NEW YORK, NEW YORK — Less than halfway though primary election day in New York, a main voter protection hotline has already received “hundreds” of phone calls from people with complaints, issues, and questions about their voter registrations and polling sites.
New Yorkers have been turned away due to problems with their voter registrations; polling sites have been closed; and equipment has been malfunctioning at sites across New York, according to Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Clarke’s organization runs the Election Protection hotline, which seeks to help voters work through challenges they experience at the polls.
“The traffic to our polling hotlines has been pretty significant,” Clarke told ThinkProgress on Tuesday afternoon. “We’re seeing a high volume of calls, which suggests this is not an election that is problem-free.”
The most frequent complaints received so far have been from voters who are confused about the New York’s closed primary rules, Clarke said. In New York, only registered Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary and only Republicans can vote in the Republican primary. Registered New York voters who wanted to switch parties had to do so by October 9, 2015 — more than six months ago — and many people didn’t realize they had to do it so early. New York has the earliest change-of-party deadline in the country.
We’re seeing a high volume of calls, which suggests this is not an election that is problem-free.
The result was that many New Yorkers showed up at their polls sites thinking they could vote, only to be turned away, Clarke said. One of those voters was Bayville resident Kali Ventresca, who changed her party affiliation from independent to Democrat on March 20, five days before New York’s registration deadline for new voters. Ventresca told ThinkProgress she didn’t realize the deadline for existing voters was different than the deadline for new voters. She fully expected to be able to cast a ballot.
“I’m pissed,” she said.
Other voters, however, insisted they did everything correctly with their voter registrations, and were still turned away because their names were not on the voter rolls.
“There are certainly some people who believe they did everything right, they registered well in advance, they registered and indicated their party preference, and expected to be able to vote in their party primary and their names are not on the rolls,” Clarke said.
In addition, voters in Brooklyn have reported that their polling sites were closed. Clarke said that one site at 195 Graham Ave was closed “due to technical difficulties.” Poll workers there reportedly “directed voters to another alternative site, and told voters they should go there and cast affidavit ballots,” Clarke said.
A polling place in Fort Green, Brooklyn, also opened more than two hours after it was supposed to, according to FiveThirtyEight chief economics reporter Ben Casselman. Though it was supposed to open at 6:00 a.m., Casselman said, his polling place didn’t open until 8:15 a.m., apparently because it was a new polling location and there was “no coordinator on site.”
— Ben Casselman (@bencasselman) April 19, 2016
Malfunctioning equipment was also reported at multiple sites in Brooklyn. Clarke said voting machines at the 215 MacDougal Street polling location were reported broken. “Our voter indicated that at some point the police arrived and locked up the voting machines because they were not working,” Clarke said. “We contacted the Board of Elections, and they said they’d send someone there.”
Another voter reported on Twitter that ballot scanners were malfunctioning at his polling site in Bushwick, Brooklyn. A poll worker reportedly told him that ballots there “won’t be counted today,” but will be at a later date.
@AGSchneiderman voted at Bushwick 72/53 poll site, scanners broken. Poll worker said votes “won’t be counted today”
— j.stratton-rayner 🌹🏴 (@joshuamrayner) April 19, 2016
So far, many of the voter complaints have come from Brooklyn, Clarke said.
“Brooklyn’s been well-represented for sure,” she said.
Clarke speculated that the reason so many calls have come from Brooklyn may be because of sheer size and voter turnout there. Brooklyn has, however, been the subject of some attention lately, after WYNC reported that Brooklyn has experienced an unprecedented, unexplained drop in registered Democratic voters. According to WYNC’s analysis, “the number of active registered Democrats dropped there by 63,558 voters between November 2015 and April 2016. That translates into a 7 percent drop in registered Democrats in the borough.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has demanded an explanation for the unprecedented drop in registered Brooklyn Democratic voters.