After the 2016 BOE’s voter ‘purge’ in Brooklyn, the comptroller’s office deployed staff to more than 150 poll sites, uncovering violations of federal, state and BOE rules
Just days before the citywide election on November 7, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer released an alarming new audit today, showing significant breakdowns in the operations of elections by the city’s Board of Elections (BOE) that jeopardize New Yorkers’ right to vote. After the BOE’s voter “purge” in Brooklyn came to light in April 2016, the comptroller’s office deployed staff to more than 150 poll sites to observe three subsequent elections.
“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,” Stringer said. “The BOE cannot be synonymous with dysfunction, and we cannot allow these egregious failures to undermine New Yorkers’ fundamental rights. Our poll workers work exceptionally hard, but the BOE isn’t giving them the support they deserve.”
Auditors scrutinized the BOE’s operations at 156 poll sites over three elections (held on June 28, 2016, September 13, 2016, and November 8, 2016), cross-checked their findings with federal, state and local laws, and examined voter rolls. They discovered violations of federal, state and BOE rules – including mishandled affidavit ballots – at more than half of the poll sites, inadequate staffing at 75 percent of voting locations and fundamental failures in serving voters with disabilities at more than 25 percent of polling places.
The report uncovers how federal and state election laws were broken, and the BOE failed to properly staff polling sites and adequately train poll workers, and provide assistance to voters with disabilities.
Federal and State Election Laws Were Broken, and the BOE’s Own Internal Rules Were Ignored
The comptroller’s office staff found that at 82 of of the 156 polling sites federal and state election law, or BOE rules were broken. Affidavit ballots, used by voters whose names are not on the rolls but may still be eligible to vote, were mishandled. At numerous poll sites, auditors observed unlawful electioneering, including discussing candidates on the ballot and, in some instances, interpreters and poll workers telling voters which candidate to vote for instead of how to vote.
The BOE Failed to Properly Staff More Than Three Quarters of Sampled Polling Sites — Leading to Confusion and Delays at the Polls; Poll Worker Training Proved Exceptionally Inadequate
The comptroller’s office identified staffing problems at 118 of the 156 poll sites visited. According to the findings, the BOE ignored requests for replacement staff by poll site coordinators for poll workers who did not show up. The comptroller’s staff observed a 17% “vacancy rate” — which means no one was even assigned to 17 percent of required jobs. Auditors also received reports that either too few interpreters for the primary languages spoken in those specific neighborhoods, or that no interpreters were assigned to the poll site at all.
The audit’s assessment also shows that training sessions for poll workers were inadequate. Sessions failed to cover the full scope of work required, with little to no hands-on training, to effectively coordinate Election Day operations “due to time constraints.”
The BOE Often Failed to Provide Assistance for Voters with Disabilities
Auditors found that at 45 of the 156 sampled poll sites the BOE did not provide adequate assistance for people with disabilities: wheelchair ramps weren’t installed until hours after poll sites opened, elevators were broken and signs denoting accessible entrances were not publicized. “Ballot Marking Machines,” which help voters with disabilities fill out their ballots independently, were not fully functioning; “accessibility clerks” — who are specifically assigned to help voters with disabilities — either didn’t show up on Election Day, or were re-assigned to other tasks.
The report states in its conclusion that the deficiencies found in the investigation – if not addressed – will increase the risk that registered voters will not be provided the opportunity to vote and to have their votes counted.
“After a thorough review of the agency, it’s clear the voter purge is a reflection of larger, systemic, day-to-day breakdowns,” said Stringer. “Elections matter, and every vote must be counted in every election.”
To see the full report, go here.