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Errors, voter purging raise questions about integrity of NY primary

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Lucas Jackson/Reuters

(Read caption) Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally at Hunter's Point in the Queens borough of New York City on Monday.

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Though the New York primary is days behind, a fight for justice on behalf of New Yorkers who say they feel disenfranchised is only beginning. Reports of voting problems abound, with claims that tens of thousands of people were prevented from voting in Tuesday's primary.

Voters in some places say they had to wait for hours in line for polling places to open. In Brooklyn, 126,000 people were removed from voter rolls; many didn't find out until they showed up to vote and were turned away. Others complained that their party affiliations were changed without their knowledge, which disqualified them from voting in the state's closed primary. The New York primary is closed to independents, and required voters to register with a party back in October to participate.

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After receiving widespread reports of these voting problems, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer promised an audit of the New York City Board of Elections.

"There is nothing more sacred in our nation than the right to vote, yet election after election, reports come in of people who were inexplicably purged from the polls, told to vote at the wrong location, or unable to get in to their polling site," said Mr. Stringer in a statement.

"The people of New York City have lost confidence that the Board of Elections can effectively administer elections and we intend to find out why the BOE is so consistently disorganized, chaotic, and inefficient. With four elections in New York City in 2016 alone, we don't have a moment to spare," he said.

The New York state attorney general's office said that it too was overwhelmed by voter complaints, which the office is investigating. Its voter complaint hotline received more than 1,000 complaints on Tuesday, reported CNN, more than six times the 150 received on the day of the 2012 general election.

"Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy," said New York's Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in a statement, "and if any New Yorker was illegally prevented from voting, I will do everything in my power to make their vote count and ensure that it never happens again."

Michael Ryan, executive director of the Board of Elections, has responded that Tuesday's voting issues are no different from those that were reported in other elections.

"Since the eyes and ears of the world are on New York, issues that are relatively routine for any election are receiving greater scrutiny," he told CNN.

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Mr. Ryan said that of all the voters taken off the rolls in Brooklyn, 12,000 had moved out of the borough and 44,000 were considered inactive because mailings addressed to them had bounced back to the post office. Another 70,000 were already inactive because they had not voted in two successive federal elections or responded to cancel notices, so they were removed, according to CNN.

Voting rights advocacy group Election Justice USA filed an emergency lawsuit Monday in Federal District Court against New York's Board of Elections, claiming voter suppression. The organization's spokeswoman, Shyla Nelson, tells The Christian Science Monitor that an evidentiary hearing is scheduled for next week. 

“Even as we continue the fight for the voters of New York, we are already looking ahead to the upcoming Primary states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and other states from whose voters we are already hearing the same stories," Election Justice said in a statement. "The fight for election justice for all Americans goes on."