The Black Institute Releases New York City Voter Suppression Report “Mississippi on the Hudson” Exposes Suppression Tactics

The Black Institute Releases New York City

Voter Suppression Report

“Mississippi on the Hudson” Exposes Suppression Tactics

New York, NY — On Friday, The Black Institute (TBI) released their latest report, “Mississippi on the Hudson,” which focuses on voter turnout in New York City and the barriers to voting imposed by the New York City Board of Elections (BOE), taking a particular look at minority neighborhoods.
“Mississippi on the Hudson” identifies poll site stability as a key barrier to voter turnout and provides a detailed analysis of poll site relocations and closings between November 2015 and November 2017.
This report was prompted by the recent lawsuit filed by the Black Leadership Action Coalition and LeFrak City residents against the New York City BOE for unlawful poll site relocations at LeFrak City, in which the court ordered the restoration of their poll sites to their original locations. In light of the lawsuit, TBI conducted this research to identify and analyze so-called “Democracy Deserts” across the city where there is an insufficient amount of poll sites.
TBI’s report includes data on poll site relocations and the neighborhoods where they are most frequent. Among those findings:
  • Despite an 11 percent increase in voter registration over a two year period, the New York City BOE has only increased poll site locations by 1.4%.
  • In that same period, a total of 91, or 7.6% of poll sites were discontinued and 922, or 17% of Election Districts shifted between sites.
  • A number of the most affected areas, such as LeFrak City in Queens, Harlem, and Coney Island, happen to have a particularly high percentage of racial minorities and elderly.
  • Over 530,000 active and close to 600,000 total registered voters – i.e around 13 percent of both – were affected by poll site changes and closings.
  • There is a significant disparity in the availability of poll sites in different neighborhoods, such as in Co-Op City in The Bronx, which serves more than 10,000 active voters from 22 election districts.
In light of their research, The Black Institute demands:
  • Comprehensive reform of New York City election operations that includes provisions to ensure the stability of polling locations, except in emergencies,
  • More equitable distribution of poll sites across city neighborhoods,
  • No-Excuse Absentee Voting, which is already allowed in 27 U.S. states,
  • Transparency in BOE decision making, as well as supporting documentation for its decisions on poll site locations and changes,
  • Passage of a state bill that would provide the BOE with a professional executive management, independent of political party committees
“What we saw with LeFrak City, and what we found through our research, is widespread voter suppression at the hands of the New York City BOE. Communities with high percentages of black and Latino individuals and the elderly face extreme and unwarranted hurdles in order to simply vote and take part in our democracy. This type of voter disenfranchisement is something we have normally associated with the South and ultra-conservative politics, so you would think, that in a city self-labeled as progressive, you would not see such an outrageous abuse of power. We demand transparency and change, and we will continue to fight these injustices at the BOE,”said Bertha Lewis, Founder and President of The Black Institute.
“This report puts on stark display the wanton disregard that the Board of Elections has continually exhibited toward the voting rights of communities of color and the disabled. This pattern and practice demonstrates the need for structural voter reform that makes the Board accountable to all the voters it is charged with serving,” said Ethan Felder, an attorney who represented petitioners in the LeFrak City lawsuit.
“The BOE originally acted without any input whatsoever from our community and later ignored all alternatives that would have allowed for many of our seniors and residents with disabilities a safe and accessible opportunity to vote. Unfortunately, The Black Institute’s report shows that we are not alone — the BOE has consistently made it harder for residents to vote. I hope the BOE will look to involve community residents throughout the decision-making process when it comes to locating and relocating poll sites in the future,” said Malikah Shabazz, President of LeFrak City Tenants Association and LeFrak City lawsuit petitioner.
“The Black Institute’s report is shining light on the indefensible practices on the part of the BOE to make it harder for black and brown and low-income individuals to vote. I commend their hard work in exposing these injustices. Minority votes will continue to be held back until the BOE reforms and corrects the way they locate and relocate poll sites,” said Rev. Dr. Phil Craig, National Action Network.
“With the LeFrak lawsuit and The Black Institute’s report, the BOE has been put on notice that arbitrary and capricious actions will not be tolerated by the judiciary system,” said Michael Hardy, General Counsel and Executive Vice President at the National Action Network.“Unfortunately, as is shown through the thoughtful research by TBI, it seems to indicate that the Board has little, if any, interest in ensuring that all New Yorkers are able to vote.”
“The Black Institute’s report highlights the BOE’s abuse of ADA accessibility in moving poll sites. There is a difference between non-compliance and misuse, and it is clear that the BOE abused the issue of accessibility to justify these moves. In the future, I hope the BOE will never again disempower the disability vote and will take into account all of the applicable ADA requirements and their intent when assessing voting locations,” said Michael Schweinsburg, President of the 504 Democratic Club.
To read the full report, click here.
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