By NICK DIVITO
CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CN) — Fourteen Long Island Democrats filed a federal class action complaint late Monday claiming their mysteriously rejiggered party affiliations puts them in jeopardy of being disenfranchised in today’s primary.
New York has a closed primary system, so voters can cast ballots only in the party in which they are registered.
That’s not fair, lead plaintiff Leonard Joseph Campanello says, calling it a “widespread and ongoing” pattern of removing eligible voters from the state’s voter rolls.
In their lawsuit against the State Board of Elections, Campanello and other plaintiffs say their registration was changed to other-than-Democratic without their consent.
Campanello says his registration was switched to Republican through “an identical, pixel-by-pixel copy of the electronic signature appearing on his driver’s license in 2007, which had been electronically transferred to the ‘change of party affiliation form.'”
The federal lawsuit came the night before New Yorkers take to the polls, with 247 delegates at stake in the Democratic primary and 95 in the Republican one.
It’s likely to be a first no matter which Democrat prevails at the national convention: the first woman presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, or the first Jewish one, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; and, if Trump takes the Republican race, the first reality TV star.
All three — along with a host of celebrity supporters and political heavyweights, including former President Bill Clinton and the Clintons’ daughter Chelsea — have criss-crossed the Empire State, New York City and especially Brooklyn in the past few days to stump for votes in a state’s closed primary system.
Independent-minded New Yorkers, however, say in their lawsuit that they should be free to choose whomever they want despite their party affiliation, and that state law disenfranchises independents.
As a result, the plaintiffs “are likely to be deprived of the right to vote, as have the thousands of similarly situated voters who complained to the Board of Elections regarding the improper voter registration switches and purges,” the lawsuit states.
“Tens of thousands of New Yorkers face the threat of disenfranchisement in the 2016 Presidential Preference Primary … and will continue to be shut out of the democratic process until defendants reform their registration practices.
“In Brooklyn alone, 63,558 Democrats have been inexplicably purged from voter rolls,” according to the complaint.
Plaintiffs and “thousands of other voters” seek redress in “anticipation of the tumult that will assuredly engulf” the nominating process. They call New York State’s laws among the most “opaque and oppressive voter laws” in the nation.
They ask the court to jump in, as that they have appealed to the Board of Election “without result.”
“Nothing can protect their right to vote save an order from this court.”
They also say a federal judge’s order “will serve to foster a belief in democracy.”
Plaintiffs say they had already put the election board on notice that it planned to sue, but never heard back.
In addition to Campanello’s complaint of de facto electronic forgery, other plaintiffs say their Democratic party affiliation was switched to independent, or not registered at all, or purged, or not changed from a different party to Democrat.
Justice USA, which describes itself as a “national organization advancing election integrity, transparency and the protection of voting rights for all Americans,” says it’s turned in 200 unsworn affidavits of voters who can’t pull the lever Tuesday.
The 2016 presidential primaries have “produced record breaking turnout and a general excitement that has motivated many people to vote who are voting for the first time or who have not voted in years,” the lawsuit states. “Unfortunately, states throughout the nation have found themselves to be ill-equipped to deal with the unprecedented voter turnout, and the elections were botched causing dubious results which foster a growing sense of mistrust in the American democratic process.”
The plaintiffs cite the scandal in Arizona , where voters stood in line for as much as five hours after the state and Maricopa County (Phoenix) elections officials closed 70 percent of the county’s polling places to save money. The Democratic National Committee sued Arizona for this on Friday.
Plaintiffs in the New York lawsuit call that Arizona debacle a “disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of voters; a primary election result that is irreparably erroneous; and numerous contentious lawsuits with little chance of redressing the substantial constitutional violations.”
The Long Island plaintiffs say the stakes are high.
“New York’s procedure for dealing with voters who fail to appear on the rolls in the polling place is byzantine in its complexity; onerous on the burden it places on the voter; and utterly ineffective in preserving voters’ rights,” the lawsuit states.
If a voter is not on the rolls, or his or her affiliation is incorrect, or if no party affiliation is ticked by their name, their vote will be “provisional” and “likely go uncounted.”
They also aim at New York’s Legislature for failing to declare Election Day a holiday, leaving many voters unable to go to the polls because they can’t afford to take time off from work.
“Many voters are only able to carve out adequate time to cast a vote, yet are unable to take the hours that it would require to get a court order permitting them to vote if they are not on the voter rolls,” the complaint states.
“Others are simply too intimidated to seek a court order and decide to turn away from the polls, dejected and skeptical about the democratic process.”
Chief among those voters, the plaintiffs say, are African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.
The issue of closed primaries spurred about 150 voters to kvetch and rally outside New York City Hall last week.
On Friday, Sanders made good on his Thursday debate promise that he’d release his withheld tax returns if Clinton promised to release the ballyhooed emails to and from her private server while serving as Secretary of State.
She said she’d release her emails if Sanders, who has been a Vermont senator since 2007, released his tax returns.
Former President Clinton is stumping for his wife across the Empire State to “discuss Hillary Clinton’s plan to raise incomes and get results for all communities, keep Americans safe and bring the country together.” He was to appear in Buffalo and Rochester on Tuesday.
The former first lady, ex-senator from New York and former Secretary of State held several Get Out the Vote campaigns throughout New York City over the weekend, then held a rally Sunday night on the oft-forgotten borough of Staten Island, a traditional Republican stronghold.
Sanders stumped in his own backyard of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to deliver his message of reforming big banks and Wall Street. “This is a campaign that is bringing millions of people into the political process,” Sanders said at a Sunday rally that brought 28,000 people to Prospect Park. He said he was speaking for “working people and young people who are sick and tired of establishment politics and establishment economics” and who want “a government which represents all of us, not just the 1 percent.”
Campanello et al. seek an order that they have been unlawfully purged and shall be allowed to vote, a finding that New York Election Law § 8-303 (2) (b) is unconstitutional, and other relief.
They are represented by Blaire Fellows with Clarke & Fellows in Farmingdale.