City Board of Elections Admits It Broke the Law, Accepts Reforms

October 24, 2017 - WNYC

Screen_Shot_2017-12-08_at_4.38.30_PM.pngThe New York City Board of Elections is admitting it broke state and federal law when it improperly removed voters from the rolls ahead of the presidential primary last spring, including more than 117,000 voters in Brooklyn.

That’s according to a draft consent decree announced Tuesday— nearly a year after the Board was sued in federal court for violating the National Voter Registration Act and state election law.

The Brooklyn voter purge was first reported by WNYC just days before last spring’s primary election.

As a part of the settlement, the Board agreed to a series of remedial measures that will be in place at least through the next presidential election, November 2020 — pending court approval. The deal restores the rights of improperly purged voters and establishes a comprehensive plan to prevent illegal voter purges in future elections.

"I see their willingness to grapple with this problem as a significant step forward," said Susan Lerner, head of the good government group Common Cause New York, the lead plaintiff in the case.

The lawsuit was originally filed in November 2016 by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, Latino Justice/PRLDEF and Dechert LLP on behalf of Common Cause New York and several individual plaintiffs. In early 2017, both the Justice Departmentand New York State Attorney General’s office made motions to join the lawsuit.

"The suit was commenced because there were real problems," said Ezra Rosenberg, with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. "People were being kicked off the voter list even though they were eligible to vote in New York City."

The consent decree requires the board to submit a plan to fix how it manages its voter rolls within 90 days. That includes documenting all the procedures associated with list maintenance and identifying specific staff at the central office and in the boroughs to oversee these functions.

The Board must also review every voter registration removed from its lists dating back to July 1, 2013, to identify any voter who was removed in violation of state and federal law. Those voters will be restored to the rolls unless their voter registration has already been updated.

For voters, the Board must also establish a complaint intake process where it records, tracks, investigates, resolves and responds to complaints about voter registration status submitted by voters. The Board will also be subject to monthly and annual reporting requirements, along with semi-annual audits.

All the components of the remedial plan will be subject to input and oversight from the Justice Department, the New York Attorney General’s office and the private plaintiffs. If they can’t reach an agreement on an adequate plan, any party can return to court to seek relief.

"The right to vote is sacred to our democracy. Yet the NYC Board of Elections illegally purged over 200,000 New Yorkers from the rolls, violating the law and New Yorkers’ trust in the institutions meant to protect their rights," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in statement.

"This proposed settlement would overhaul NYCBOE’s practices for maintaining voter rolls, ensuring that the issues that led to the purges are addressed, and establishing frequent monitoring and oversight. My office will continue to protect all voters’ access to the polls and continue to fight to expand voting rights," he added.

The Board of Elections declined to comment pending court approval of the consent decree.


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