LeFrak City residents rally at City Hall as battle over relocating Queens polling site continues

Photo courtesy of the Blac Institute

LeFrak City tenants, advocates and elected officials visited City Hall on Monday to call on the Board of Elections (BOE) to withdraw their appeal to a court ruling that stated the agency must restore a voting site at the Corona housing complex.

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 2017, 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. In response to this move, The LeFrak Tenants Association and other community groups filed a complaint in New York Supreme Court in August 2017 against the state BOE for moving the polling site, which has been used by residents for 50 years.

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).

But the polling site was used for several elections in 2015 and 2016 and the BOE’s decision to move the site was made after a September 2016 review.

“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 2017 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.

Tenants scored a victory when the New York State Supreme Court ruled in October 2017 that the voting location must be restored before the Nov. 7 primary elections.

“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,” said Arthur Schwartz, an attorney representing petitioners, after the court’s decision.

But tenants are now nervous that the victory will not last long as the BOE filed a 46-page brief with the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division and claimed that New York County Supreme Court Justice Erika Edwards “encroached on the Board’s authority” with her ruling.

“The Board of Elections has yet to learn that its actions have dramatic consequences for those trying to access the franchise,” said Ethan Felder, another attorney representing petitioners. “The Board’s actions send an unmistakable message to communities of color and the disabled that not everyone’s right to vote matters equally. This is anathema to democracy. In the times we live in, it is the people who are leading the way in defending our most sacred rights and freedoms.”

Attorneys will file their own amicus brief challenging the BOE’s appeal, they said at the rally. Malikah K Shabazz, president of LeFrak City Tenants Association, said that Governor Andrew Cuomo should investigate why the BOE is adamant about moving this polling location.

“It is my view that the governor should conduct an investigation into the relocation of our poll site, as well as other poll sites around the city,” she said. “It is the responsibility of commissioners of the Board of Elections to insure that the voters’ rights are protected. Suppressing votes in any way sabotages elections.”

Several elected officials have thrown their support behind the tenants, including Congressman Joe Crowley and state Senator Jose Peralta.

“The right to vote is paramount and I stand strongly with LeFrak City tenants as they fight to ensure that their longstanding polling sites remain within the community,” Crowley said in a statement. “Any restriction of voting access to communities of color, low-income neighborhoods, senior citizens or any eligible voters stifles our citizens’ voices and their right to be heard. I will not allow that to occur in LeFrak City.” 

A spokesperson for DOE did not respond to a request for comment as of the time this article was published.