Earlier this year, an investigative report from WNYC revealed two illegal voter purges that removed more than 120,000 people from voting rolls in Brooklyn, which some pundits described as “annoying” and “not voter suppression.” In fact, according to WNYC, voters in majority-Hispanic election districts were purged at a rate nearly 60 percent greater than in all other districts.
At a City Council hearing last month, Michael Ryan, the executive director of the Board of Elections, apologized for the purges, saying that they had been a mistake. Two top clerks in the Brooklyn office were suspended without pay. Ryan also said that “a broad cross-section of voters [was] removed from the voter rolls.”
In November 2014, 1,308,871 people were registered to vote in Brooklyn; the following July, 122,454 voters were removed from the rolls—13.9 percent of those were in majority-Hispanic election districts, compared to 8.7 percent in all other election districts. What is more, WNYC found, 15.2 percent of people with historically Hispanic surnames were purged, compared to 9.5 percent of people with all other names.
The purge most heavily impacts the neighborhoods of Sunset Park, parts of Williamsburg and Bushwhack, and East New York—all within the boundaries of the 7th Congressional District. Longtime representative Nydia Velázquez has in the past clashed with the Brooklyn Democratic party, and faces two primary challengers in the upcoming election.
“I do not want to think that it was deliberate, you know, because that would be voter suppression, and at a time when the Voting Rights Act is under attack in Washington, to have this type of action in a city and state like New York, a Democratic city, it’s just beyond any comprehension,” Velázquez told WNYC. “How could they purge 120,000 and no one knew that this was happening?”
“It’s just, by looking at that map I could say, ‘Hey, I’ve been targeted or my district has been targeted,’ just by looking at it. By looking at the numbers. We’ll see. But it’s not going to end here.”