Update below

A combination of administrative dysfunction and New York state's extremely restrictive voting laws led to chaos at the polls during the presidential primary in April, according to a newly released report by the state Attorney General's Office. On Primary Day, which thanks to tight races in both parties had unusually high turnout for presidential nominating contests late in the season, 1,500 complaints poured into the AG's Office's hotline, more than 10 times the next-highest complaint total in the previous four elections.

"The voting issues we uncovered during the April primary were widespread, systemic and unacceptable," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.

Investigators looked into the complaints, focusing on eight boards of elections home to just under three quarters of the registered voters and the source of 80 percent of the complaints. New York City, of course, was among them.

Two thirds of the problems voters had at polling places stemmed from New York's restrictive voter-registration rules, including New York's party-change deadline, the report found. New York's primaries are closed, meaning voters have to be registered party members to participate. To change parties, already-registered voters must file to do so 193 days before the primaries, 55 days earlier than the next-most restrictive state, Kentucky. Eric and Ivanka Trump, among many others, were unable to vote for their preferred candidate because they were ignorant of this rule.

That said, there were also serious failures by state and local election administrators, including those in New York City, who among other things erroneously changed voters' party affiliations, refused to provide voters with affidavit ballots, and mis-entered voter registration information. Also, the AG's Office found, state agencies bungled the transmission of voter registration information to the local boards, sometimes failing to do it altogether.

The report's authors write that the AG's Office received dozens of complaints from people who had registered or updated their information through the Department of Motor Vehicles, then found that their registration was unchanged on Primary day. Of those, 10 had receipts, indicating that the DMV likely failed to forward their information to the local Board of Elections. The report concludes that these are probably "representative of systemic errors affecting registrants across the state."

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(Christian Hansen/Gothamist)

The DMV and all other state agencies that register voters are required to submit the forms to local election boards within 10 days of receiving them, and instantly if it is within five days of the registration deadline, but AG's Office probers found that in addition to sometimes not forwarding information at all, the DMV sometimes sent boxes of registration forms just before the deadline, including some dating back several months. This happened in New York City, among other places, administrators told the AG's Office.

And on March 25th, the registration deadline for new voters, the heightened traffic to the DMV registration website was enough to stall it for an hour in the afternoon, then again from 5-6 p.m., and shortly thereafter, take it offline. The DMV's solution: posting a notice at 11 p.m. telling people to email their forms, with a deadline of 11:59 p.m. The DMV retooled its online registration system in August to prevent a repeat, according to the report.

Of 100 reported instances where voters complained that inaccuracies in their information kept them from voting, most of the voters were found to be actually ineligible, but "at least 20" were the election boards' fault for failing to accurately process forms, possibly to a lack of formal policies and training. The way the state is structured, county boards have wide leeway in creating their own procedures—they do not even have a uniform data management structure—and despite a 1996 regulation by the state Board of Elections calling for the counties to have written voter-form processing policies, some, such as Nassau County, have no policies. Others, including Suffolk County, have outdated guidelines that they no longer use. Suffolk County's hasn't been updated since 1997, according to the report. New York voting law has changed substantially since then.

In New York City, among other counties, there is no specific written guidance on what to do when a voter leaves the party affiliation section of a form updating their information blank. In close to a dozen cases, Democrats and Republicans found themselves listed without a party affiliation on Primary Day because the people processing the forms had erroneously stripped them of such. Several voters who spoke to Gothamist around this time complained of being listed as unaffiliated, and in a few cases they challenged their status in a judge hearing, seeking an order affirming their right to vote.

Additionally, New York City, unlike other counties, had no uniform protocols for training people who processed voter registration forms.

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Anne Bassen, who inadvertently un-enrolled from the Democratic Party when filling out a DMV form in 2014. A judge denied her request for a court order allowing her to vote. (Nathan Tempey/Gothamist)

If voters who poll books showed to be ineligible actually made it to the polls, in some instances poll workers denied them access to affidavit ballots, the report said. New York City actually stood out as exemplary in being the only locality where the BOEs uniformly instructed poll workers to provide affidavit ballots to anyone who requested them. Some poll workers elsewhere outright denied voters affidavit ballots, and in Albany County, the policy was to deny them unless the voter was "fighting."

Other issues included mailed poll site notifications—in New York City, the BOE failed to notify voters of the date and location of the presidential election—the city BOE director defended this by noting that it's not required—and sent 60,000 newly registered voters the wrong date for the state primary, then sent a correction shortly before the presidential primary with confusing language that could be construed to be about the presidential primary. 400 affidavit ballots were deemed invalid for being cast at the wrong poll site in Nassau County alone, according to the report.

As a result of all these fuck-ups and anti-voting policies, an untold number of would-be registrants and voters were unable to vote in the primary.

In response to the findings, Attorney General Schneiderman announced his plans to propose sweeping reforms in a bill next year. The bill would call for: automatic voter registration anytime someone provides contact information to a state or local agency; same-day registration; a system "permanent registration" that would update a voter's information as he/she changes addresses; an earlier party-change deadline, eliminating requirements for absentee voting, uniform voting hours statewide; the consolidation of primaries into one day (we had three this year); expanded poll worker training, restoration of voting rights to parolees; and more.

"The right to vote is the right that protects all other rights," Schneiderman said. "New York must become a national leader by protecting and expanding voting rights throughout the state."

City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who pointed out many of the limitations of New York's voting rules this spring, applauded Schneiderman's report and proposals.

"By many accounts, what happened in April was a fiasco—and Attorney General Schneiderman’s report spells it out," Stringer said in a statement. "He's no doubt been a critical leader on this issue."

A spokesman for the state Board of Elections said the board would review the proposals.

The Attorney General's Office report did not account for the more than 100,000 voters purged from Brooklyn voter rolls ahead of the primaries or the problems surrounding the general election. The office is looking into those issues separately.

Update 11:15 a.m.:

Yesterday afternoon, four hours after Schneiderman's office sent out a press release announcing the report, a release that included a quote from a good-government advocate describing New York's system as "antiquated" and a "passive form of voter suppression," lawyers from the same office were in defending the state Board of Elections in Manhattan Supreme Court from a lawsuit seeking to open the primaries. Mark Moody, the white-collar lawyer and spurned Bernie Sanders primary voter who brought the suit as a potential class action, called Schneiderman's dual roles "crazy."

Responding to the criticism, AG's Office spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said in an email, "The AG proposed key reforms to New York's laws that would make it easier to participate in our state's elections, including changing the party enrollment deadline. As the Supreme Court ruled, the current law is not unconstitutional—which is an entirely different question from whether it's a good law."

The AG's Office is counsel to state agencies, meaning it is responsible for defending them from lawsuits.

Judge Arthur Engoron dismissed the suit yesterday evening following deliberation that Moody said included Engoron reading aloud from a Wikipedia page a reference to "party raiding," the practice of mass party-switching to interfere with an opposing party's primary, which both parties invoke to maintain the current process. Moody called the danger of disruption by party raiding "a fiction," a position supported by the fact that only 11 states have closed primaries.

Moody said he is looking into an appeal.

"This is the beginning of the fight, not the end of the fight, let's put it that way," he said.