By Mark Hallum
City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office is launching an audit of the city Board of Elections following Primary Day problems in the five boroughs, including the dropping of 120,000 voters from the rolls in Brooklyn.
In a letter BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan, Stringer pointed out the major issues that occurred and demanded an explanation to prevent issues from continuing in future elections.
Some problems mentioned in the letter were hitches in poll station operations, weak communication with voters, poor training for poll workers and voter disenfranchisement from purged voter rolls. Stringer referred to the April report released by his office titled “Barriers to the Ballot,” in which solutions to the city’s overwhelmingly low voter turnout – currently the lowest in the country before the 2016 presidential primary – are addressed.
Many polling locations were reported to have opened late or not at all, according to Stringer, and one site in Queens had its machines break down.
“Meanwhile, a voter in southeast Queens reported broken machines at his poll site at the start of the day, leading poll workers to instruct voters ‘to place their ballot in a slot, and they would all get processed later,’” Stringer said. He asked Ryan to explain how these road blocks would be overcome in the June and September primaries as well as the November general election.
In “Barriers to the Ballot,” Stringer said modern technology such as text and e-mail must be included in the communications strategy to get voters to the right place at the right time. Leading up to Primary Day, some 60,000 voters received letters that erroneously informed them that the election would be held in September and were later informed in a separate letter that it would be held April 12.
Primary Day also had reports of workers who did not know how to operate the “optimum scan” voting machines, according to Stringer’s letter. In addition, some poll workers delivered conflicting information and told voters that an affidavit ballot would not count towards the election.
The purged voter rolls in Brooklyn were mentioned last in the letter as well as the lawsuit already filed known as Campanello et al v. state Board of Elections, asking for the barred voters’ rights to be restored immediately.
“These errors have conspired to bar first time and longtime voters from exercising their fundamental democratic right,” Stringer said. “Indeed, voter enrollment data show that the number of eligible Democratic voters in Brooklyn precipitously dropped by more than 120,000 voters between November 2015 and April 2016, without any adequate explanation furnished by the Board of Elections.”
Stringer’s “Barriers to the Ballot” report proposes adoption of same-day registration, which would allow voters to register on the same day as elections.
“There is nothing more sacred in our nation than the right to vote, yet election after election, reports come in of people who were inexplicably purged from the polls, told to vote at the wrong location or unable to get in to their polling site,” Stringer said about the audit his office will conduct.
“The people of New York City have lost confidence that the Board of Elections can effectively administer elections and we intend to find out why the BOE is so consistently disorganized, chaotic and inefficient,” he said. “With four elections in New York City in 2016 alone, we don’t have a moment to spare.”
General election turnout for Queens was recorded at 24 percent in 2014, indicating a downward spiral from previous years.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall