New York Voters Sue the State, Claiming Mass Voter Roll Purges
by Nathan Tempey
Dozens of New York voters are suing the state, saying that their voter registration changed without their input, costing them the ability to vote in Tuesday’s primary. The lawsuit, filed this afternoon in Long Island federal court by the group Election Justice USA, argues that the voters’ alleged registration changes deny them equal protection under the constitution, and demands a blanket order allowing “tens of thousands” of potential plaintiffs to vote in tomorrow’spresidential primary.
“Plaintiffs are in imminent harm of losing their right to vote,” the suit reads. “They have beseeched the various Boards of Elections without result. Nothing can save their right to vote save an order from this Court.”
New York’s primaries are closed, meaning only members of a given party can vote in that party’s primary, and the deadline to change parties is more than six months before Primary Day, the earliest in the country. Those who signed onto the lawsuit say that their paperwork was in order, and in many cases they had voted repeatedly in Democratic primaries from the same address, but that recent checks of their voter registrations revealed that their party had been changed or could not be found at all. The accounts echo online reports of other spurned would-be voters.
“We were seeing an alarming number of voter affiliations changed without people’s knowledge or consent, people who were registered listed as not registered,” said Shyla Nelson, a spokeswoman for Election Justice USA.
As the primary neared and the group solicited accounts of irregularities, reports poured in, she said: “What started as a trickle is now a river.”
More than 200 voters signed onto the lawsuit, Nelson said on Friday (she was still tallying late additions this afternoon as lawyers pushed up against the close-of-court deadline).
One plaintiff, a 24-year-old from Suffolk County, says that he registered as a Democrat in 2009, and that a change of affiliation form the BOE showed him, supposedly proving he left the party, bears a signature that is an “identical, pixel-by-pixel” copy of the signature on his driver’s license. Another plaintiff, a 58-year-old from upstate Onondaga County, had been registered as a Democrat since 1989, but on April 11th found that her registration was “purged.” An employee of the county told her that the change was a clerical error, but that she would not be able to vote on Tuesday, according to the suit. Others named in the lawsuit registered for the first time within days of the new voter deadline in March, or the party-change deadline last October.
Nelson, a Vermont performance artist, described Election Justice as nonpartisan, though she and several other core members identified on its website are vocal supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Most of the complaintswe’ve seen publicized online center around spurned voters seeking to cast a ballot for Sanders in tomorrow’sDemocratic primary. In recent days, the state Board of Elections has chalked up concerns such as these to voter ignorance of New York’s restrictive rules, and of the occasional data entry error.
Election Justice USA formed recently after Republican officials in Arizona’s Maricopa County drastically reduced the number of polling places for the state’s March primary, leading to lines as much as five hours long, with the worst impacts in majority-Latino districts.