Federal Court Acts to Correct Errors in Elections, Supports Power for the People
Elections are supposed to be fair and transparent. A closer look at the details reveals that the rules are complicated, and the process is never straightforward. For the past four months a congressional race in Upstate New York has been locked in heated Court battles over the way the local board of elections conducted the race.
After numerous motions, appeals, and oral-arguments, Republican Claudia Tenney is set to be declared the winner over former Rep. Anthony Brindisi.
Advocates said there is another clear loser in the contest: local boards of elections, whose errors have been laid bare as reported in the Wall Street Journal reports.
According to the WSJ, State Supreme Court Justice Scott DelConte said errors in Oneida County, which includes Utica, were “particularly troubling.” Officials there improperly rejected 1,800 affidavit ballots and failed to follow procedures to properly mark ballots during counting, according to testimony and rulings by Justice DelConte.
Last month, Oneida County officials said they never processed 2,418 voter-registration applications submitted through the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Affidavit ballots cast provisionally by some of those voters were initially rejected. Justice DelConte said in court the candidates deserved better, and said in a ruling that the error “violated both state and federal law.”
This concern is echoed by the Far Right and Liberal Left. Finally, here is a place where both extremes can find common ground and work toward a resolution that benefits all.
Both sides agree that voter suppression is a real and it threatens our democracy.
State Sen. Zellnor Myrie, a Democrat from Brooklyn who chairs the chamber’s election committee, said having the last House race to be resolved was a source of deep embarrassment. He promised to look at every aspect of election administration in the state. He said, “We cannot accept a democracy that allows this much confusion and incompetence.”
The good news is that on January 10, 2020, Common Cause New York won a landmark decision requiring the New York State Board of Elections to maintain a list of ALL Voters – both Active and Inactive names be on lists maintained at ALL polling places.
According to Common Cause, “U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan of the Southern District of New York issued a landmark decision holding that New York State’s refusal to include inactive voters on poll ledgers used in polling places on Election Day violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The opinion, following a four-day bench trial in October 2019, requires New York State election officials to provide the names of inactive voters to poll workers at all polling places throughout the State.”
The judge cited extensive evidence against the Board of Elections’ practice of moving voters to inactive status and removing their names from the voting rolls at polling locations. The judge found that the refusal to include the names of inactive voters on lists used at polling places caused disenfranchisement, confusion, and delay for voters across New York.
“While this decision comes too late for my contested 2019 June Primary, it gives fresh courage to confront the forces seeking to cheat the people from having change makers in office,” said former Mayor Richard Thomas who supported Common Cause’s action.
In June 2019, Mayor Thomas alleged voter suppression by the Westchester Board of Elections (WBOE) that resulted in him losing the Mayoral Primary by 209 votes. Troubling facts from the voter files from the WBOE indicate that significant and systemic changes were made to voter records suggesting fraud, tampering, and more wrongdoing to impact the outcome of the June 25, 2019 primary election for Mayor of Mount Vernon.
At issue was the integrity of the voter rolls and systemic changes made to rig the primary election. On May 31, 2018 the WBOE sent an excel file to Mayor Thomas’ campaign containing the “Active, Enrolled, Democratic Walking List,” the “Original 2018” list. On July 8th and 9th, 2019, the WBOE sent the same “2018 list” along with other information that was requested under the Freedom of Information Law. An analysis of the “Original 2018 Democratic Voter List” (“Original 2018 DVL”) and the “New 2018 Democratic Voter List” (“New 2018 DVL”) was conducted. A preliminary investigation uncovered the following key irregularities:
Systemic Voter Irregularities Confirmed
Approximately 6,000 votes vanished out of 13,000 people who voted in the June 2019 Primary. Approximately 7,000 votes were counted as part of the Mount Vernon Democratic Primary for Mayor.
4,209 Voter IDs in New 2018 DVL were not in the Original 2018 DVL (60% of 2019 Primary turnout of 7,000 for Mayor)
1,391 Voter IDs in Original 2018 DVL were not in the New 2018 DVL (20% of 2019 Primary turnout of 7,000 for Mayor)
1,114 Voter IDs born before 01/01/1934 were totally different than the same group in the New 2018 DVL which had 1,085 (16% of 2019 Primary turnout of 7,000 for Mayor)
683 Voter IDs had their “street addresses” changed without requesting the change. This changed their polling locations causing confusion and voter disenfranchisement due to incomplete information at poll sites. Most of the affected people could not and did not vote in the primary due to the WBOE's unwarranted change. (10% of 2019 Primary turnout of 7,000 for Mayor)
12 Voter IDs got new birthdays in the New 2018 DVL versus the Original 2018 DVL
5 Voter IDs were converted to new Voter IDs in the New 2018 DVL versus the Original 2018 DVL
Source Files: Original 2018 Democratic Voter List sent on 5/31/18 vs New 2018 Democratic Voter List sent on 07/10/19
"Based on the court ruling, it is clear that changes to “Voter Rolls” can swing an election. With the court ruling, these secret tactics by political insiders are now exposed and illegal. This is a good step toward creating better, transparent protections for elections," said Mayor Thomas.
This decision comes after similar matters occurred in Brooklyn and Georgia where the Board of Elections (or interests influencing them) made similar changes impacting tight races. Though rare, based on the facts, the Courts ordered a revote in Georgia and the outcome was different than before. As for Brooklyn, very limited actions were taken by the State of New York to address some of the issues.
“The court’s ruling is a huge victory for New York’s voters,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY. “Purging thousands of New Yorkers is in clear violation of the National Voter Registration Act and we’re so thrilled the Court agreed. Now, at every poll site throughout New York, inactive voters will no longer be denied their basic right to vote.”
“LatinoJustice applauds this precedential constitutional victory as we approach important 2020 election cycles,” said Juan Cartagena, LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s President and General Counsel. “The State must immediately implement the mandated Election Day operation reforms by providing polling site staff access to supplemental lists of names of invalid voters so that thousands of New Yorkers will be permitted to exercise their right to vote in upcoming primary elections.”
New York’s inactive voter and affidavit ballot practices, found by Judge Nathan to disenfranchise and impose burdens on voters, are emblematic of barriers across the country that burden voters and suppress the vote.
Mayor Thomas concluded that, "Every effort must be taken to monitor elections to stop voter suppression. The political establishment wants to exploit any opportunity to stay in power. These recent court developments affirm that Power belongs to the People and the People must Vote to Keep Power for the People!"