Friday, May 12, 2017

NYC BOE Failed to Notify Disqualified Voters

More than 168,000 people cast Paper Ballots at the Polls in the 2016 Presidential Election because their names did not appear on the Voter Rolls. The New York City Board of Elections (BOE) disqualified more than 78,000 of those Ballots, and those Votes did not Count.

But none of those Voters were Notified in Time to Challenge that decision as required by Law.

Lauren Wolfe of Brooklyn Heights is one of those Voters. On Election Day, she looked up her Poll Site online, found the address and went there to Vote. But when she arrived, Poll workers told her she was in the wrong place, and directed her to a different location a few blocks away. So she went there, and her name wasn’t on the Rolls there, either. Poll workers at the second site told her to go back the first site. Wolfe said she made this trip back and forth about four times. Finally at the second site, Poll workers gave her an Affidavit Ballot, those are the Paper Ballots with envelopes for people whose names do not appear on the Rolls.

"I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to do that unless you can promise me my vote is going to count.’ And the woman said to me, ‘I promise it will, 100 percent’," said Wolfe.

Fast forward to March, four months after the Election. Wolfe got a Letter from the BOE saying her Affidavit Ballot did not count because she Voted at the wrong Poll site. Wolfe was so upset she reached out to the Good Government group Common Cause for help.

"For the first time, I understood what it could mean to be disenfranchised — whether this was unintentional or not, it still made me feel very distant from the democratic process," said Wolfe.

The Law says the BOE is supposed to notify Voters "immediately" by First Class Mail if it is not going to Count a Vote. Voters have 20 days to Appeal the BOE’s decision in Court. The BOE failed to notify any of the Disqualified Voters in time for them to Appeal, according to records released to WNYC under the State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

"What we see here in New York City is that the voters are denied any chance of defending their own ballot," said Susan Lerner, Head of Common Cause. She added, "They have no recourse. They've simply been disenfranchised. And that is scandalous and completely unacceptable."

Common Cause, along with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the Justice Department, are currently suing the BOE in Federal Court over the Management of the Voter Rolls.

Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the BOE, looked up Wolfe’s Voter History at WNYC’s request. It turns out Wolfe’s Ballot would have counted if she had Voted at the first Polling site. Ryan said there is no evidence to support her story that Poll workers misdirected her, and by the time she was notified, it was too late.

"You could do all the data analysis you want to do at the back end, what I’m telling you is it is impossible for the City Board of Elections to meet a 20-day deadline, particularly in a presidential election year," Ryan said.

The BOE certified the Election results on Dec. 6th, 28 days after the General Election, in advance of the Electoral College Vote.

So how far off is the Board from that legal timeline? The Board says they started Mailing Notices on Nov. 30th, two days after the Deadline, and they were still sending notices to Voters as of this week.

In 2017, the Mayor, Controller, Public Advocate, and the Five Borough Presidents, and all 51 Council seats will be up for a vote, including seven Open seats where there’s no incumbent.

The winners will be decided by voters this fall — if every vote counts.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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