New York City’s massive purge of the voter rolls caused havoc in last year’s Democratic presidential primary, and likely disenfranchised more people than many of the voting restrictions imposed by other states that have gained more attention.
On Tuesday, the city acknowledged the purge was illegal.
The admission came in a draft settlement that could mark the start of the long-overdue process of fixing the much-maligned voting system of the nation’s biggest city.
The agreement, if approved by a court, will resolve a federal lawsuit charging that the purge violated the National Voter Registration Act. In an interview with WNYC, Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause, the lead plaintiff in the suit, called the deal “a significant step forward.”
Over 200,000 registered voters, including over 117,000 in Brooklyn, were illegally purged ahead of the April 2016 presidential primaries, many because they were wrongly listed as inactive. The slip-up spurred widespread outrage when voters showed up at the polls for the high-profile Clinton-Sanders contest, only be told they weren’t registered. In trying to maintain the accuracy of its rolls, the city elections board appears to have failed to use proper safeguards intended to ensure that eligible voters weren’t removed.
The settlement aims to begin the process of reforming the procedures of the election board, which voting advocates have going described insular, resistant to change, and not committed to serving voters. The board must identify every wrongly removed voter over the last four-plus years and restore them to the rolls if necessary. It also must create a process to resolve complaints from voters about their registration status. And it has 90 days to provide the court with a new plan for managing the rolls.
The U.S. Justice Department, the New York Attorney General’s office, and the private plaintiffs will oversee the board’s activities.