Lawsuit filed to block certification of N.Y. primary results

Army vet Nico House was led out by security after cussing out the B.O.E. commissioners.  Photo by Sarah Ferguson
Army vet Niko House was led out by security after cussing out the B.O.E. commissioners at Tuesday’s hearing. Photos by Sarah Ferguson

BY SARAH FERGUSON | It was another hot mess at the Board of Elections offices in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday as scores of pissed-off voters crammed into a hearing room to vent on the officials who presided over New York City’s fouled-up presidential primary.

Yet before any of their concerns could be heard, the B.O.E. commissioners voted unanimously to deny a motion to delay the certification of the April 19 primary results. Critics have been asking for a delay in the face of alarming reports of some 126,000 registered voters purged in Brooklyn and elsewhere and numerous other election irregularities that have sparked condemnation from Mayor de Blasio and the launching of two separate investigations by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and City Comptroller Scott Stringer.  

Instead, the Board of Elections voted that it would certify the official vote tallies on Thursday at 3:30 p.m.

That didn’t sit well with Saundra Ramirez, a Marine vet and registered Democrat from Bed Stuy who volunteered to help get people to the polls on April 19 with members of the Working Families Party.

“I received phone calls one after another from people who weren’t allowed to vote, who were being turned away at the gates, and who were being denied the opportunity to fill out an affidavit ballot,” Ramirez told the commissioners.

“But today, when I see a board sitting back, apathetic, laughing at the general public, denying a motion to delay the certification of the primary, when clearly there is a problem. You’re here to serve the people. We the people demand a resolution to the problem.

“Over 100,000 voters were just deregistered and Scott Stringer and de Blasio came out conceding the fact that [you] were behind because ‘We just never got around to it?’ ” Ramirez continued. “Well, just get around to doing a revote!”

A commissioner tried to dismiss Ramirez by asking whether she herself got to vote, but Ramirez wasn’t having it.

“I saw senior citizens who made arrangements to get to their polling location turned around,” she retorted. “The fact that they were denied that right undermines democracy. I didn’t go to war with my friends, many of whom didn’t come back — just to get this thrown away.”

Angelica Thornhill, left, and Yvonne Gougelet protesting at the B.O.E. offices on Lower Broadway on Tuesday.
Angelica Thornhill, left, and Yvonne Gougelet protesting at the B.O.E. offices on Lower Broadway on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the voter rights group Election Justice USA was in court fighting to delay the primary certification on behalf of more than 200 voters who are now suing the board, charging that their party affiliations were arbitrarily switched or dropped without their consent prior to the election.

As a result, when they went to the polls on April 19, they were ineligible to vote in New York’s closed primary system, and were forced to file provisional ballots or get a court order to vote on election day.

On Monday, State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron rejected a separate lawsuit brought by a Manhattan attorney and registered independent who charged that New York’s closed primary system violates the state constitution because independents can’t vote at all, and those who do participate must be enrolled in their respective political parties six months before the election.

But legal actions and investigations can’t change the primary results once they are certified by the B.O.E. — which is why more than 60 people waited for more than two hours on Tuesday to plead for a delay until all the voter discrepancies can be accounted for.

Most of those who came were Bernie Sanders supporters who said they were outraged about widespread reports of voter suppression and irregularities in other states as well.

According to the preliminary count, Hillary Clinton won New York’s hotly contested Democratic primary by around 290,000 votes. Whether there are enough provisional and absentee ballots and other voting irregularities to alter the overall result seems doubtful.

But because New York awards delegates proportionally, the citizens who gathered to “occupy” the B.O.E. offices on Tuesday said they were determined that every vote cast in the city should be counted accurately.

“Nobody seems to care. It’s shocking,” Lisa Barri told the commissioners. A Sanders supporter, Barri complained that she was misdirected by poll workers at her polling place on the Upper West Side. “I was told that if I didn’t vote for six delegates, that none of my [delegate] votes would count,” Barri said — even though there were only five Sanders delegates on her ballot. Had she picked six, she would have wound up voting for a Clinton delegate, as well.

“I spoke to numerous people who were told the same thing, that they had to pick six or seven delegates,” Barri said.

B.O.E. Commissioner Michael Ryan looking nervous amid the barrage of complaints about irregularities during the April 19 presidential primary.
B.O.E. Commissioner Michael Ryan looking nervous amid the barrage of complaints about irregularities during the April 19 presidential primary.

B.O.E. Executive Director Michael Ryan said the board would follow up on voters’ specific complaints.

“We’re getting a lot of information anecdotally,” he said. “If it’s just a recitation of an anecdote that happened, there’s no way for us to take positive action. We have — contrary to popular opinion — a transparent process,” he stated, earning loud guffaws from the audience.

In fact, several speakers said the B.O.E.’s process for counting provisional ballots was anything but transparent. Jesse Bonelli, a poll watcher for Sanders, testified that he was allowed to watch the counting of absentee ballots.

“But when it came time to count the affidavits, I was told I could not see it,” Bonelli said. “The ballots were being processed and verified in another room. But we only got to see the ones that were verified. Where are the ones in the back room? Two-thirds of the ballots were turned away that we were not able to see,” he told the commissioners.

Ryan denied that the B.O.E. was “throwing out” any of the provisional ballots and declined to specify how many had been verified thus far.

“We are in the process of validating and counting the valid affidavit ballots. That is an intensive hand process. You don’t just count 100,000 ballots by waving a magic wand. It’s not an add-water-and-stir process,” he added defensively.

“The vast majority of voters turned away on election day are people who were not registered as Republican or Democrat,” Ryan told the audience. He also claimed that many voters went to the wrong polling places because their polling sites had been reassigned. “There was a process designed for the convenience of the voters, the NCOA process — or National Change of Address process. If someone appears on the [post office’s] list… we are mandated to change their address,” he said.

That didn’t go over well with the audience.

“So how did all the parties get changed?” someone shouted.

“I clearly registered to vote,” countered Jessie Cervantes of Harlem. “I served jury duty for two weeks, which I was glad to do to perform my civic duty, and I wanted to vote, too. Yet when I went to vote, I was told the same thing, that I was not affiliated with any party. This is your guys’ clerical error, not mine. It’s on you to prove that we didn’t change it, not us.”

A protester’s T-shirt expressed the views of the crowd at Tuesday’s hearing at the B.O.E.


Others said they were incredulous that they were registered for the wrong party because they went out of their way to double-check their registration prior to the primary.

Angelica Thornhill, a 30-year-old Pilates instructor from Crown Heights, said she has been a registered Democrat since 2004.

“When I checked with the Board of Elections in March, they told me I was listed as a Democrat and that they had me in their database. Yet, according to screenshots online from April 1 and April 6, I found I was no longer enrolled in a party. This makes no sense… . Why was my record touched two weeks before the primary?” Thornhill demanded.  

Thornhill said she took a day off from work to correct her registration in advance of the primary. And yet when she went to vote, she had to do so via court order, because she had been recorded as an independent, unaffiliated voter.

“If that’s your mistake, my vote should be counted,” she protested. “Until you guys figure all this stuff out, there should be no certification of the election.”

Ryan told Thornhill that some of the confusion may be due to discrepancies between the data recorded on the New York State and New York City Board of Elections Web sites.

“The screenshots that we’re seeing are from people going into the New York State Board of Elections Web site. The New York City data was different because of the backlog… . We’re going to discuss making our voter look-up more user-friendly and up to date,” he added.

“It’s all willy-nilly,” Ryan said of the discrepancies.

It all sounded like bureaucratic appeasement to Niko House, an Army veteran, who said he was too angry to be nice.

“As a taxpayer, shut the f–king election down until everything is taken care of!” House shouted. “You want us to stand here and believe that you scapegoated a Republican when the Democrats switched the vote? Really?” House said, referring to Diane Haslett-Rudiano, the board’s chief clerk in Brooklyn, who was suspended without pay after it was discovered that more than 100,000 Democratic voters had been purged from the rolls there.

“You want to look at us as citizens and say we’re morons?” House demanded.

More angry and disenfranchised voters are planning to show up for another rally outside the Board of Elections offices at 42 Broadway on Thursday.

“This is election fraud on a grand scale,” declared Yvonne Gougelet, a voting rights activist from Long Island City, Queens, who set up a Facebook group called NY Primary Problems to network voter discrepancies, and who helped organize this and last month’s protests outside the B.O.E.

“The certification is scheduled for May 5,” she said. “If these tainted results get sent through, none of the evidence we gather will matter.

“I’m from Florida — the land of hanging chads — and this is why I care,” Gougelet added. “We didn’t have independent media and social media then, and that was allowed to happen,” she said of the 2000 presidential election, which of course was ultimately declared for George Bush.

On Thursday, WNYC reported that a second B.O.E. official, Betty Ann Canizio, the deputy clerk at the Brooklyn borough office, will be suspended without pay during the ongoing investigation into problems at poll sites on primary day, according to sources at the board.

In addition, the New York City Council voted Thursday on three bills to ease voting and improve transparency. The first bill will require the New York City B.O.E. to post notices at former polling sites informing voters of the new polling site location. The second bill requires the B.O.E. to send e-mail and text messages to voters who have opted to receive information alerts — alerts that could inform voters whether their party affiliation has been changed, for example. And the final bill will require the B.O.E. to provide a Web site and mobile app that gives the public easy access to voting information and tools.