The New York City Board of Elections (BOE) is charged with conducting federal, New York State (the State) and local elections in New York City (the City).  To carry out its functions, the BOE distributes, receives, and processes New York City residents’ voter-registration forms, and maintains the roll of the City’s registered voters.  Its operations are governed by federal and State laws, as well as by its own guidelines and procedures and those established by the State Board of Elections[1].

To facilitate Election Day operations, the BOE employs poll workers to open and close the polling sites, administer the voting operations, assist voters, and electronically transmit the preliminary results from scanners to the BOE’s General Office.  Poll workers are required to arrive at the polls by 5:00 a.m., open the polls at 6:00 a.m., close the polls at 9:00 p.m. and conduct the closing process so votes can be transmitted to BOE, a minimum of a 17-hour work day that usually runs longer.

Between March 2014 and July 2015, the BOE’s Brooklyn office  canceled, or “purged,” the registrations of over 117,600 voters, which prevented them from voting during the April 19, 2016 Presidential Primary Election.  The BOE’s action triggered an investigation by the New York State Attorney General and by the US Department of Justice.  BOE subsequently agreed to restore these voters to the rolls.

The objective of this audit was to determine whether the BOE took effective actions to ensure that certain voters inappropriately purged from voter rolls were restored to the voting rolls for the November 2016 elections.  In addition, the audit was conducted to determine whether adequate assistance was provided to voters at polling sites and whether polling sites were accessible to all voters, including persons with disabilities.

Audit Findings and Conclusions

The audit found that the BOE took efforts to ensure that Brooklyn voters inappropriately purged from voter rolls for the April 2016 Primary Election were restored in time for the November 2016 General Election and, through our sample testing, those efforts appear to have been effective.  However, our audit found that the BOE failed to ensure that the polls operated effectively and efficiently and in accordance with applicable law, rules and guidelines, which ultimately could have impacted the ability of individuals to vote.  We visited a total of 156 sites (out of as many as 1,205 sites operated by BOE throughout the City) during three elections between June 28, 2016 and November 8, 2016 and identified one or more deficiencies at 141 (90 percent) of those sites.   Among the deficiencies found were problems with the assistance provided to voters, including those who require language interpreters and those with disabilities; problems with the information provided to voters; and problems with the accessibility of the poll sites themselves for disabled voters.  We also found issues with the quality and amount of training BOE provides for Election Day workers.

If not corrected, these deficiencies increase the risk that registered voters will not be provided the opportunity to vote and to have their votes counted.  To protect the rights of all City voters, the BOE must make greater efforts to ensure that its staff follows applicable procedures, and that they are thoroughly trained on and familiar with Election Day procedures.  In addition, it must ensure that all voters have full access to the polling sites during the period of time mandated by law.

Audit Recommendations

To address the issues raised by this audit, we make nine recommendations, including the following:

  • The BOE should ensure that every poll site is fully accessible to disabled voters.
  • The BOE should ensure that every poll site is fully staffed, including that they have a sufficient number of standby poll workers to dispatch to poll sites where needed.
  • The BOE should ensure that the required number of interpreters skilled in the languages needed at each polling site are on site and available to provide assistance to voters.
  • The BOE should re-evaluate its current training curriculum for poll workers, as well as coordinators, so it puts greater emphasis on basic Election Day protocol, requirements for handling affidavit ballots, and hands-on training sessions, especially pertaining to the usage of devices such as scanners, BMDs and tablets.

Agency Response

In its response, the BOE partially disagrees with recommendation number 1, disagrees with recommendations numbered 4, 8 and 9, and does not address recommendation number 6 at all.  In addition, the BOE does not directly indicate its agreement or disagreement with recommendations numbered 2, 3 and 5 and instead provides information about actions it represents that it is taking to address some of the related concerns raised in the audit.  Finally, the BOE contends that it is already in compliance with recommendation number 7.

[1] Under State law, the State Board of Elections is responsible for, among other things, overseeing the City BOE and other local boards of election throughout the State.  The State Board of Elections has the responsibility for administration and enforcement of all laws relating to elections in New York State.  It has the power to “visit boards of elections, examine their procedures and records and direct that any such procedures be modified in any manner consistent with the provisions of [the State Election Law].” State Election Law § 3-102.  The State Board of Elections also offers assistance to local election boards, investigates complaints of possible statutory violations, and is generally “charged with the preservation of citizen confidence in the democratic process and enhancement in voter participation in elections.”