The New York City Board of Elections said a vendor error led to nearly 44,000 residents in all five boroughs receiving a notice warning their voter registration status was in jeopardy if they didn’t verify their home address.
The form is usually sent to voters who’ve moved to a new residence. But these voters had not moved, and many had voted as recently as November.
The notices were among some 900,000 voter records that needed to be updated as part of the BOE’s annual review of its voter database. The updates are triggered for several reasons, which include the voter informing the BOE of a change of address or the agency receiving information from the United States Postal Service indicating the voter may no longer be at the address on file.
Hear WNYC Senior Reporter Brigid Bergin break down the Board of Elections' latest snafu:
That change of address information is supposed to be cross-checked against the resident’s voter history — that did not happen.
This most recent error, first confirmed by Gothamist, marks the latest in a series of administrative mistakes by the beleaguered BOE. Some of those blunders include releasing flawed preliminary ranked-choice voting data, disproportionately assigning voters to early voting poll sites leading to long lines, and sending out misprinted absentee ballot envelopes ahead of the 2020 presidential election, a mistake it blamed on a vendor.
This time, the Board again blamed its vendor, n-Tier Technology LLC, for the mistake. The New Hampshire-based corporation has been working with the city BOE for more than a decade to support the city’s voter registration system. Their current contract totals nearly $4 million, according to CheckbookNYC.
The vendor has not yet responded to a request for comment.
The BOE’s Executive Director Michael Ryan said, for the vast majority of voters who received the form, the most prudent thing to do would be to just fill it out.
“If they got that notice, what they should do is send it back to us and say, ‘I’m here, I’m good, I want to stay voting,” Ryan told Gothamist. “That’s why this safety net exists to protect the voters’ rights.”
While the BOE is encouraging anyone who received the notice to complete it and send it back, Ryan said they also plan to send a second notice to voters who received the form in error to alert them to the mistake, confirm they are still an active voter and stress that no additional action is needed.
The verification process is supposed to serve as a failsafe to allow a voter to confirm their address before the BOE changes their designation from an active to inactive voter. Active voters are listed in the Election Day poll book and can cast their ballot on the machine; inactive voters must complete an affidavit ballot which goes into a separate envelope so that the BOE can confirm the voter’s registration. A voter who missed this notice and then failed to vote in two consecutive federal elections runs the risk of being purged from the voter rolls entirely.
The language on the notice sent to voters is blunt. It warns: “The Board of Elections in the City of New York has received information that you have moved. A New York state election law requires the board to confirm your current address.”
It then instructs the voter to complete the enclosed voter registration form and return it in the provided postage paid envelope, “to remain an active voter.”
“You must respond to this notice. Failure to respond will result in removal of your name from the Election Day poll list book. If your name is not in the poll book, you will be permitted to vote using an affidavit ballot. If you do not vote in either of the next two federal general elections, your voter registration will be canceled,” the message states in full.
BOE officials said that they began to receive calls last week from concerned voters who had not moved and were worried about why they had received the form asking them to verify their address. Voters who spoke with Gothamist expressed similar concerns.
“It makes me feel like someone is not on top of their stuff,” said Inna Aizenshtein, a hypnotherapist who lives and votes in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She received the notice in the mail from the BOE over the weekend. She said the language on the form made her “anxious.”
“It’s like, you must take this action otherwise you’re going to be punished, which is very strange because I have voted where I lived already several times,” she said.