in the future.”
Advocates are calling for a series of statewide changes to election law including those that would allow for easier and more efficient registration, more funding and training for poll workers, and multi-day periods for voting. Although bills being considered in the state legislature feature some of these measures, swift action is needed to ensure that major changes take effect by the time hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers head to the polls again for a federal Primary on June 28th, a state and local Primary on September 13th, and the general election for all offices on November 8th.
APA VOICE, a coalition of New York’s Asian American civic engagement groups, issued a statement, “New York City’s elections are now in a post-Shelby era – one in which local election officials have the final say in changes to the administration of their elections, including voter rolls and poll site locations. The full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are now gone for millions of Americans, including New Yorkers. Since Tuesday, APA VOICE organizations have seen or heard of dozens of instances Asian voters being inexplicably left off of the voter rolls, being uninformed of affidavit ballots, or finding their party affiliation changed. Given so many Asian voters are new voters, we are deeply concerned that Tuesday’s elections were a discouraging experience, if not one that disenfranchised thousands in our community.”
James Hong, Director of Civic Engagement at the MinKwon Center for Community Action stated, “Our own executive director, Grace Shim, found her name inexplicably removed from the voter roll in Queens. We also saw numerous individuals whose applications we had hand-delivered to the Board of Elections not showing up on the voter lists, or recorded incorrectly through sloppy data entry. Despite New York’s critical role in the presidential nomination process, we saw even worse handling of the elections by the BOE than usual. This was a disservice especially to new immigrant and first-time youth voters who were excited for their first election. While purges are necessary to eliminate voters who have moved or deceased, on April 19th, New Yorkers’ right to vote seemed to be contingent on a massive, random lottery.”
“Calls for election protection were heard from hundreds of New Yorkers on Tuesday who were confused about their eligibility to vote in the primary or encountered problems at the polls,” said John Nonna, co-chair of the Board of Directors of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which leads the non-partisan Election Protection coalition. “Several voters had updated their addresses with the DMV and only found out Tuesday that this information had not made its way to the voter rolls, so they had to cast affidavit ballots. We hope the legislature takes this opportunity to modernize New York’s election laws and pass common-sense reforms like early voting and automatic voter registration.”
“LatinoJustice PRLDEF has fought to advance voting rights, here in New York, and nationally for over 43 years, and as a nonpartisan civil rights legal defense and education fund, we continue to work to advance voting rights in the 21st Century,” stated LJP Associate Counsel, Joanna Cuevas Ingram. “Last Tuesday, Brooklyn counted itself among the many aggrieved communities across the country, including Arizona and North Carolina, where thousands of voters were turned away at the polls, that were once covered by the Voting Rights Act (VRA) prior to the Supreme Court 2013 ruling striking down key protections of the VRA in Shelby County v. Holder. We have seen election administrations in counties and states formerly covered by the VRA, in primary after primary, making it harder and harder for people to vote.”
Margaret Fung, executive director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), said, “Too many New Yorkers have lost their right to vote because of the neglect or incompetence of the New York City Board of Elections. The lack of Asian interpreters, missing names on voter rolls, and faulty instructions from poll workers have been persistent problems for decades. It’s time to fix the Board of Elections and stop the disenfranchisement of New Yorkers.”
“Last Tuesday’s improper purging of tens of thousands of voters from the voter rolls, misinformation, and in some cases, voter interference, resulted in unacceptably large number of voters being prevented from participating fully in the democratic process. It is past time for our lawmakers in Albany to fix New York’s system of elections and institute a fully professionalized nonpartisan system,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY.
“Despite the state’s progressive reputation, the problems experienced by voters during Tuesday’s elections reinforced a known fact – New York’s election laws are broken,” said DeNora Getachew, campaign manager & legislative counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Enough with the rhetoric. New York should embrace the national momentum in favor of reform by enacting automatic registration and early voting this year, and fixing the irrational party affiliation deadline too.”
“It is essential that the Board of Elections develops and maintains electoral systems and processes that are transparent, easily accessible, work for all eligible voters and at all times. New Yorkers demand and deserve it,” said Jacqueline Ebanks, executive director, Women’s City Club of New York.
“The sheer volume of voter complaints surrounding the April 19th election demonstrate the pressing need for substantive reforms to election administration and voter access in our city and state, twin issues Citizens Union has long championed,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union. “When New Yorkers are mobilized to vote, they should not be turned away by outdated laws and regulations more suitable for the1950’s than the 21st century. Beyond the important investigations of the New York City Board of Elections, our state and city officials must modernize election systems to enact common sense solutions, including: eliminating the partisan structure of state and local boards of elections, improving poll worker training, and instituting same-day voter registration.”
Sam Massol, executive director, BridgeRoots said, “We are neither surprised nor shocked at the depth of incompetence shown during the primary election last Tuesday. The New York City Board of Education’s has repeatedly ignored recommendations to improve its performance. Recent events make it abundantly clear that the Board of Elections is in need of massive and comprehensive reform.” said
“Serious questions remain after last Tuesday’s voter purge. At the heart of the problem are New York’s archaic voter registration and election administration systems. Registering to vote and voting must be easier. The New York legislature must pass the Voter Empowerment Act to help enfranchise voters instead of purging them,” said Megan Ahearn, program director for NYPIRG.
The Center for Law and Social Justice issues the following statement, “Over the course of Tuesday’s presidential primary election the Center for Law and Social Justice received complaint after complaint regarding voters’ inability to vote, poll sites opening late and dozens of people being turned away from the polls as being not registered. New York City has been here before. We’re sorry to see that the Board of Elections has regressed in providing access to all New York City voters. We demand the restoration of all voters who were purged to be placed back on the voting rolls. We also demand that the Board of Elections notify all voters of their polling sites prior to the June election and that no polling sites be changed between the June election and the November election. As always, we’re willing to work with the Board to rectify these problems, but the purging must stop.”
The League of Women Voters of the City of New York stated, “The League of Women Voters of the City of New York welcomes the City Comptroller’s, and the State Attorney General’s investigations of The NYC Board of Elections. We expect that any reports issued will include strong recommendations for overhaul of the Board’s Election Day Operations, with particular attention to poll worker recruitment and training.”
The New York Immigration Coalition
Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Asian-Americans for Equality
Brennan Center for Justice
Center for Law and social justice
Chinese Progressive Association
Civic Engagement Collaborative
Common Cause NY
DuBois – Bunche Center for Public Policy
LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund
Legal Mobilization Project
MinKwon Center for Community Action
NY Voter Coalition
League of Women Voters of the City of New York
New York Civil Liberties Union
New York Public Interest Research Group
OCA NY – Asian Pacific American Advocates
Transport Workers’ Union Local 100
Women’s City Club NYC
The New York Immigration Coalition is an umbrella policy and advocacy organization for nearly 200 groups in New York State that work with immigrants and refugees. The NYIC aims to achieve a fairer and more just society that values the contributions of immigrants and extends opportunity to all by promoting immigrants’ full civic participation, fostering their leadership, and providing a unified voice and a vehicle for collective action for New York’s diverse immigrant communities.