By LOUIS FLORES
The office of State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D-New York) has applied to join the Federal lawsuit that seeks reforms at the New York City Board of Elections. In a press release, On Friday, State Attorney General Schneiderman announced, in part, that, "The right to vote is sacred, protecting all other rights. Yet, the NYC Board of Elections’ practices were directly responsible for disenfranchising over 200,000 voters –- violating federal and state laws, and undermining New Yorkers’ trust in the institutions meant to protect their rights." The application was first noted in a report published by WNYC 93.9 FM radio. State Attorney General Schneiderman's application followed a similar application filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's eastern district, which is headed by U.S. Attorney Robert Capers.
The Federal lawsuit was initially filed by the good government group, Common Cause New York, on behalf of individuals affected by an unexpectedly large purge of voting rolls instituted by the NYC Board of Elections. Federal prosecutors filed their application to join the lawsuit in the final days of the Obama administration in order to end alleged violations of Federal voting rights laws. "We will work tirelessly to ensure that, in the future, the New York City Board of Elections fulfills its statutory obligation to maintain the rolls properly, and provide appropriate notice to voters when it does so," U.S. Attorney Capers said, in part, in a statement issued on day that Federal prosecutors made their application to join the Federal lawsuit. Because Federal prosecutors had sought to join the lawsuit, it was expected that the Federal prosecutors would exert a substantial influence on the outcome of the lawsuit. However, with the filing by the State Attorney General's Office of its own application to intervene in the Federal lawsuit, now U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who is presiding over the lawsuit, must consider the investigatory findings and legal filings of two significant offices of prosecutors. Amongst the investigatory findings presented by the State Attorney General's Office include an allegation that the Queens Borough Office of the NYC Board of Elections was using the Ancestry.com service to make official determinations that registered voters had died.
Under the administration of President Donald Trump, senior posts in the U.S. Department of Justice are now being held by new officers. At the Civil Rights Unit of the DOJ, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Thomas Wheeler now has discretion over civil rights litigation involving various U.S. Attorneys' Offices. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Wheeler was described in a report broadcast by NPR to have close ties with Vice President Michael Pence, the latter whom was described by The New York Times as a "staunch social conservative." It is not known if the redundant involvement by the State Attorney General's Office in the Federal lawsuit is an attempt by State Attorney General Schneiderman to ensure that the Federal lawsuit over voting rights is not derailed by the change in ideology in Washington. Mark Abueg, a spokesperson for the DOJ, declined to answer advance questions submitted by Progress Queens for this report. Even if State Attorney General Schneiderman's application to intervene in the lawsuit was motivated by ideological concerns, the State's top prosecutor himself must run for elected office with the support and consent by the dominant political party that exerts great influence over the NYC Board of Elections, revealing a potential conflict of interest.
The commissioners of the NYC Board of Elections are determined by the two, major political parties and are confirmed by members of the New York City Council. Because the two, major political parties are involved, the chairs of the City's various political party county committees are able to exert influence over the process that selects the leadership for the borough offices of the NYC Board of Elections. U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens) is chair of the Queens Democratic County Committee. A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Crowley did not answer advance questions submitted by Progress Queens seeking information about U.S. Rep. Crowley's knowledge of the issues with the Queens Borough Office of the NYC Board of Elections.
The applications filed by Federal and State prosecutors to compel reforms at the NYC Board of Elections revealed a managerial shortcoming of the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City), said former New York City Councilmember Sal Albanese, who has announced a campaign to challenge Mayor de Blasio in the Democratic Party primary for the 2017 mayoral election. After citing examples of Mayor de Blasio's managerial failures, Mr. Albanese said in a statement, in part, that, "Adding to the mismanagement issues is his distraction from governing because his administration is under several Federal and State investigations," adding that Mayor de Blasio was "too dependent on the political leaders (who control it) to make or push for the necessary changes" at the NYC Board of Elections. Mr. Albanese proposed an overview of reforms he would make, if he were elected mayor, saying, in part, "I would aggressively move to depoliticize it and professionalize it," adding that, "As mayor, reforming the BOE will be part and parcel of my plan to reform our dysfunctional political system. At the end of the day, what most New Yorkers want is an honest, transparent government that values citizen participation. Unfortunately, the BOE's problems are not an accident. Its benign neglect by the political class tamp down participation so that they can continue to thrive at the expense of democracy."