After presiding over a chaotic Democratic presidential primary on April 19, the New York City Board of Elections released its certified election results Friday afternoon showing that it has rejected 91,000 provisional affidavit ballots, or about three out of every four cast that day.
Diana Finch, who has served as a poll worker for nearly a decade, said the number of affidavit ballots in her Bronx election district far exceeded the usual number.
“The envelopes that are provided to each election district to put the affidavit ballots in were all filled to bursting at my poll site, we had to squeeze the affidavit ballots in,” Finch told The Indypendent. “Clearly the Board of Elections never anticipated having so many affidavits.”
There were a total of 121,056 affidavit ballots submitted, according to the Board of Elections. Finch explained that the 90,998 ballots excluded from the final tally have not been discarded yet—rather set aside for possible further review.
But the burden of proof has now shifted from the Board of Elections to voters.
According to Jonathan Clarke, a lawyer with voter advocacy group Election Justice USA, the voters behind those 90,000 affidavits must request the status of their ballot in person at the BOE’s office and contest it in court if they feel it was wrongly set aside.
People whose votes were excluded must act quickly to contest their affidavit status, given the BOE's recent certification.
“Certification is sort of symbolic in some sense. There’s been a couple occasions before in New York City when they’ve certified an election and they went back and looked at affidavit ballots, absentee ballots, and they got added or subtracted from the total,” Clarke told internet news show The Young Turks on Thursday.
“The certification formally starts the process where everything will become official,” Clarke added, explaining that certification initiates New York election law 16-106 which gives voters the right to challenge their rejected ballot in state court.
Typically, it takes the New York State BOE only a few days to certify New York City's results. After that, voters only have 20 days from New York State’s certification to pursue an appeal.
Michael J. Ryan, executive director of the embattled New York City BOE, confirmed that rejected affidavit voters can bring their claim to court, telling The Indypendent “that right is individual to the voter and the voter can bring a proceeding to have their vote validated.”
At the BOE’s two public hearings since the primary, hundreds of voters catalogued instances of alleged disenfranchisement—among them polling places that didn’t open on time, interpreters not available and most prominently, widespread confusion about affidavit ballots.
Affidavit ballots are reserved for voters whose names don’t appear on the voter rolls but an unusually high number of affidavits were cast, giving fuel to claims that voters were falsely removed from the rolls.
121,056 New York City voters cast affidavit ballots in last month’s Democratic primary election.
Voters such as 30-year-old Angelica Thornhill from Crown Heights will now be able to contest their rejected affidavits. On Tuesday May 3, during a raucous public hearing, Thornhill told the Board that she painstakingly took steps to ensure she was a registered Democrat, yet when she showed up to vote her record showed her registration as unaffiliated.
“If that’s your mistake, my vote should be counted,” she pleaded with the commissioners.
‘Advancing a Narrative’
But the Board claims that most of the voters who believe themselves disenfranchised are actually just confused about the primary laws.
“More often than not, you’re finding invalid affidavits in primaries because people are trying to vote parties that they’re not registered,” Ryan told reporters on Thursday.
Under New York State’s restrictive closed primary laws, only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in the party primaries.
It is unclear how many of the 121,056 affidavit voters were wrongly removed from the rolls—but on Thursday the BOE suspended another official over a snafu that wrongly purged some 120,000 Brooklyn Democrats from the voter rolls.
The Board announced the suspension without pay of Brooklyn Democrat Deputy Clerk Betty Ann Canizio, pending an investigation.
Last month, Chief Clerk Diane Haslett-Rudiano, a Brooklyn Republican was also suspended without pay.
Ryan traced the mistaken purge to a Department of Investigations report published at the end of 2013 that criticized the BOE for “leaving too many people on the rolls.”
“The Brooklyn office identified voters who hadn’t voted in a long time, and conducted a purge,” Ryan said, adding that “the proper procedure wasn’t followed.”
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer have both launched separate investigations into the BOE’s actions.
As for the contingent of concerned voters that lodged complaints to the Board over the past two weeks, Ryan cast off their concerns as part of an organized group with a specific agenda.
“We were warned in advance that there were folks out there that don’t like the New York primary system, and were going to advance a narrative,” Ryan said. “And they were well in the process of advancing that narrative and trying to make their pitch for why the process should be open primary like other states and not a closed primary.”
Manhattan resident and voting rights activist Nisi Jacobs disagrees.
Jacobs said the Board’s initial culpability and subsequent mishandling of the mass disenfranchisement serves to “highlight the juvenile, contemptuous, unprofessional and abusive relationship that exists between the New York City Board of Elections and the residents of New York City.”
“Instead of a customer service relationship” Jacobs added, “it is one built on power, disrespect, subjugation and alienation.”