New York Times Routine Voter Purge Is Cited in Brooklyn Election Trouble by Vivian Yee

New York Times
New York Times
Routine Voter Purge Is Cited in Brooklyn Election Trouble
Vivian Yee
04/22/2016

 Voting at a polling station in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, on Tuesday morning. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The mysterious loss of roughly 125,000 Democratic voters from the election rolls in Brooklyn for one of the most hard-fought presidential primaries in years seemed to have occurred during what should have been a routine removal of residents who were ineligible to vote.

Something went wrong in that purge, according to multiple election law experts and others familiar with the winnowing process. Amidinvestigations into the New York City Board of Elections and widespread complaints about voters being turned away from the polls on Tuesday, it now seems likely that many legitimate voters were mistakenly disenfranchised.

“This happens every presidential election — the boards all over the state start purging voters,” said City Councilman Ben Kallos, chairman of the committee that oversees the board. Mr. Kallos noted that Brooklyn had historically eliminated more voters than other boroughs during periodic sweeps.

“But this would be the largest number of Democrats who were taken off the rolls in recent memory,” he said.

After flagging voters who do not cast ballots in two consecutive federal elections, the Board of Elections mails notices to determine whether voters still live at the address where they are registered. If no confirmation comes back, a voter can be deleted from the rolls. Board positions are equally split between Republicans and Democrats; each voter removal must be approved by both a Republican and a Democratic employee, according to the rules.

It remained unclear at what point employees at the Brooklyn office stumbled, or who was at fault. One possibility was that the notices to voters were mailed incorrectly, or not at all. Another was that once the notices were returned, the computerized database that held voter lists was mishandled.

On Thursday, the Board of Elections announced that it had suspended a longtime employee, Diane Haslett-Rudiano, the chief clerk at the Brooklyn office and a Republican appointee. Ms. Haslett-Rudiano’s Democratic counterpart, Betty Ann Canizio, who would, by the rules, be required to sign off on any voter removals, remained in her post. Board officials have declined to say why Ms. Haslett-Rudiano was disciplined, saying at the same time that “no voters were disenfranchised.”

“There was criticism that the voter rolls had people who were dead, and so on,” said Frank Seddio, the chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, who said he had discussed the apparent mistake with Board of Elections officials. “That began a citywide review of who’s on the voter rolls and who should be removed. And there’s a possibility that people were taken off the rolls that shouldn’t have been taken off the rolls.”

It is only the latest trouble of many for the board, a frequent target of elected officials, government watchdog groups and election law experts, who say blunders are inevitable when an organization is run from top to bottom by political patronage appointees and party members, as the board is. A 2013 report from the New York City Investigation Department foundthat the board was plagued by nepotism, badly trained poll workers and error-prone voter-removal procedures.

Mr. Seddio, a longtime friend of Ms. Canizio who pushed her appointment to the deputy clerkship, said this particular voter purge occurred before Ms. Canizio arrived in 2014. But that contradicted the time frame supplied by Michael J. Ryan, the board’s executive director, who said in an interview this week that approximately 125,000 voters were removed from the rolls since fall 2015. (Some 63,000 were added in the same period, he said.)

Reached by phone, Ms. Canizio said she could not comment on what happened, but added, “I didn’t sign off on anything.”

Ms. Haslett-Rudiano, who had her own political sponsor for several years — State Senator Martin J. Golden, Brooklyn’s most powerful Republican official — did not respond to messages on Thursday or Friday.

Issue: 
Elections