Updated on Nov. 2, 12:40 p.m.
The New York State Supreme Court ruled last week that voting locations at a housing complex in Corona must be restored before the Nov. 7 primary elections.
In August, 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 at 96-10 57th Ave.
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.
On Friday, Oct. 27, Judge Erika M. Edwards issued an order for the immediate relocation of the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 25th Election Districts back to LeFrak City, reversing an action made by the (BOE). Edwards called the move “irrational, arbitrary and capricious.”
In response, the BOE filed an appeal to the ruling on Oct. 30 and requested a stay. Officials said that community leaders already began telling LeFrak City residents that the polling sites had been moved back and this appeal will create uncertainty if the judge grants a stay.
“Not only did the court find that the BOE’s actions were ‘irrational, arbitrary and capricious,’ it also ordered them to take immediate action to correct its mistake and to find additional poll sites within LeFrak City to ensure this situation never happens again. We could not have expected a better victory – and we fully expect to prevail on the appeal,” said Arthur Schwartz, an attorney representing petitioners. “Unfortunately, by asking for a stay of Judge Edwards’ order, the board has created a very chaotic situation.”
Bertha Lewis, President and Founder of The Black Institute, who was involved in organizing LeFrak City tenants announced on Nov. 2 that the BOE lost its appeal in court.
“The battle does not end here. Because this issue has not been highly publicized, I urge everyone to spread the word that LeFrak City polling stationshave been restored,” Lewis said in a statement. “Election Day is less than a week away and we want the every voter to know where they can exercise their right.”
Edward’s decision last Friday also requires the BOE to find other suitable voting locations within LeFrak City and to help management make potential locations suitable for all voters, including remaining compliant with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). The BOE has also been instructed to immediately notify all LeFrak City voters of their new voting locations.
“The BOE originally acted without any input whatsoever from our community and later ignored all of our suggested alternatives,” said Malikah Shabazz, president of LeFrak City Tenants Association. “Alternatives that would have allowed for many of our seniors and residents with disabilities a safe and accessible opportunity to vote. These acts resulted in a much lower turnout than we normally have in primary elections. I hope the BOE will eagerly look to involve community residents throughout the decision-making process when it comes to locating and relocating poll sites.”