A New York Federal District Court judge held a short-notice hearing on Tuesday afternoon in relation to a lawsuit filed yesterday against the state by dozens of New York voters, alleging that their registrations in the Democratic party had been purged or altered, preventing them from voting in today's presidential primary.
The lawsuit, which claims that voters inexplicably dropped from the voter rolls are being denied their constitutional rights, called on the judge to instate a hearing process by which New Yorkers who believe their registration has been wrongfully purged might defend themselves.
"Usually what happens is the Board of Elections takes your provisional ballot, and checks it against the voter rolls. If it it doesn't match they throw it out," said attorney Jonathan Clarke outside the courtroom this afternoon. "What we're asking is that your vote stay counted until the Board of Elections can actually [prove you're not registered]."
The suit also calls for an open primary, which would essentially eliminate the need to prove party affiliation in the first place. Under New York's current closed primary system, only voters registered as either Democrats or Republicans can vote.
Judge Joanna Seybert on Tuesday did not rule to open the primary, nor did she issue an order preserving provisional ballots.
Instead, she ruled that every single county in New York State will have to defend its voter registration process, at a hearing to be scheduled for a future date. "The judge essentially kicked the ball down the road," said reporter Jordan Chariton in a video update from outside the courtroom. "The motion was not dismissed immediately, so the lawyers now have to get representatives from each New York county into the courtroom at a later date to defend if and why there have been voter purges."
— Jordan (@JordanChariton) April 19, 2016
Today it came to light that the New York City Board of Elections had removed 126,000 Brooklyn Democrats from active voter status since last fall. Board Director Michael Ryan told WNYC this morning that the precipitous drop broke down like this: 44,000 voters were inactive; 70,000 had been removed from the inactive voter list; and 12,000 people had moved out of the borough.
Mayor de Blasio demanded an explanation for the sudden drop on Monday, and Comptroller Scott Stringer announced that he would conduct an audit in the wake of today's reports from frustrated voters. Ryan confirmed that Brooklyn was between six and twelve months behind updating its records, in part because of a number of retirements and staff illnesses.
New York voters still headed to the polls before 9:00 tonight, who believe that their registration has been wrongfully purged or altered, should seek an individual judge's order to defend their right to vote, the judge said.
Lawyers urge Dems who feel they have had registration changed wrongly should vote on provisional ballot since a new hearing has been granted
— Jordan (@JordanChariton) April 19, 2016
Reached for comment on Tuesday, case attorney Shyla Nelson said that her team would be reviewing the logistics of gathering representatives from every county "literally within the next couple hours."
She added that the suggestion that voters seek a judge's order on short notice before 9:00 p.m. is impractical, considering voters' weeknight work and family obligations. "It puts a burden on the voter. We don't think it's a solution," she said. Instead, she encouraged New Yorkers still headed to the polls to bring any evidence of alleged fraudulent purging with them, and demand a provisional ballot.
"It's definitely worth a try," Nelson said, adding, "My heart breaks for the voters who have been disenfranchised today."
We've got a refresher on how to seek a judge's order and file a provisional ballot here.
New York State Board of Elections spokesman Thomas Connolly declined to comment on today's ruling specifically. "Right now our main focus is helping the local elections boards have as smooth a primary as possible," he said. "We haven't yet considered what implications the judge's order might have, if any."