Addressing widespread complaints about irregularities (i.e. missing names) on voter lists at poll sites on Primary Day, city Board of Elections director Michael Ryan gave no quarter.
"No one was disenfranchised," he told Fox5, facing unfriendly questioning from Greg Kelly. "What we did see was a concerted effort by some folks to apparently, to protest New York’s closed primary process by showing up to vote when they weren’t registered to vote. We tracked down dozens who say they were disenfranchised and as it turns out, they weren’t registered in the parties that they were trying to vote for."
There's a bit to unpack here, so let's do that. The many complaints about registration problems came largely from Bernie Sanders supporters, and mainly came in two forms: people who tried to change parties or register as new voters ahead of the deadlines for doing those things, them found themselves un-registered or not in their chosen party; and longtime Democratic voters who found themselves listed as unaffiliated, registered Republican, or with no registration at all.
We have looked into the details of approximately two dozen reported irregularities (there are many, many more online). In most of these, voters provided some amount of documentation from the Board of Elections. Some cases were explainable by stray marks on a DMV form—it turns out if you check "I do not wish to enroll in a party" when renewing your driver's license, you un-enroll from your current party—or ignorance of New York's closed primary system and restrictive October party-change deadline.
The majority of cases, however, offered no easy explanation, and certainly could not be settled by pulling up their names and checking whether they were "registered in the parties they were trying to vote for." Quite the opposite: not being registered in a chosen party was the very problem people were complaining about. At least some situations were clearly the result of errors on the BOE's end. For instance, my wife could not find her active registration because, it turned out after some investigation, her name was listed with a letter missing, and a digit had been entered wrong in her birth year, so the board thought she was 90 (her poll workers were able to find her in the book under the misspelling). At least two other people I know personally found their names not listed at their poll sites, though they have lived in the same place and have consistently voted in Democratic primaries for years.
A clerk for a judge handling cases of potentially disenfranchised voters on the morning shift at the Brooklyn BOE office on Primary Day said that at least "one or two" cases heard stemmed from problems on the BOE side, though he said the majority were the result of voter confusion. Similar problems were reported statewide, and the Attorney General's Office said its hotline received more than 1,000 complaints, six times the number in the 2012 general presidential election. Brooklyn seemed to be a hub of confusion though, in part because as WNYC first reported, the Brooklyn BOE office took 126,000 people off the active rolls between November of last year and this April. Mayor Bill de Blasio said that in the process, whole buildings and even blocks were stricken from voter lists. Ryan insists that this reduction, the largest of any county in the state, was due to backed-up, routine data maintenance, and no, no one was disenfranchised.
On the activist Sanders supporters' end, a group of dozens of voters did sue the state on Monday in a last-ditch effort to open the primary, or at least preserve all affidavit ballots—which voters not found in the voter lists could cast—the merits of which they wanted debated in future hearings. That lawsuit failed, but what Ryan says about protesters is true, to a degree. Starting around 12 hours before the polls opened, some activists did begin directing those who felt they were disenfranchised and independents to vote using affidavit ballots in hopes that a federal judge would order this primary open to unaffiliated voters.
Anecdotal reports indicate that workers at certain polling sites processed many more affidavit ballots than usual—one woman we spoke to said that a poll worker for a single Assembly district in Bedford-Stuyvesant told her that he had processed 10 by 11 a.m., and another voter, in Prospect Heights, said a worker showed her "hundreds and hundreds" of the ballots—which could be from a combination of faulty voter lists and independents hopeful about the Hail Mary lawsuit.
Pressed on Fox5 by Kelly, Ryan refused to acknowledge that even the slightest thing was out of the ordinary on Primary Day, dismissing complaints as internet hype.
"I don’t believe there were disenfranchised voters in Brooklyn," he said, explaining he had visited polling sites. "What happened on the ground just doesn’t bear out that there was mass disenfranchisement of voters in Brooklyn."
As Kelly noted when closing out the interview, the city BOE is now being investigated by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, as well as audited by Comptroller Scott Stringer. Mayor de Blasio yesterday also called for "major reforms" to the agency, though a spokeswoman did not respond to a request for elaboration on that point.
We have submitted the details of 15 cases of registration irregularities to a BOE spokeswoman for her to review and will update if we learn more about the circumstances of those.