Civil Rights Lawyers Demand 'Answers' From NYC Board Of Elections After Primary's 'Mass Confusion'

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A scene from an Upper West Side polling site during the Democratic primary two weeks ago Scott Heins / Gothamist

It's been two weeks (just two weeks!) since a record number of New Yorkers went to the polls for the state primary, and on Thursday the New York City Board of Elections is expected to certify the results. But not every registered voter who wanted to vote was given the chance: many Gothamist readers reported broken machines and "mass confusion" at polls sites. Some were told they weren't registered when they were, others were given affidavit ballots and a shrug. Even Dante de Blasio was caught up in the confusion. Didn't the Board of Elections just get in trouble for this kind of crap?

After the BOE admitted to purging more than 100,000 voters from its rolls in 2016, they got sued, and signed a settlement agreement pledging to prevent future illegal voter purges, and subjecting them to court-ordered scrutiny at least through the 2020 election.

Yet this month's bustling, messy primary proved that the purges continue, and there is still a lot of work to be done, which is why the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, the group that filed the suit, just signaled to the BOE that they may not be holding up their end of the settlement agreement.

The lawyers represent a group of nonprofits and civic organizations like Common Cause NY, and the 30-day notice given to the BOE on Thursday is the first necessary step towards getting the BOE back in court before a judge.

At a press conference outside BOE headquarters on Thursday afternoon, Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause NY, said that her organization scrutinized the voter files from the primary after hearing from more than 100 people who experienced problems while trying to vote.

"We were shocked to find over 300 people who were able to vote in the Democratic Congressional primary in June, who are now mysteriously switched to being 'unaffiliated,' so there are a lot of answers we need," Lerner said.

"It's virtually impossible to voluntarily change your party registration here in New York, so it's very ironic that people are involuntarily removed and had their parties changed," she added. "We need answers."

A spokesperson for the BOE did not respond to a request for comment.

Lerner stressed that it wasn't just New York City voters who experienced problems: her group received complaints from Long Island and Westchester and towns upstate. Early voting and automatic voter registration are two initiatives that would go "a long way" towards addressing many issues.

"There are workable common sense solutions to improve the way our elections are run and it's way past time for the legislature to have caught up with the rest of the country to protect our franchise," Lerner said.

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