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BK Dems’ virtual meeting dissolves into 13-hour Zoom call from hell

Brooklyn Democratic Party chair Carlo Scissura presiding over the organization's lengthy meeting that spanned 13 hours from Dec. 16-17.
Screenshot

The Brooklyn Democratic Party’s first ever virtual full membership meeting went off the rails Wednesday, with party bigs miscounting votes and members pushing them for more transparency during a wild 13-hour Zoom call.

“We are the laughing stock of this entire city,” said Bushwick Assemblywoman Maritza Davila toward the latter half of the triple-marathon meeting. “We wasted a whole nine hours — whole nine hours — I went to the Bronx and came back and we are still dealing with the same stuff.”

The inaugural digital gathering of the borough party — officially known as the Kings County Democratic County Committee — fell apart after a tabulation error during a vote on renewing party rules, which counted more votes than there are members in the party in total.

“We just had 102 percent turnout as our first vote, and you just let that sit for hours,” said former Greenpoint District Leader and Brooklyn Paper columnist Nick Rizzo.

The motion at first passed by a hair of four votes in favor to keep the rules, something favored by party leadership — but the president of the reform-oriented club New Kings Democrats, Mariana Alexander, soon pointed out that the total count of 2,205 was 26 votes north of the actual membership of 2,179.

The false tally that counted 26 more votes than there are Brooklyn Democratic members during the virtual meeting on Dec. 16.Screenshot

Some 150 people attended the virtual meeting, but, as with in-person meetings in the past, Democrats could hand over their votes to other members to cast ballots on issues on their behalf in a controversial system known as proxy-voting, allowing some politicos to wield hundreds of votes apiece.

Irregularities emerged even before the vote, such as when Alexander noted that Manhattan Beach District Leader Ari Kagan seemed to have almost 80 proxies — more than twice the amount of proxy votes available in his district.

The overcount apparently stemmed from the vote tabulator wrongly drawing on data from Dec. 2, which still included illegally-filled county committee seats a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge voided a week later because the 2,400 appointments across the borough violated state Election Law.

“I used a file to create the 45th [Assembly District represented by Kagan] that was used after Dec. 2 and it was updated,” said Jonathan Harkavy, who was counting the votes for the party. “This is not my finest day, I apologize.”

Several reformers started pressing the meeting’s leader, party chair Carlo Scissura, to halt any further vote until the miscount was remedied.

“Given that discrepancy, we can’t move forward until the vote is audited, otherwise all future votes can’t be trusted,” said Boerum Hill District Leader Jesse Pierce.

The contested vote — put forth by Marine Park District Leader Lori Maslow — was to renew the party’s rules, something that garnered its own controversy when reformers said that County was forcing through the status quo without giving members a chance to vote on an alternative set of rules proposed by NKD.

Maslow’s husband Aaron, a county committee member who also serves as an election lawyer for the party, explained the motion and later tried to add on amendments.

But several members who were not made aware of Maslow’s role questioned why he got notably more airtime and seemed to have limitless speaking privileges on the Zoom webinar to push through motions, while hundreds of his colleagues had to wait for hours to be unmuted by Scissura.

“He gets to speak at will, but it takes seven hours for anyone else to speak,” said County Committee Member David Michaelson. “This was a fiasco tonight. I use Zoom all the time, you guys have misused it. I don’t know if that’s inexperience or deliberate.”

The party leadership originally didn’t want to hold a full meeting amid COVID-19, claiming older members would struggle to access the virtual technology, but they were ordered to do so by a Kings County Supreme Court judge in October, after reformers sued the party.

Starting at noon Wednesday and still in full swing at past midnight, Scissura along with party boss Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte admitted that the meeting wasn’t going as planned and that they would rescind the earlier vote and reconvene at a date in the near future with more structures in place and a more thorough count of people’s votes.

“Unfortunately it saddened me to have experience and to have all of you experience this unfortunate process, and I agree with you,” said Bichotte. “We apologize. I want to get this right and we must get this right. And you know what, we will, we will, because this is not the vision that we had.”

But dozens of Democrats demanded the party leaders produce raw data of the vote by their Canadian voting tech contractor Data on the Spot, believing that it likely would not have passed if counted correctly and alleging that the party was trying to forestall any further votes now that bigwigs knew that progressives had the numbers.

“We could have tabulated these votes on an abacus faster than we’ve done this evening and so it just feels to me like there’s been a deliberate set of stall tactics,” said Carroll Gardens District Leader Josh Skaller. 

Scissura refused to do so for hours, saying it wasn’t possible to show the raw figures that same night, but pressure mounted with progressives refusing to adjourn the meeting until the data was released.

“Carlo, Carlo, my guy, genug, enough, you’re done,” said County Committee member Jack Drury. “You need to give us a reason right now why Brandon from [Data on the Spot] can’t share the backend…We’re trying to get answers from you and you’re being obstructionist.”

Scissura eventually relented, allowing the contractors to forward the spreadsheet with the messed-up count, before holding another break to let people analyze the figures.

When leaders reconvened, Scissura gave the floor to Alexander, who brought forth a new motion to adopt the alternative county committee rules proposed by her and fellow reformers, to reconvene a meeting on Dec. 23, and to recess the Wednesday’s meeting that had already gone into the early hours of Thursday.

That motion passed easily with 110 out of 146 votes.

In a statement posted to Twitter just after midnight, the County Committee said it was working to fix the “discrepancies with the outcome.”

“We will be completely transparent throughout the process as we account for inconsistencies. We know we MUST get this right,” the tweet read.

Late Thursday, the group issued an “open letter” to committee members, in which is apologized for the messy meeting and pinned the tally error, preliminarily and partly, on the way meeting attendance was clocked.

“Over the course of our live-streamed organizational meeting last night, we were made aware that the results of the vote on our proposed rule amendments were fundamentally flawed. We set out to have an honest, transparent and inclusive meeting, but what transpired did not meet that goal,” the statement read. “This is our first time holding an organizational meeting of this scale virtually, and we are committed to doing it right as we move forward.”

Looking ahead to Dec. 23, the group said it is working with organizers — including NKD — “to assess what went wrong and find a practical solution before the meeting continues.”

“When it does, we will make sure our chat function is open; we will agree on a parliamentarian; and we will use a neutral third party to tabulate the votes,” the group said.

Update (Thursday, 1 pm): This article has been updated to reflect that Aaron Maslow also serves as an election lawyer for the Brooklyn Democratic Party.

Update (Thursday, 4:30 pm): This story has been updated to include part of a formal statement issued late Thursday by the Brooklyn Democratic Party.

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