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Minority, Elderly Voters Shut Out by Removal of LeFrak City Poll Site: Suit

By Katie Honan | August 29, 2017 3:52pm
 Residents say they are being disenfranchised by their poll site moved to schools nearly a mile away.
Residents say they are being disenfranchised by their poll site moved to schools nearly a mile away.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

CORONA — A move by the Board of Elections to relocate a LeFrak City polling site will disenfranchise mostly elderly, disabled and minority voters living inside the sprawling complex, a lawsuit filed Monday claims.

For 50 years, residents have voted at the Continental Room, which is located inside the 20-building affordable housing complex on 57th Avenue, says the suit filed in state Supreme Court. 

But the polling site was moved in May to two schools that are located a third and three-quarters of a mile away, after a previous lawsuit filed by disability activists found some city sites were not accessible to disabled voters.

Despite requests from residents to return the site to their complex, the Board of Elections won't meet with them to discuss the move, the suit claims.

LeFrak City is predominantly black and Hispanic and home to 4,500 registered voters, many of whom are elderly or disabled and lack transportation to get to the new polling sites, the suit says. 

This could limit voter turnout for the Sept. 12 primary, which includes the mayoral race along with a contentious City Council fight between Assemblyman Francisco Moya and Hiram Monserrate.

The suit was filed by LeFrak City residents and community activists, including Malikah Shabazz, president of the LeFrak City Tenants Association; James Galloway, coordinator of the LeFrak City Tenants League; elderly and wheelchair-using residents; and the Black Leadership Action Coalition, Inc., or BLAC, which is a branch of The Black Institute run by Bertha Lewis.

Lewis and Galloway have been vocal supporters of Monserrate, with The Black Institute endorsing him and Lewis contributing $175 to his campaign, records show. 

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The plaintiffs claim the Board of Elections "is aware that the consequences of its decision will be the disenfranchisement of those among us who have been systematically denied the right to vote," yet still moved forward with the relocation.

Board of Elections officials moved the polling site, as well as four others in the city, following a separate lawsuit filed in 2010 by disability activists. That suit found the agency violated laws by placing poll sites in locations that were not accessible to disabled voters.

After the Continental Room was used in the presidential election in 2016, the BOE found at least seven problems with the facility, although they weren't difficult to fix, according to the new lawsuit.

There was a 50 percent turnout of registered voters in the 2016 presidential election, and "no one complained about being unable to vote due to the 'problems' flagged by the contractor," the new suit says.

"In fact, those findings were not relayed to LeFrak City management so that they could rectify the problems," it continues.

In May 2017, the complex's management company received a letter from the BOE instructing it to use the Continental Room as a polling site, but the letter was sent back to the BOE because it was missing information, the suit says.

Days later, LeFrak City management was told the room would no longer be used as a polling site. Despite management asking the board to reconsider, the sites were moved to P.S. 13 and the High School for Arts and Business, the suits alleges.

The Board of Elections also didn't forward its contractor's report on disability access to LeFrak City management until after it removed the site as a poll location, the suit says.

While BLAC members tried meeting with the BOE, the board canceled a planned Aug. 7 meeting earlier this month and has continued to be "unresponsive, dismissive and unwilling to mitigate" the relocation, according to the suit.

The lawsuit asks that the polling site be returned to the Continental Room before the September primary.

A spokeswoman for the Board of Elections said they don't comment on open lawsuits.