Why is the Board of Elections forcing Corona apartment complex residents to travel a half-mile to vote?

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The LeFrak Tenants Association and other community groups filed a complaint in New York Supreme Court against the state Board of Elections (BOE) for moving a polling site off the apartment complex that has been serving residents for 50 years.

LeFrak City, an affordable housing development in Corona with 15,000 tenants, also serves as a polling site for residents. The tenants, many of whom are black, Latino and elderly, vote in the 20-building complex’s Continental Room.

In May, the BOE moved the polling site to the High School for Arts and Businesses and P.S. 13, which are three quarters and a third of a mile away from LeFrak City, respectively. According to the complaint, the site was moved due to a 2010 lawsuit filed by Disabled in Action, a group of organizations advocating for disabled voters. The suit claimed that this site and four others in the city did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The site was used for the November 2015 general election, the April 2016 Presidential Primary, the June 2016 Congressional Primary and the September 2016 Primary Election. Following a September 2016 review by the BOE, the agency found seven issues with the LeFrak City polling site, according to the complaint.

“Subsequent to the issuance of the report the Continental Room was used for the 2016 Presidential Election, which saw a 50 percent plus turnout; no one complained about being unable to vote due to the ‘problems’ flagged by the contractor,” the complaint read. “In fact, those findings were not relayed to LeFrak City management so that they could rectify the problems.”

Although LeFrak City management contacted BOE in June saying it would rectify any problems — and even suggested another site on the property for voting purposes — the BOE said the 4,500 registered voters had already been reassigned to the two other sites.

The LeFrak City Tenants Association, the Black Leadership Action Coalition (BLAC) and The Black Institute (TBI) filed a complained with the state Supreme Court on Aug. 28, arguing that the BOE is engaging in voter suppression as they are moving the site so close to the 2017 general election.

Assemblyman Francisco Moya is running against former state Senator Hiram Monserrate, who has support from TBI and other LeFrak City residents. Both politicians demanded that the site be reinstated.

“The board has totally ignored all of our requests for reconsideration,” said James Galloway, the coordinator for the LeFrak City Tenants League. “When we went before the board to file a complaint, they said they would work with us to find a solution. But they haven’t. Instead, they’ve been giving us the run-around. I think they’re hoping they can run out the clock and make it impossible for us to vote in a convenient and safe site.”

The suit claims that the BOE did not properly inform tenants of the change, sending a 16-page, multi-language publication with the address of the new polling site without mentioning the old site could not be used.

“Respondent has posted no notices, made no public announcement, has done no public education, and has made no arrangements to transport voters to the new voting sites, the principal one of which is .7 miles away if one follows a path along the Long Island Expressway,” the complaint read.

The BOE scheduled a meeting with BLAC to discuss the change on Aug. 8, according to the complaint, but the agency canceled that meeting and has been “unresponsive, dismissive, and unwilling to mitigate the impact of its unilateral decision.”

Durriyah Hakam, a LeFrak City resident who uses a walker, said the change will make it “impossible for me to vote.”

“The Continental Room was convenient and accessible – but the board decided to make everyone who lives in LeFrak City travel to inconvenient places if they want to vote,” Hakam said. “Given that they could have just opened some more polling sites in LeFrak City, it sure seems like they had some ulterior motive in implementing this new plan.”

The organizations are asking that the BOE wait to move the polling site until next year or to give management enough time to make the site ADA-compliant.

The New York Board of Elections did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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