By Anna Gustafson
Former City Council candidate Albert Cohen’s camp dismissed reports his campaign had sent in numerous voter registration forms fraught with errors, including the names of dead people, saying any mistakes were growing pains in a massive effort to register voters who Cohen officials called disenfranchised.
“The Cohen campaign registered over 3,000 new voters in a community that had been largely ignored by City Hall for decades,” said Steven Stites, a spokesman for Cohen. “Many of these people were completely new to the political process. Any small errors that were made are the result of getting people involved in democracy for the first time. Last Tuesday’s results show that the Bukharian community is ready to have the place at the table it deserves.”
Cohen was one of six Democrats running to replace Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills). Former Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz won the election, capturing a little more than 25 percent of the vote. Cohen placed fourth in the race, receiving more than 13 percent of the vote. He attracted more votes than former state Assemblyman Michael Cohen and Mel Gagarin.
Albert Cohen said he supports Koslowitz and he will do anything to help her while she is in office.
The New York Post reported on Primary Day that city Board of Elections officials said 1,037 voter registration forms sent by the Cohen campaign had missing information. When board officials sent letters asking registrants for more information to complete the forms prior to the primary, 92 of them were returned as undeliverable and three of the registrants’ names belonged to dead individuals.
The board said it removed those names from the voter rolls and Elections officials said they would further review the matter after November, the Post reported.
A BOE spokeswoman did not return repeated phone calls for comment.
Much of the Bukharian community had rallied around Cohen’s bid for office and Stites said many Bukharians were coming out to vote for the first time. Language barriers and an unfamiliarity with the election process, Stites said, led to the mistakes on the registration forms, as well as to much frustration for Bukharians at the polls.The Bukharians emigrated from Central Asia, where they lived in two Soviet republics.
“Albert Cohen, a first-time candidate, received over 13 percent of the vote, despite many Bukharians being turned away at the polls due to small flaws in their registrations,” Stites said. “We hope this will be the beginning of a new era for Queens, and that city government will realize it can no longer ignore middle-class and immigrant communities that have been left on the outside looking in for so many years.”
Ari Kagan, an independent poll watcher at PS 175 in Rego Park, said there was no Russian translator at the voting site despite a large Russian population in the area, which led to many Bukharian voters becoming frustrated and leaving the school without voting.
“They had Chinese and Korean translators,” Kagan said. “I was there the whole day, and I saw maybe 10 or 15 Chinese people, and I’m not sure there was a single Korean voter. At the same time, they were totally swamped by Russian-speaking voters, Bukharians and non-Bukharians.”
Kagan said he believes Cohen would have received at least another 60 or 70 votes at PS 175 had there been a Russian translator who could have helped the individuals who ended up not voting because of the language barrier.
“The Board of Elections was totally unprepared for this election,” Kagan said.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.