Less than a month before the upcoming primary election, thousands of tenants at a Queens housing complex don’t know where they are supposed to vote on Sept. 12.
The controversy is over a polling site at LeFrak City, an affordable housing development with upwards of 15,000 residents in Corona, Queens. Tenants there said on Tuesday that they’re in limbo because the community room they used for decades did not comply with accessibility rules under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and city officials have not picked a new polling site.
A court-appointed consultant notified the New York City Board of Elections of the accessibility issue last year. Executive Director Michael Ryan said they didn’t make any changes then because it was too close to the presidential election. He said they were working with the LeFrak management to find alternative locations on the property.
“Whatever happens here is going to happen – or not happen – based on the level of cooperation from the landlord,” Ryan told frustrated tenants and activists at the board’s weekly meeting Tuesday.
Not surprisingly, tenants are frustrated:
[T]he president of the tenant association, Malikah Khadijah Shabazz, said the board should have fixed the problem sooner.
“I have never seen so much confusion over a poll site in my community,” said Shabazz who said she’s lived in LeFrak City for more than 40 years.
According to the Queens Chronicle, LeFrak City voters can vote at nearby public schools – but tenants say that disadvantages some voters:
[R]esidents are concerned that moving the site, from within the complex to nearby schools, will present significant burdens, particularly for the many elderly and disabled voters who live in the complex, home to a large minority population…
The BOE’s website directs residents of the complex to vote at PS 13, located at 55-01 94 St. in Elmhurst, or the High Schools for Arts and Business, at 105-25 Horace Harding Expy. North, causing some to believe this is a done deal. But Barbara Jackson, a Democratic district leader, said the moving of the polls has been known since 2015 and that voters were supposed to go to PS 13 and the high school last year — but area leaders got the change pushed back until after the presidential election.
It doesn’t help, as WNYC notes, that LeFrak City is a key voting bloc in a fierce primary fight for an open City Council seat:
The residents are considered an important block of voters in a local city council race to replace current City Council member Julissa Ferarras-Copeland. The democratic primary battle pits Assemblyman Francisco Moya, backed by the Queens County Democrats, against Hiram Monserrate, a former state senator convicted of assaulting his girlfriend and misusing city funds.
LeFrak City is considered a Monserrate stronghold. Activist Bertha Lewis, who backs Monserrate, threatened legal action against the Board of Elections.
“This board is responsible for this voter suppression,” said Lewis, “you had over a year.”
Lost in all this controversy is the fact that the BOE is caught in a position many of their counterparts nationwide would ruefully recognize: unable to use an existing polling location but powerless to force the landlord to offer an acceptable alternative. The only thing you can likely predict, New York being New York, is that this fight will linger right up until September 12 – and beyond, if the LeFrak City issue is seen to have affected the outcome. Here’s hoping, for the voters’ sake, that this gets resolved.
Stay tuned …