The state Attorney General's Office is asking to join a lawsuit against the city Board of Elections, alleging that election officials purged more than 220,000 voters citywide in the two-year period leading up to last April's presidential primary, a figure substantially higher than the 117,000 previously identified purged voters, and a scope more widespread than what was reported earlier, which was confined to Brooklyn. Far from facilitating a massive voter fraud conspiracy of the type fantasized about by our new president, the alleged illegal voter roll excisions seem to have disenfranchised New Yorkers on a massive scale.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman made the filing on Thursday, making him the latest official seeking to weigh in on the allegedly illegal purges after the Justice Department threw its hat in the ring earlier this month, alleging that the Brooklyn deletions violated the National Voter Registration Act. The filings are part of a lawsuit originally brought by a coalition of civil rights and good-government groups.
Federal and state investigators say administrators at the Brooklyn BOE office removed 117,000 voters without checking to see if they had died or moved away, as required, solely because they had failed to vote since 2008. Schneiderman goes further, saying that similar purges took place at varying scales in all five boroughs, with the full knowledge of senior staff in the BOE central office in lower Manhattan, and that the actions violated state laws as well.
The motion also accuses the Manhattan and Queens borough offices of carrying out a similar purge to the one in Brooklyn, based solely on people's voter activity.
The allegedly wanton voter list pruning followed a scathing December 2013 report by the Department of Investigation that showed, among other things, that the voter rolls included numerous people who had died, moved, or lost voter eligibility because of a felony conviction. In January 2014, Queens BOE officials allegedly subscribed to Ancestry.com to try to identify voters who had died, and though they allegedly informed top election officials, no one told them to stop.
Also, citywide purges in 2014 and 2015 allegedly claimed at least 103,000 voters who were listed in the postal service's change of address database. According to the state filing, the BOE purged them without a required multi-year notification and check-in process, instead sending them intent-to-cancel notices with a 14-day deadline to avert being purged. Each time, according to the motion, an employee in the BOE information systems office objected to this, once asking in an email, "Are we changing the law?" And each time, officials in the citywide office allegedly ignored him.
AG's Office investigators described several voters whose attempts to vote in the primary were frustrated by these purges, including a Bronx voter erroneously listed in the change of address database. The voter had voted in every election since at least 2000, the filing said, but was purged in 2015 and his affidavit ballot in the primary was ruled invalid, as were 90,000 others of the 121,000 cast.
The Board of Elections is a highly unregulated patronage mill, and it's unsurprising that investigators found that the borough clerks and others charged with managing voter rolls have no formal training in administering the databases or complying with the complex state and federal election laws. On the other hand, probers allege that both party-appointed BOE commissioners and the top executives in their staff at the citywide BOE office had full knowledge of the various purge efforts—the Brooklyn debacle, carried out over two and a quarter years, was dubbed the Brooklyn Project, according to the legal papers—and got periodic updates on each, never stopping to address the projects' illegality.
Two clerks at the Brooklyn office have been suspended without pay in response to the purges there. According to Schneiderman, more than 20 staffers worked on the improper culling.
The proposed Attorney General lawsuit seeks declarations that the BOE violated state and federal law, and orders requiring an audit of cancelled registrations; the creation of training programs and oversight policies; the barring of the use of intent-to-cancel letters without documentation of a voter's ineligibility; and the appointment of a new head of voter registration. The current head, Elizabeth Fossella, is the mother of former Staten Island congressman Vito Fossella, who declined to seek reelection in 2009 after a drunk-driving arrest and the revelation that he had a love child. Beth Fossella has worked at the BOE since 2001, according to WNYC, and her Linkedin lists several politics-related skills, but none having to do with data administration. She made $116,000 last year, according to payroll records.
Fossella declined to comment, as did a BOE spokeswoman, citing the pending litigation.