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Emergency Lawsuit Highlights Voter Frustration with New York Primary Process

One day before primary, voters sue Board of Elections and say mysterious “purges” of voting rolls have disenfranchised unsuspecting New Yorkers

As voters on Tuesday morning began casting ballots around New York in the state’s Democratic and Republican primaries, a federal court in New York City was scheduled to hear an emergency class-action lawsuit that was filed against the state’s Board of Elections alleging that thousands of New Yorkers will be heading to the polls only to discover they can’t vote.

Many New Yorkers—mostly registered Democrats—recently discovered their voting registrations changed without their knowledge or that their registration never went through in the first place, argued Election Justice USA (EJUSA), the group that filed the lawsuit alongside 200 voters.

These disenfranchised voters, numbering in the thousands, have been unfairly disqualified from voting in the state’s closed primary, argues EJUSA.

“Voters are frustrated, angry, and feel helpless,” said Shyla Nelson, spokeswoman for EJUSA. “We have heard hundreds of stories, with desperate pleas for help. This election season has excited and galvanized the voting public in unprecedented numbers. For these voters to be systematically and erroneously removed from the rolls or prevented from voting in their party of choice is devastating to them personally and has sent a wave of doubt and worry through the voting public.”

The group seeks an injunction that would immediately allow “tens of thousands” of potential plaintiffs to cast their votes in Tuesday’s primary, reports Gothamist. Such a blanket order would effectively make the New York primary an open one, according to ThinkProgress.

EJUSA was awarded a 9am hearing in federal court in New York City on Tuesday. By 11:15am the attorney general named in the case had still not showed up, according to a local reporter, and after EJUSA requested an emergency summons the hearing was rescheduled to 2pm. If the judge rules in favor of the plaintiffs any provisional ballots filed today will be counted, EJUSA says.

New revelations have lent support to the group’s allegations: WNYC reported Tuesday that over 123,000 Democratic voters in Kings County—a.k.a Brooklyn—had mysteriously disappeared from the Board of Elections’ records since November of 2015. (The deadline for New Yorkers to change party affiliation was October 9, the earliest in the country, and the deadline for first-time voters to register was March 25.)

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio took the Board of Elections to task and demanded an investigation into the sudden drop on Monday, reported WNYC.

“This number surprises me,” de Blasio said. “I admit that Brooklyn has had a lot of transient population—that’s obvious. Lot of people moving in, lot of people moving out. That might account for some of it. But I’m confused since so many people have moved in, that the number would move that much in the negative direction.”

No other county in the state saw losses in Democratic voter registrations that were so extreme, WNYC‘s Brigid Bergin pointed out—in fact, the vast majority of New York’s counties saw significant increases in Democratic registrations.

“In this very blue state, we have this crazy drop in the bluest county in New York,” Bergin said.

Brooklyn showed Hillary Clinton the least support out of New York’s five boroughs in the 2008 primary, as Mediaite reported.

The deputy director of public information for the New York State Board of Elections told WNYC that the sudden drop was simply because “Brooklyn was a little behind with their list maintenance tasks,” and noted that the other boroughs update their lists on a rolling basis. He claimed the discrepancy was because Brooklyn was 6 months to a year behind in updating its voter rolls.

Many New Yorkers are taking to social media and online forums to express dismay when they’ve discovered their registration has changed or disappeared without their knowledge (see here, here, and here).

“I have been a registered Democrat for eight years (I voted in the ’08 primary, so I know I’m not mistaken),” wrote Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Facebook last month. “I am in shock right now to see that my party affiliation has been altered and as of this moment I am ineligible to vote in my own state’s primary.”

Gothamist reported on some of the reasons various plaintiffs have joined EJUSA’s suit:

One plaintiff, a 24-year-old from Suffolk County, says that he registered as a Democrat in 2009, and that a change of affiliation form the BOE showed him, supposedly proving he left the party, bears a signature that is an “identical, pixel-by-pixel” copy of the signature on his driver’s license. Another plaintiff, a 58-year-old from upstate Onondaga County, had been registered as a Democrat since 1989, but on April 11th found that her registration was “purged.” An employee of the county told her that the change was a clerical error, but that she would not be able to vote on Tuesday, according to the suit. Others named in the lawsuit registered for the first time within days of the new voter deadline in March, or the party-change deadline last October.

[…] One Brooklyn resident recounts registering as a new voter last month and, upon being unable to find her registration, calling the Brooklyn BOE only to be told it was probably lost in the mail. Photojournalist Natalie Keyssar said she registered by mail within 48 hours of the March 25th deadline for forms to be postmarked, and that when she returned from an assignment in Mexico on Friday, she looked online to see where to vote, but found she is not registered. Repeated calls to the county board didn’t go through, and after an hour of trying again today, she said she reached a Ms. Jackson who told her that she “shouldn’t have left it till so close to the deadline,” that the office was receiving some 2,000 forms a day towards the end, and that her record can’t be found, likely because it hasn’t been processed yet.

“How can the U.S. actually tell its citizens their right to vote has been lost in the mail?” she wrote in a Facebook post.

And as primary day goes on, reports continue to emerge of registration switches and other irregularities. One Bernie Sanders supporter has even created a Google Doc for New York voters to record polling locations that were changed the day of the primary.


EJUSA has created an online form for New Yorkers to report problems at the polls and New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office has set up a hotline staffed by attorneys from the state’s Civil Rights Bureau; that number is 800-771-7755. Voters can also email complaints to between 6am and 9pm on Tuesday.

As disenfranchised voter Ocasio-Cortez wrote,

“Everyone, this is scary stuff—no matter your candidate, we need to protect our right to vote for whomever we choose.”


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