The New York City Board of Elections has come under fire for actions ranging from the purging of voter roles in Brooklyn to improper maintenance of voter rolls in general. The problems were extremely evident in the recent 2017 presidential primary elections but apparently extend all the way back to 2013. Both state and federal laws are believed to have been broken.
New York City Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is spearheading the investigation into voter roll improprieties by the Board of Elections. Among the issues he is investigating is the purge of almost 120,000 voters in Brooklyn, initially reported to WNYC, during the recent presidential primary elections. He has stated, however, that in his eight-month investigation of the Election Board, he has found improper actions taken over the last two years. With more than 4 million voters registered in New York City, the Attorney General’s office has alleged that more than 200,000 of those voters had been purged from registration rolls going back three years to 2014.
That year, according to Mr. Schneiderman, 60,000 voters were inappropriately removed from the rolls along with another 43,000 voters in 2015. These actions violated both state and federal laws and, apparently, borough election officials, the central staff, commissioners and executive management were all aware of it happening. Attorney General Schneiderman accuses these officials of either being negligent of their obedience to the law or knowingly violating it.
As he told WNYC, “That these things were going on reflects, in our view, gross negligence and a real dereliction of duty.” The Attorney General’s office is looking to join forces with the Department of Justice in a lawsuit against the New York City Board of Elections. The lawsuit had been filed first by LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, and Dechert LLP on behalf of Common Cause, which works to ensure voting rights.
The problems supposedly began in December of 2013 when the New York City Department of Investigation reported that numerous issues with the maintenance of voter rolls were found at the city’s Board of Elections. Then, it was recommended that the Board’s policies of determining whether a voter was unqualified should be examined more closely. In response, the board apparently looked to trim down its voter rolls using Social Security Administration databases to determine which voters had died.
Then, according to accusations made by Attorney General Schneiderman, in January 2014, Queens Borough Office officials began using the private, commercial website www.Ancestry.com, through a subscription, to investigate whether voters should still be included on the rolls. Attorney General Schneiderman has stated that the use of such a source in this context is "completely improper."
Investigations into the Board of Elections initially began after it was reported by WNYC that they had illegally purged 117,000 voters from the rolls in Brooklyn during the 2017 presidential primary run-up between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. This was found to violate both the National Voter Registration Act and New York State Election law since voters were removed simply for not voting since elections in 2008. The Election Board had not bothered to seek any further authentication than that.
According to the law, the ONLY times a voter may ever be removed from the registration rolls is if they have died, are incarcerated or have been convicted of a felony and are then on parole, or a court has ruled them incompetent. Both state and federal law further states that if the Election Board has reason to believe that a voter has moved, they must mail them a notice asking the voter to confirm whether they moved and then place the voter on “inactive status.” Even then, a voter may only be removed from the rolls after a period of two federal election cycles, which usually takes up to four years.
By: Anat Ghelber