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New York attorney general swamped by voter complaints

The New York state attorney general’s office has been overwhelmed with voter complaints, receiving nearly five times as many voter grievances Tuesday than during the 2012 general election.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office confirmed that its voter hotline had received 562 phone calls and 140 emails by 3:50 p.m. Tuesday.

“To put this in context, we received roughly 150 total complaints for the 2012 general election,” Nick Benson, senior deputy press secretary for the state attorney general’s office, said in a statement. “This is by far the largest volume of complaints we have received for an election since Attorney General Schneiderman took office in 2011.”

Complaints stem from allegations of voter disenfranchisement. New York holds a closed primary, barring more than 3 million registered voters outside of the Republican and Democratic parties from casting their ballots. Benson said many voters were told that they weren’t registered while others were informed that they lacked the proper party affiliation to vote.

“We have also received complaints about poll workers allegedly denying voters affidavit ballots when requested, with some evidence that this is more of a problem upstate than in New York City and its suburbs,” Benson continued. “Within New York City, the largest share of complaints has come from Kings County, including problems this morning with portions of poll books being missing.”

Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders slammed the state’s primary process for excluding voters from the process. “Today, 3 million people in the state of New York who are independents have lost their right to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary. That’s wrong,” he told reporters. “You’re paying for this election. It’s administered by the state. You have a right to vote.”

In a statement, the campaign said it had heard complaints from multiple polling locations.

“We are deeply disturbed by what we’re hearing from polling places across the state,” the Sanders campaign statement said. “From long lines and dramatic understaffing to longtime voters being forced to cast affidavit ballots and thousands of registered New Yorkers being dropped from the rolls, what’s happening today is a disgrace. We need to be making it easier for people to vote, not inventing arbitrary obstacles — and today’s shameful demonstration must underline the urgent importance of fixing voting laws across the country.”

Additional complaints to the attorney general’s office highlighted included lack of privacy, problems with accessibility and polling sites providing only blue ink pens for ballots that require black ink.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer filed a letter Tuesday to Michael Ryan, executive director of the city’s Board of Elections, announcing an audit “to identify failings and make recommendations to improve performance going forward” after expressing concern over “widespread reports of poll site problems and irregularities.”

Stringer cited faulty ballot scanners, purged registrations and inadequately staffed polling sites as examples. “As I am sure you would agree, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, all New Yorkers deserve an electoral system that is free, fair and efficient—not one riddled with chaos and confusion,” he wrote.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also called on the city Board of Elections to reverse a voter purge that removed voters from voting lists and announced his support for the audit to be completed this summer ahead of New York’s June 28 federal primary “so corrective action can be taken.”

“These errors today indicate that additional major reforms will be needed to the Board of Election and in the state law governing it,” he said in a statement. “We will hold the [Board of Comptroller] commissioners responsible for ensuring that the Board and its borough officers properly conduct the election process to assure that voters are not disenfranchised. The perception that numerous voters may have been disenfranchised undermines the integrity of the entire electoral process and must be fixed.”

Daniel Strauss contributed to this report.

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