Over the weekend the New York Times ran an alarming -- and as it turns out flatly untrue -- story that blamed Rock the Vote for disenfranchising as many as 100,000 voters in the state.
The story, Voters in Electoral Limbo, opens with a vignette of a alleged victim who registered with the youth voting group, but whose registration was nowhere to be found on the voter rolls.
The Times piece is correct in that there have been troubling delays in processing voter registrations in New York and across the country. But the piece then boldly gets its facts wrong in fingering Rock the Vote as the culprit:
It turns out that every registration application generated by Rock the Vote in New York State is printed with the wrong address — about 100,000 forms this year. Although voters in New York must register with the boards of elections in their home counties — in the city, they're called boroughs — all the Rock the Vote applications were addressed to the New York State Board of Elections, which does not handle voter registrations.
Let's tick quickly through the factual errors:
* The address printed by Rock the Vote on the forms is "the wrong address."
* "voters in New York must register with the boards of elections in their home counties" or boroughs
* "the New York State Board of Elections... does not handle voter registrations"
Each of these assertions is demonstrably false under New York and federal law.
Officials at both the New York State Board of Elections in Albany and the federal Elections Assistance Commission confirmed for Rolling Stone that both federal and state law require the state to accept voter registration forms at a central state office. Per the instructions on the National Mail Voter Registration Form (.pdf), that address is the following:
"From our perspective," Rosemary E. Rodriguez, Chair of the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC), told Rolling Stone, "Rock the Vote followed federal law. Rock the Vote used the federal form; federal law requires the form to be accepted."
[Rolling Stone reached out the author of the Times piece for comment, but there was no immediate response.]
In an email to Rolling Stone, Rodriguez added:
The benefit of using one state address is that one office is responsible for ensuring that voter registrations are processed in a timely fashion and forwarded to the correct offices. Adding multiple addresses for a state would make the state instructions to the form significantly longer, making the form less user-friendly and accessible. In addition, having more than one possible address increases the chance that voters might submit their registration forms to the wrong place, causing delay and confusion.
Rock the Vote provided information to Rolling Stone demonstrating that it had pre-cleared its forms with state officials. The Board of Elections wrote back with this confirmation: "Under section 5-210 paragraph 3 of the Election Law we are required to accept your federal NVRA forms. The NY language looks fine on this end and we look forward to receipt of your registration forms."
State elections chair Douglas Keller confirmed to Rolling Stone that Rock the Vote had "cleared their way of doing it" with his staff. If anything, he said, Rock the Vote has been a victim of its own success. The group's drive created a "huge number of forms close to the registration deadline," Keller said, overwhelming the state's administrative capacity and creating delays in disseminating the registrations to the counties. The counties, in turn, have been swamped with new registrations and therefore slow to update their rolls.
Both Keller and Rodriguez of the EAC emphasized that no one who mailed their Rock the Vote registration forms before the state deadline will be disenfranchised. If any such voter finds that their name has not been added to the voter rolls, they should demand a provisional ballot. It's a bit of a hassle, but elections officials will crosscheck these ballots against late updates to the voter rolls and they will ultimately be counted.
Rock the Vote also asks that any young voter experiencing trouble at the polls call its election hotline -- 1-866-OUR-VOTE -- for help up to and including having a lawyer dispatched to the polling site.