New York City Board of Elections Commissioners are blaming Albany for what went wrong with the city’s primary elections on June 26th, citing lawmakers’ failure to pass a bill changing the vote-tally process during this year’s session.
“One of the things we’ve pushed for at the BOE is to figure out a brand new way of closing these procedures to minimize the potential error that could arise,” said Commissioner J.C. Polanco at a BOE Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday afternoon.
“Unfortunately, the legislature didn’t move on any of those concerns,” he said.
The Board has been widely criticized for its handling of this primary and past elections, and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat is using vote-count errors and other reported “irregularities” from primary night as grounds for a legal challenge to the primary results, which his attorney Martin Connor filed in New York State Supreme Court today. A group called LatinoJustice is also asking the Department of Justice to investigate the Board of Elections’ handling of the primary.
Polanco deflected criticism that BOE was to blame for any of the reported problems, including stories of a shortage of bilingual poll-workers and voters turned away from polling sites, in addition to the uncounted ballots.
“What you saw that night was reporting done by the AP from numbers given to them by the NYPD,” Polanco said, adding that the NYPD was “not at all” to blame for what happened.
Polanco said the BOE was being unfairly maligned by the campaigns.
“I think its unfortunate. What’s happening is the campaigns are launching incredible vicious attacks to the hardworking men and women here at the board of elections, and they’re based on absolutely nothing but a conspiracy theory,” he said.
“The reality is we have hardworking men and women here at the Board of Elections that are working tirelessly to make sure that each one of these ballots are counted,” he said.
Common Cause executive director Susan Lerner said the primary SNAFUs were “ par for the course.”
“This is an election where we only had a few primaries. Imagine how much worse this is going to be in September,” she said.
Lerner faulted the BOE’s counting system, but said it was within their power to simply interpret existing law to simplify the process.
“It’s striking that every other county is able to use modern equipment in a modern way, but we ask our poll workers to sit with paper and scissors and undo the advantages of having machine-readable ballots. Its mind-boggling,” she said.
On primary night, votes were electronically recorded, but those tallies were not provided to the media. Instead, the initial count was made by poll workers who read the electronic reports and copied vote counts onto canvass reports for each election district, with a pen and paper.
More than 6,000 election districts’ canvass reports had to be counted last week, and the Associated Press learned that 79 canvass reports in the 13th congressional district recorded “0″ votes, because of reports the NYPD could not read, or because the canvass sheets were not given to the AP.
Today, the BOE made the canvass sheets and a document showing where the zeros were recorded in the 13th district available to the media. There are only three copies of the total canvass report – one for the BOE, one for the NYPD, and one for the Press, as indicated by a number in the lower right-hand corner of the report.
The 72nd Assembly District was expected to go heavily in favor of Espaillat and is also the district in which the most zeros were recorded. And while the Associated Press initially reported that 79 districts in the 13th Congressional district had recorded votes as zeroes, the BOE only has a record of 65 districts where zeroes were recorded, along with 6 canvass sheets that were never delivered to the AP. The discrepancy will be addressed in a document called a “discrepancy report,” according to BOE spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez.
The BOE had 483 election districts where the vote count was recorded as “zero” citywide, but did not have a zero report available for all the election districts.
The canvass sheet below shows one of the potential vote count problems. Poll workers filling out the report didn’t fill out the vote totals for each candidate, or the ballot count table to the right. This is an example of a canvass sheet that was reported as a zero.
This canvass sheet has the same problem, where the poll workers tallying the votes didn’t fill out the forms in total. 21 ballots are also reported as unscannable.
This is a page from the ”zero report,” showing the election districts where zeros were recorded in the 13th congressional district.
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