A report from city Comptroller Scott Stringer exposed massive dysfunction within the Board of Elections in a report which audited its performance over the course of three elections in 2016.
The city, which has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the nation, has disenfranchised the public through dumped voter rolls and widespread inefficiency at over 53 percent of the poll sites reviewed where state and federal election laws were broken, according to the audit promised by Stringer in April 2016.
“Most know about the Brooklyn purge, in which more than 117,000 residents were taken off the voter rolls. What these new findings show, however, is that there is effectively another purge that takes place beneath the surface. We’ve uncovered deeply concerning, systemic issues in the BOE’s operations,” Stringer said. “The BOE cannot be synonymous with dysfunction, and we cannot allow these egregious failures to undermine New Yorkers’ fundamental rights.”
The report revealed that out of 156 polling sites, 14 percent had mishandled affidavit ballots for people eligible to vote but who may not on the rolls. One site failed to inform voters of the option to vote via affidavit, a violation of federal law, and thus “disenfranchising” individuals.
Up to 10 percent of poll sites showed many voters went unassisted when issues arose. One example given by the report said a scanner had rejected a ballot and the distracted poll site worker did not notice until the person had already left. Staff at the site were forced to void the ballot and the person’s vote was not counted.
“Our poll workers work exceptionally hard, but the BOE isn’t giving them the support they deserve,” Stringer said. “After a thorough review of the agency, it’s clear the voter purge is a reflection of larger, systemic, day-to-day breakdowns. Elections matter and every vote must be counted in every election. That’s why the BOE needs to fundamentally change its operations.”
Other issues discussed in the report show “electioneering” from poll workers who discussed candidates within earshot of voters, an interpreter who was telling people who to vote for instead of how to vote and one affidavit voter being told by the poll worker which candidate to support.
At 27 percent of poll sites, ballots were given out before registration rolls were signed, increasing the risk of improperly cast votes.
Workers at over a dozen sites did not know how to properly close a site at the end of the day, including the procedure for processing required vote-count documents.
At 10 percent of sites, wheelchair accessibility ramps were not installed until late in the day and “accessibility clerks” either did not show up or were assigned to other tasks at 12 percent of sites. “Ballot Marking Machines” for voters with disabilities were not functional 10 percent of the time.
Auditors attended training seminars where curriculum was skipped for time constraints and exams were open book with answers often being found on the next question.
One auditor was told by one trainee the test was an “idiot test… where you are told where to find the answers.”
According to an April report by Stringer detailing low turnout, only 24 percent of registered voters in Queens made it to the polls in a 2014 election.
Between March 2014 and July 2015, when the BOE’s Brooklyn office purged 117,305 Democratic voter rolls just prior to the presidential primary because those individuals had not voted since 2008, the city agency violated state and federal law and has since taken responsibility for this.
Stringer recommended the agency hire new and more workers who will be better trained, allow personnel to switch shifts as necessary, ensure sites are staffed and fully accessible and establish a working group to review issues and implement reform.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall