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Brooklyn's District Leaders Mobilize Voters and Combat Election Drama

Brooklyn's district leaders are working behind the scenes to ensure the run up to Election Day goes as smoothly as possible for voters in the borough
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A ton of preparation has gone into planning for October 24, the first day of early voting.

Henry Butler, the male Democratic State Committee Member (district leader) for the 56th Assembly District, told BK Reader he would be out "rallying the troops" for Democrats on Saturday, making sure the three early voting sites in the district, which includes Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, had everything they needed.

"Election turnout is going to be high this year because of the guy who's in the White House," Butler predicted of Brooklyn voters.

Increasing turnout

District leaders are unpaid elected officials, and each assembly district has a male and female leader. Butler shares the post with former Assemblymember Annette Robinson.

Henry Butler
District Leader Henry Butler. Photo: Supplied.

Voter participation in their district has trended up sharply since the 2018 midterm elections, Butler said adding, "That tells me turnout is going to be amazing for the November election."

Assemblymember and Kings County Democratic Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Flatbush-Ditmas Park) told BK Reader there was tremendous election buzz in the 42nd Assembly District, which includes parts of Flatbush and Midwood, where she shares district leadership with Josue Pierre, a 2021 City Council candidate.

"This is one of the most important elections of our time, and the people of the 42nd Assembly District recognize that," Bichotte said. She added inequities in healthcare, education and income resulted in higher COVID-19 fatality rates in largely-minority districts like her own.

"I think voters here realize that our federal leadership let them down and they are eager for a chance to change the tide," she said.

Responding to election nightmares

If the past is any indication, Election Day could be a nightmare. Problems with ballots, broken ballot-scanning machines and long lines plagued the 2018 midterm elections

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte. Photo: Supplied.

One year later, a failure to update voting records made it appear more than 75,000 Brooklyn voters didn't cast a ballot.

Following numerous voting issues in the 2020 primary, absentee voting for the 2020 general election got off to a rocky start with ballot printing errors.

Part of the district leader's job is to monitor the polls in their district and put out fires as they arise. 

On Election Day, Butler said he would be working closely with poll station coordinators, who are his eyes and ears at the 26 voting sites in the district.

Managing poll worker shortage

Looking ahead to November, the New York Board of Elections reported concerns about a poll worker shortage. Typically, more than half the number of workers are over 60, an age group that is vulnerable to the coronavirus, raising fears about their safety at polling sites this year.

Pierre, whose helps to recruit poll workers, told BK Reader a number of young people had stepped up to fill the void. "You'd be surprised at how many people don't know they could be poll workers or about the process," he said. "Getting more of the local people involved is my priority as a district leader."

Josue Pierre candidate 40th City Council District
Josue Pierre candidate 40th City Council District. Photo: Supplied.

Pierre noted many signed up not only out of a sense of civic duty, but also for economic reasons during a pandemic that has wiped out a huge number of jobs.

The NYC Board of Elections is hiring poll workers for positions that include election inspectors and language interpreters. In September, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order that allowed jobless people to work at polls without losing their unemployment benefits.

Nearly 200 people responded to a call for poll workers, Butler said about his district. Many of them are 17-year-old high school students who can work under a Board of Elections student program.

Educating voters

In an unprecedented election year, impacted by the deadly virus, the district leaders needed to go the extra mile to educate their communities about voting options.

Pierre said a significant number of district residents were voting early or using absentee ballots for the first time. He and Bichotte have shared updated and accurate information, which is often integrated into broader discussions at town hall meetings and 2020 census events. Social media, email, text messaging and robocalls are other tools in their arsenal.

In her role as an Assemblymember, Bichotte said her office informed residents of their voting rights, options and polling locations through bi-weekly communications about the COVID-19 pandemic. She was also a driving force behind election reforms to ensure each vote is counted.

Butler, president of the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association and a 2021 City Council candidate, used social media and old-fashion methods like visits to senior centers and other places to keep folks in the 56th district informed.

He advocated early voting when possible — especially after the absentee ballot "snafu" and White House attacks on the U.S. Postal Service.

"In my opinion, people should early vote," he said. "I don't trust the mail system that has been sabotaged by the Trump administration." 

To find your nearest early voting site, click here. To apply for an absentee ballot, click here.

About the Author: Nigel Roberts

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