By Bill Parry
Lefrak City voters are getting almost all of their polling sites back in time for Election Day after an appellate court judge denied an appeal by the city Board of Elections Wedneday for a stay on a lower court’s ruling last week.
State Supreme Court Justice Erika Edwards issued an order last Friday for the immediate relocation of the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 25th Election Districts back to LeFrak City, reversing an action made by the Board of Elections that she deemed to be “irrational, arbitrary and capricious.” The BOE filed the last-minute appeal Monday, causing chaos at the massive housing complex in Corona which is home to more than 14,000.
Following the appellate court ruling, the BOE has been ordered to notify all LeFrak City tenants that Electoral Districts 15, 16, 18 and 25 will vote in The Continental room, which had been used as a polling site for more than 50 years, until the BOE decided to move them out because the location was not compliant with federal handicapped-accessible laws. Election District 17 will remain at the High School for the Arts and Businesses.
“Today we celebrate victory for true democracy in New York City,” Black Leadership Action Coalition President and Founder Bertha Lewis said. “Voting is a right, but even in 2017, many people’s voting rights are hindered, especially in communities that are already marginalized. We told the BOE ‘no more!’ and last week the New York Supreme Court agreed.”
A coalition of civil rights organizations and the Lefrak City tenant association sued the BOE when the voters in the five districts were redirected to two locations outside Lefrak City nearly a mile away for the September primary elections.
“When we first contacted the BOE over our relocation concerns, they promised they would work with us to find a solution,” LeFrak City Tenants League Coordinator Jim Galloway said. “Their neglect to do so showed their inconsideration for LeFrak residents. I am thankful that the court has acted with enough time for LeFrak City residents to be able to vote at their usual poll site for the city’s general election on Nov. 7. “
LeFrak City was seen as a hotbed of support for controversial candidate Hiram Monserrate in his primary race against state Assemblyman Francisco Moya to replace the retiring City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-East Elmhurst). Moya won with 56 percent of the vote to Monserrate’s 44 percent.
Monserrate was still popular among LeFrak residents despite his past that included expulsion from the state Senate in 2010 for assaulting his then-girlfriend followed by a 24-month prison sentence for mail fraud while serving on the City Council in 2012.
Now the coalition is trying to alert all registered voters that the polling sites will be open Tuesday in LeFrak City.
“It is clear, not only to us, but to the system at large, the BOE participated in voter suppression,” Lewis said. “Relocating polling stations directly resulted in a lower-than-average voter turnout in the primaries. A distance of just three-fourths of a mile affected whether many elderly people, disabled people, and people of color were able to vote in September. It was voter suppression, and it has now been recognized by the New York Supreme Court.”
Attorney Arthur Schwartz represented the Lefrak City tenants in the case.
“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,” he said. “We could not have expected a better victory.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr