Civil Rights Groups Achieve Emergency Relief for Purged Voters in Lawsuit Against New York City Board of Elections


NOVEMBER 5, 2016

Order Requires NYC BOE to Provide Affidavit Ballots to Purged Voters

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 5, 2016 – Following a hearing in a lawsuit seeking emergency relief for voters purged from the registration rolls in New York City, a federal judge ordered Friday night that the New York City Board of Elections must require poll workers across New York City to provide affidavit ballots to individuals who believe they were registered to vote but whose names do not appear on the registration rolls.  Those affidavit ballots may be counted.  The lawsuit, brought by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the law firm of Dechert LLP, against the New York City Board of Elections (NYC BOE) was filed in federal court in the Eastern District of New York on behalf of Common Cause and individual plaintiffs, which challenged the NYC BOE’s premature removal of voters from the registration rolls, as violating the National Voter Registration Act.

After oral argument on the plaintiffs’ motion before Judge Nicholas Garaufis, the court approved an agreement granting plaintiffs’ requested relief providing that any voter who believes that they are registered to vote in New York City, but does not appear on the rolls, may vote this Election Day by affidavit ballot.  The NYC BOE agreed to alert voters who may have been improperly purged that they have the right to cast an affidavit ballot and that those ballots may be counted after the election. The NYC BOE also agreed to take corrective action including issuance of instructions to poll workers on the new requirements, providing notice to voters regarding the new rules by posting notice on the NYBOE website, issuing a press release, and alerting people by way of the city’s voting hotline.  The BOE will provide additional guidance to poll workers prior to Election Day.

“The NYC Board of Elections has maintained a policy of purging voters from the rolls in violation of the National Voter Registration Act,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Across the country we are seeing officials purge legitimately registered voters from the rolls despite the prohibitions contained within federal law. We will continue to fight against these policies to ensure that the rights of voters are preserved.”

“Yesterday’s Court Order provides necessary assurance that any eligible New Yorker who finds that their name does not appear in the poll book is entitled to an Affidavit Ballot, and that they must be advised that they will receive notice as to whether the ballot is ultimately counted,” said Joanna Cuevas Ingram, associate counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF.  “While we were able to ensure these requirements will be communicated to the public, as well as immediately to all 36,000+ NYC poll workers, it remains to be seen whether voters who were improperly removed from the rolls will have their ballots counted.”

“We are committed to ensuring that all eligible citizens are able to exercise the fundamental right to vote,” said Neil A. Steiner, partner, Dechert LLP.  “Yesterday’s order ensures that eligible New Yorkers who have been improperly removed from the voter rolls will be able to cast a ballot and have an opportunity to have their votes counted.”

“We are grateful that we were able, with the federal court’s assistance, to reach agreement with the NYC Board of Elections to provide voters with essential information about protecting their right to vote when they have been removed from the voter rolls and to emphasize to poll workers what the correct procedure is in that circumstance,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY.  “We are committed to doing everything necessary to insure that the Board’s procedures in maintaining the voter rolls fully comply with the requirements of federal law.”