Comptroller Will Audit New York City Board of Elections

A woman casts vote at a polling station in Brooklyn, New York during the New York presidential primary.

A woman casts vote at a polling station in Brooklyn, New York during the New York presidential primary. (Photo: KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Comptroller Scott Stringer is launching an audit of the city’s Board of Elections after reports of problems voting in today’s primary elections and the purging of more than 100,000 voters from rolls in Brooklyn.

“There is nothing more sacred in our nation than the right to vote, yet election after election, reports come in of people who were inexplicably purged from the polls, told to vote at the wrong location or unable to get in to their polling site,” Mr. Stringer said in a statement this afternoon. “The people of New York City have lost confidence that the Board of Elections can effectively administer elections and we intend to find out why the BOE is so consistently disorganized, chaotic and inefficient.”

In a letter to BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan, Mr. Stringer ticked off a litany of problems constituents had reported at the polls today, including one voter who reported arriving at 6 a.m., when voting begins, to find their Williamsburg polling site wasn’t open and wouldn’t be open any time soon. Voters have also complained of being sent to different poll sites or being given conflicting information, Mr. Stringer’s office noted.

“Comptrollers audit agencies, that’s why comptrollers are there,” Mr. Ryan said in a telephone interview. “If Comptroller Stringer believes that it is a worthy use of his agency resources to investigate the Board of Elections, we’re no different than any other city agency.”

Mr. Ryan insisted the voter problems Mr. Stringer and others had cited today were rare.

“I bristle at the suggestion that some folks might be making that there are widespread problems. We’re just not seeing it,” Mr. Ryan, who noted he’d been out at polling sites since 6 a.m., said. “I’m out going all across the city and we’re just not seeing it.”

He characterized today as “what we typically see during elections”—including “very, very isolated, very, very spotty” incidents of polling places opening late or problems with supplies being delivered.

Asked what a New Yorker who hit the polls early this morning and found their site unready ought to do, Mr. Ryan said they should come back.

“In the event that you get there and you go to vote and it’s not open, I would encourage all of those New Yorkers who unfortunately suffered that inconvenience—and it’s a very small number that did—we’re still open until 9 o’clock in the evening,” he said. “These problems are regrettable and they are isolated.”

But Mr. Stringer—like Mayor Bill de Blasio—also wants an explanation of why the number of eligible Democratic voters in Brooklyn drop by more than 120,000 names between November 2015 and April 2016, “without any adequate explanation furnish by the Board of Elections.” A lawsuit has been filed seeking to restore the voting rights of eligible voters on the rolls.

“This number surprises me,” Mr. de Blasio said after WNYC first reported the large decrease in Brooklyn voters. “I admit that Brooklyn has had a lot of transient population – that’s obvious. Lot of people moving in, lot of people moving out. That might account for some of it. But I’m confused since so many people have moved in, that the number would move that much in the negative direction.”

Mr. Ryan said 63,000 new voters were added to the rolls in Brooklyn, and 126,000 came off. Of those removed, 12,000 moved away, he said. Another 44,000 were voters whose mail from the Board of Elections was bounced back by the United States Postal Service, he said, and another 70,000 were people who were previously made inactive, also due to mail bouncing back and a failure to respond to an “intent to cancel notice.”

Mr. Ryan said it did not “shock [his] conscience” that in a transient borough, that many people could have left. Still, he said he’d investigate—after the primary—to ensure those removed from and added to the polls had been properly handled.

 “If those two things turn out to be the case, then there’s absolutely no story here,” Mr. Ryan said.

He noted that in the past, the Department of Investigation had faulted the Board of Elections for not cleaning up its voters rolls. He said Brooklyn had fallen behind in “list maintenance” and argued that the purge had to be done recently, or else laws preventing it from happening within 90 days of a federal election would have meant waiting until 2017. Not removing people from the rolls also has consequences, he said, citing the cost of sending those people mail.

Comptroller Will Audit New York City Board of Elections