Primary confusion reigns in Westchester as the coronavirus sparks changes.
Mark Lungariello Rockland/Westchester Journal News
New York Assembly candidate Kristen Browde knew her Democratic primary ballot was incomplete because she wasn’t on it.
At what she called a hard-to-find early voting location in Mount Kisco on Saturday, Browde was given a ballot that had the presidential primary on it but didn’t have a local congressional primary, a district attorney primary and her own Assembly race.
When she asked a poll worker about the omission, he told her she must not have a state or local primary.
“I’m reasonably confident that I do: I’m running in it,” she said. Browde, one of five candidates in the primary, had to speak to three poll workers before the error was corrected.
Primary confusion has reigned in Westchester County after the coronavirus outbreak and shutdown has uprooted the rules for voting and led to enough complaints to stuff a ballot box. That was only compounded by difficulties on the first day of early voting that included reports of glitches such as a site that temporarily could only print ballots in Spanish.
Residents still don’t know for sure where they’re supposed to vote if they vote in person on June 23, and many registered party members received mail from the Board of Elections with address errors on them. The errors include Mount Vernon City Hall listed as having a Mount Kisco address, and the Mount Pleasant Community Center listed with a Mount Vernon address.
The confusion and a general lack of information available led one congressional candidate to call for Westchester’s two election commissioners to resign.
“Voter suppression doesn’t have to be intentional to be effective,” said Allison Fine, a Sleepy Hollow Democrat running in New York’s 17th congressional district. “I think there needs to be some consequences of having just really made this election a mess, and I’m really worried about November.”
Fine said an FAQ about virus-driven voting changes should be easily found on the website, but she slammed Westchester’s site, comparing it to “looking at 1982.” The candidate is holding a news conference in front of the county board building in White Plains on Monday afternoon.
Reggie Lafayette, Democratic commissioner in Westchester, accused Fine of instilling “fear in the people” for publicity and said he had no intention of stepping down. Any issues this year have been due to the virus as election officials work around the clock to make sure an election is held, he said.
“We had to build a whole new way of doing this and had to deal with things we never had to deal with before,” he said. He said the board couldn’t be accused of suppression when there are three options to vote this year: Day-of voting on June 23, early voting and mail-in voting.
In Westchester, the two election commissioners are also the head of the county Democratic and Republican parties. Republican Commissioner Doug Colety didn’t return a call.
The virus and its resulting sickness COVID-19 led to wholesale changes not only in the rules for voting but in how the board manages elections. Because of the economic shutdown in New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered that all registered party members be allowed to vote by mail and be sent applications for absentee ballots.
Westchester has already received more than 83,000 applications, Lafeyette said. The board has received more than 17,000 completed ballots already, which is more than the total they’d have requested in a given year, he said.
In addition to that shift, Lafayette said Westchester has been contending with fewer poll inspectors and had to consolidate voting locations. Some private buildings declined to host voting over virus concerns, he said.
“And that’s a problem from the Canadian border on down to Suffolk County,” Lafayette said. “That’s a problem all over every state in the United States.”
But even before early voting, questions about voting access were raised by Deborah Porder and Myra Saul of the group Scarsdale Indivisible. Among their gripes was the fact that early voting locations weren’t publicly available until last week even though state law requires the sites to be set 45 days ahead of the primary.
Lafayette said as of this weekend the board still hasn’t finalized the number of locations for June 23 in-person voting.
Porder noted the commissioners are party leaders and said the confusion could help party nominees and hurt challengers outside of the system.”I question whether there’s some malfeasance,” Porder said.
Saul said she didn’t think the issues were manufactured.”This is like Elections 101, they don’t seem to be able to do it,” Saul said. “You don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know where your ballot is.”