Stacie B. Burgess
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
202) 445-6101 (cell)
New York Voters Encounter Barriers to the Ballot Box During the April 19 Presidential Primary
Party Affiliation Challenges, Delayed Openings at Polling Places and Machine Failures Plagued Primary Election
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 19, 2016 – The nationwide nonpartisan Election Protection voter hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE, received over 900 calls from New Yorkers during the April 19 presidential primary, as of 9 p.m. EDT. This exceeds the number of calls received from voters in other states with restrictive voting laws like Texas and Georgia. The hotline received calls from New Yorkers encountering problems that included confusion over eligibility to participate in party primaries, poll sites that failed to open on time and malfunctioning polling machines.
“Voters across New York encountered significant hurdles while attempting to cast their ballots during this primary election,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Hundreds of voters across the state reported problems that make clear the need for election reforms that can bring New York’s election system into the 21st century. Voters arrived at polling sites that failed to open on time, encountered malfunctioning equipment and failed to receive clear information regarding eligibility to participate in their party primary. These are the breaks in the system that contribute to New York having one of the lowest voter participation rates in the country.”
Delayed Poll Openings and Technical Malfunctions
Several Brooklyn voters reported delayed openings at the International School at MacDougal Street. One voter arrived at the location at 7 a.m. only to be told by a poll worker that the location was closed because he did not have the key to a “lock box” containing the ballots. The voter reported that other voters left the polling location without voting. After calling the NYC Board of Elections and failing to get through to a live staff person, the voter left and returned an hour later. It was unclear whether other impacted voters were able to make a second return trip to the polling site.
Another voter in Brooklyn reported that his polling location was closed due to “technical problems” and contacted Election Protection because of concerns that his ballot would not count. When he arrived at his polling site located at the Williamsburg Community Center at 6 a.m., a poll worker told him that he would need to vote at a location across the street and that he would have to cast an affidavit ballot. He was further advised that the ballot may not count, even though his registration status is current and correct. The voter witnessed over 20 voters walk away without casting a ballot.
Party Affiliation Confusion and Disenfranchisement
Election Protection received many calls from voters who were not permitted to cast a regular ballot because they were identified as unaffiliated or had changed their registration status after the October 9, 2015 deadline.
One Ulster County voter reported that despite the fact that she has been registered as a Democrat since 2010, and has not made any changes to her party affiliation, she was identified as unaffiliated through the State Board of Election’s website. When she called the county, an election worker told her to vote by affidavit ballot, even though their records clearly reflected her affiliation as a Democrat.
A Manhattan voter who had checked her registration status online yesterday saw that she was identified as unaffiliated, even though she has been registered as a Democrat. She updated her registration last year when she moved, but did not check the party affiliation box on the form because she was previously registered as a Democrat. Undeterred, the voter went to the Board of Elections this morning to argue her case before an elections judge who issued her a court order allowing her to vote a regular ballot. The voter said that despite the court order, poll workers at the International School still pressured her to vote an affidavit ballot. The voter refused and was able to cast a regular ballot. She also noted that while at the Board of Elections, voters with a similar problems were told to vote by affidavit without being informed of their right to argue their case before a judge.
Another voter, registered with the Green Party, indicated that he was awaiting the outcome of pending litigation challenging the date restriction in New York for switching party affiliation before today's primary. He requested and was refused, an affidavit ballot at his polling place at Robert Wagner Middle School in New York City. He went back at noon and told both poll workers and a representative of the Board of Elections that it was his right to vote by affidavit, and was finally allowed to cast a provisional ballot. Later that day, District Judge Joanna Seybert denied the request for a temporary restraining order seeking to allow New Yorkers to vote in today’s primary regardless of party affiliation.
One voter mailed his application to change his party affiliation ahead of the October 9, 2015 registration deadline. He checked online and found that the change had not been processed properly. A conversation with the Board of Elections revealed that the board received his application on October 13, several days too late. New York law states that the Board of Elections needed to receive the application of an individual changing their party affiliation in their office by October 9 in order for that change to go into effect for any of the 2016 primary elections, regardless of the postmark. This differs from the general procedure for voter registration applications and other updates that are accepted if they are postmarked by the deadline.
Election Protection received a called from a distressed voter who had received an intimidating text message threatening her employment at a New York bank because of her support for her candidate of choice.
Another voter recently moved from Ulster County to Orange County on March 28, which is after the voter registration deadline. Determined to vote, the voter was able to obtain a court order from a judge in Ulster County which allowed her to vote. Confusion over voter registration by voters who recently moved has been a continuous problem through the 2016 primary election.
About Election Protection
Election Protection is the nation's largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, led by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Through its suite of hotlines, including the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline (866-687-8683) administered by the Lawyers’ Committee, 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682) administered by NALEO Educational Fund, 888-API-VOTE (888-273-8683) administered by APIAVote and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC and a dedicated team of trained legal and grassroots volunteers, Election Protection helps all American voters, including traditionally disenfranchised groups, gain access to the polls and overcome obstacles to voting. The coalition has more than 100 partners—including Advancement Project, Asian American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, League of Women Voters of the United States, NAACP, National Bar Association, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, State Voices, Rock the Vote and Verified Voting Foundation—at the national, state and local levels and provides voter protection services nationwide. For more information about Election Protection and the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline, please visit www.866ourvote.org.