By Bill Parry
LeFrak City tenants rallied with civil rights activists on the steps of City Hall Monday to demand the city Board of Elections immediately withdraw its appeal of an October 2017 court ruling that prevented the agency from permanently relocating the residential complex’s longstanding polling sites.
Last month, the BOE filed a 46-page brief with the State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division claiming that New York County Supreme Court Justice Erika M. Edwards “encroached on the board’s authority” when she ruled that the BOE’s relocation of polling sites at LeFrak City was “irrational, arbitrary and capricious.”
Attorneys Arthur Schwartz and Ethan Felder, on behalf of the petitioners, will submit their own amicus brief challenging the appeal by the BOE and the Corporation Counsel for the City of New York, represented by Zachary Carter.
“All too often, the Board of Elections’ processes are opaque and difficult for citizens to influence,” lead attorney Schwartz said. “The LeFrak decision created a small window which hopefully we can widen. The Board of Elections is wrong to assert, as it does here, that their decisions are beyond review. New York has the 46th lowest voter turnout in the U.S., and the NYC Board of Elections deserve a lot of blame for that statistic.”
The battle began last summer when LeFrak tenants learned that their polling place — containing five different election districts — would be moved from within the complex’s Continental Room, where they have been voting for more than 50 years, to schools three-quarters of a mile away. Its 6,000 voters, many of whom are minority, elderly or disabled, would have to disperse to other sites that do not have public transportation options.
“Plain and simple, this is an attack on LeFrak City residents,” state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said. “Through their actions, the BOE has shown they are playing political games in order to disenfranchise voters living there. The courts have ruled — any poll site relocations at LeFrak are irrational — and I am calling on the board to withdrawal their appeal efforts.”
At the October 2017 New York Supreme Court hearing, Edwards issued an order for the immediate relocation of four of the five Election Districts — the 15th, 16th, 18th and 25th — back to LeFrak City, thereby reversing the actions of the BOE.
“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,” U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said in a statement backing the rally. “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. It is past time for the New York City Board of Elections to drop their misguided effort to move these polling sites.”
The BOE did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
“They are not above the law. Every elected official in the city and state should stand with us and the LeFrak City tenants,” The Black Institute President and Founder Bertha Lewis said. “This is voter suppression at its height, thereby disenfranchising one of the largest concentrations of minority voters in the city. We might as well be in Mississippi.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr