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With waits at polling places sometimes exceeding an hour, some voters turn away as poll workers wrestle with malfunctioning equipment and overflow crowds.
Worried about voting? Here’s what to know before you go.
An analysis from three advocacy groups has found that New York City’s plan for early voting for the 2020 national elections is grossly inadequate and, as designed, will favor white, affluent voters.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause New York and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law this week sent a letter to the New York City Board of Elections decrying plans to staff 38 early voting locations in a city with some 5 million registered voters. The letter also claimed that the placement of the locations — seven in both Staten Island and Queens — “will impose a severe burden on many of the City’s low-income voters, particularly those who work long or inflexible hours and face transportation challenges, who are disproportionately minority residents.”
The analysis comes after the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio offered its own damning assessment of the plan and demanded the Board of Elections release a new list before the end of the month. De Blasio has offered $75 million to help pay for as many as 100 early voting sites.
“We put up the money. Now. Do. Your. Job,” he tweeted on April 30.
The Board of Elections has remained silent in the face of the criticism. It pledged to put the current list online on May 1, but it still has not. Instead, Executive Director Michael Ryan read the locations out loud at a meeting, leaving journalists to transcribe the list. The Board of Elections has not, so far, announced its justification for the number or locations of the voting sites or explained any research it may have done.
When asked for comment on Thursday, Valerie Vazquez, a board spokeswoman, emailed, “No comment.”
Perry Grossman, senior staff attorney for the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, said that the city appeared to have given “little, or maybe no thought at all, to making sure that the sites were distributed in a way that is racially equitable.”
The announcement of the locations followed the passage of a state law in January, making New York the 39th state to implement early voting. The law, which allows nine additional days for voting, will go into effect this fall.
The law requires that there should be one early voting location for every 50,000 voters, but that no county is “required” to have more than seven locations. With the exception of Kings County — which is the most populous in the state, is home to Brooklyn and has 10 polling locations under the plan — all other counties in New York City have seven locations.
The law also indicates that “any voter may vote at any polling place for early voting” established by the city, unless it’s “impractical” for the city to implement such a model. In which case, all voters must have access to one polling location “on a substantially equal basis.”
Printing the correct ballot for voters from a variety of precincts in the same place can be a logistical challenge. New York City has 51 City Council districts, and ballots must be available in multiple languages. During primaries, voters would require their correct ballot in the correct language in the party of their choice.
The city has, it appears, determined that challenge is too great and will assign all voters a single early voting precinct. It has not provided any explanation for this decision, nor has it provided a rationale for how voters were assigned to their given location.
Other areas of the state created plans that followed the law far more closely. Neighboring Nassau County, on Long Island, serves 1 million voters and has announced it will open 15 early voting locations. Voters there will be able to cast their ballots at any of the locations.
“Nassau figured this out, why can’t we do the same?” Grossman said.
Using census data, Jason Enos, a social scientist with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, found that voters in predominantly white Richmond County, home to Staten Island, will have substantially greater access to polling locations than any other county in the five boroughs. While Queens, a majority-minority county, has four times as many registered voters as Richmond County, they’ll have the same number of polling locations. And Queens voters might have to walk more than half an hour to reach their polling place.
In an interview, Enos said that the people most likely to be affected by long walks are people of color, those in low-income neighborhoods or newly naturalized citizens. Some areas, he said, are “served pretty well” — like midtown Manhattan, the Upper West Side and Staten Island. But other places, like the neighborhoods around LaGuardia Airport in Queens or the far-flung areas of Brooklyn, would require quite a substantial commute.
“We found that rather troubling,” he said.
The letter hints that all of this might result in litigation.
Derek T. Muller, an associate professor of law at Pepperdine University who specializes in election law, said that whatever the merits of the board’s choices for locations, the lack of transparency concerned him.
“Unless the board comes forward with explanations or solutions, I think litigation is a real possibility,” he said.
Elliott Fullmer, an assistant professor of political science at Randolph-Macon College, has studied the impact of early voting for several election cycles. His research has shown that, when controlling for other factors that tend to affect turnout, early voting has a positive impact on turnout, as does the availability of early voting locations.
Across the United States, Fullmer said, early voting availability is “significantly lower in heavily African American communities.” He has found that if you compare two counties of around 100,000 people, if one of those counties had 20% more African American voters it likely had five fewer early voting sites.
For his part, Muller is not as convinced of early voting’s impact on turnout, but he said that inequitable voting locations can have a huge impact on lines on Election Day. Given the current arrangement, Election Day on Staten Island would likely involve far shorter lines and less confusion while Queens and Brooklyn would have far longer wait times and a greater potential for administrative mishaps and disputes.
“If you fail to build out the infrastructure well enough there can be really frustrating and devastating impacts,” he said.
In 2018, Facebook and Twitter decided to play a role in helping people register to vote in what promised to be a momentous midterm election. To do so, the social media platforms directed users almost exclusively to a website called TurboVote, run by a nonprofit organization known as Democracy Works. TurboVote was launched in 2012, and it promised to streamline voter registration and remind people to cast ballots on Election Day.
Evidently, things did not go seamlessly.
The National Association of Secretaries of State, or NASS, whose members oversee elections in 40 states, has claimed that TurboVote occasionally failed to properly process registrations, and that in other instances it failed to notify people who thought they had registered to vote but had not actually completed the necessary forms.
The TurboVote website went down when it couldn’t handle the volume of attempted registrations on Sept. 25, 2018 — National Voter Registration Day — and the organization was unwittingly used in a scam when someone pretending to be an employee of TurboVote attempted to convince eager voters to share their personal information over the phone.
As a result, NASS has written to Facebook and Twitter asking them to end their relationships with TurboVote as the 2020 election cycle gets underway. The association is asking the social media companies to simply direct prospective voters to government sites with accurate information on how to register.
Since we launched our Facebook Political Ad Collector project in fall 2017, more than 16,000 people have participated in it. They all agreed to install a browser plug-in that anonymously sent us the ads they see when they browse Facebook. We used that data to understand and report on how political messaging on Facebook works, and how the system is being gamed to manipulate the public discourse.
Although the number of users is large, over the summer we noticed a potential snag: We were receiving more ads from Democrats and progressive groups than from Republicans or conservative groups. Our hunch was that this was because we had more liberal participants than conservatives ones.
Election Day in America brought its familiar mix of misery and allegations of mischief: Aging voting machines crashed; rain-soaked citizens stood in endless lines; laws that many regarded as attempts to suppress turnout among people of color led to both confusion at the polls and angry calls for recounts and investigations.
If the defining risk of Election Day 2016 was a foreign meddling, 2018’s seems to have been a domestic overload. High turnout across the country threw existing problems — aging machines, poorly trained poll workers and a hot political landscape — into sharp relief.
Turnout strained election locations across the state but did not appear to overwhelm them. Voters experienced a smattering of problems throughout the state, including issues with voting machines and unnecessary provisional ballot use.
Voters in Missouri faced confused poll workers as they went to vote on Tuesday, with many reporting they were turned away for not having valid photo identification. The confusion was a result of an October court ruling that allowed Missourians to cast ballots with a range of forms of identification.
Taylor Fritz, 25, brought the voter registration card mailed to him by the state to cast a ballot at his polling station, the Legacy Park Community Center in Lees Summit. But poll workers there told him the card was not an acceptable form of ID, even though a state website specifically says it is. There was even a poster in the gymnasium where he cast a ballot that stated registration cards were acceptable, Fritz said.
“Lucky for me I was able to show my valid state issued ID,” Fritz, an insurance broker, said in an interview. “The problem is not everyone has a state ID like me.”
The post-mortem on what went wrong at polling places across New York City on Election Day won’t be done for days, if not weeks. Across the city — from Brooklyn to Manhattan to the Bronx — ballot scanners jammed and malfunctioned, sowing chaos at polling places.
But preliminarily, it looks like one of those rare occasions where election officials can plausibly blame the weather, at least in part.
Melanie Taylor arrived at her polling place in a Charleston, South Carolina, church at 7:30 a.m., only to find more than 100 people in line ahead of her. Some of them had already been waiting since 6:15. The voting site was using a computerized login for the first time, and the system was down.
After 45 minutes, with the line still out the door, Taylor had to give up and leave for work. (She leads a social work program.) She’s planning to try again later and has been monitoring the wait times through a neighborhood Facebook group. The news was not encouraging.
“It felt like a type of disenfranchisement, even though there wasn’t any violation of voting rights,” Taylor said. “The wait has been all day three hours or more, which is ridiculous.”
Text messages received by a slew of voters — from organizations like Vote.org, EveryTown for Gun Safety and TurboVote — reportedly included incomplete or incorrect information on where and when to vote.
A state district judge ordered Harris County to operate nine polling locations until 8 p.m., an hour after they were scheduled to close. The polling sites experienced issues with technology or were delayed in opening Tuesday morning.
After a voter supplied his passport as identification in Missouri, a poll worker asked, “Are you a member of the caravan?” The voter told HuffPost the exchange was bizarre. “I have an American passport. What does that have to do with the caravan?” he said.
The Annistown Elementary School precinct near Snellville, Georgia, will remain open until 7:25 p.m. after opening late and experiencing issues with its voting machines.
Poll workers in Georgia appear to have been unprepared for the waves of voters who turned out on Tuesday. Officials were scrambling to bring additional equipment to the polls and to field calls from frustrated voters forced to wait in line for hours across the state. Meanwhile, some who called county officials got busy signals or reached voicemail boxes for election offices that were full.
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