Brooklyn election workers undercounted hundreds, perhaps thousands, of votes for Barack Obama in the New York primary earlier this month, spawning calls to investigate the Board of Elections and even conspiracy theories that workers were trying to help home state Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Clinton won Brooklyn by a slim 50–48 percent margin on Feb. 5 — and in a state where delegates are awarded based on the popular vote rather than in a winner-take-all system, any undercount could cost Obama in his delegate-by-delegate fight against Clinton.
A Brooklyn Paper investigation of the unofficial tallies revealed serious flaws in the counts at 70 election districts borough-wide:
• In 22 EDs, Obama was credited with zero votes. In all cases, the election districts were in neighborhoods where Obama performed well.
In one Coney Island district, Clinton got 93 votes to Obama’s 0. In nearby Bensonhurst, one district’s count was 18 votes for Clinton, 0 for Obama. Another district in that neighborhood had it 37–0 for Clinton.
Red Hook’s seventh ED? Clinton, 57–Obama, 0.
Bushwick’s 11th ED? Clinton, 79–Obama, 0.
The same neighborhood’s 58th district? Clinton, 118–Obama, 0.
In East New York’s 75th district, Clinton was credited with 99 votes to Obama’s zero.
Indeed, Clinton may have won some or even all of these districts, but it is very unlikely that the vote was unanimous.
• In 14 election districts, no votes were recorded at all, an extremely unlikely occurrence in these multi-block areas that are home to up to thousands of people — especially during a hotly contested presidential primary.
• In two election districts, Clinton was credited with hundreds of votes more than she likely received. In one Crown Heights ED, Clinton supposedly received 720 votes to Obama’s 85. And in another Crown Heights district, Clinton was credited with 680 votes to Obama’s 64.
In both cases, the count is extremely suspect considering that the total vote in each of Brooklyn’s 2,000 election districts rarely exceeded 200. Election expects believe that in both cases, someone added a zero to end of the Clinton tally to give her 720 and 680 when she most likely only got 72 and 68 votes in those EDs.
• In many districts, Clinton’s margin of victory appears to be unlikely.
Did Clinton really win election districts in Sheepshead Bay by votes of 72-5 and 41-3?
And did Clinton really beat Obama 111-8 in a Brighton Beach district, 180-3 in Bath Beach, 49-2 in another Bath Beach district, 78-8 in a Bensonhurst district, 67-4 in another Bath Beach district, and 81-8 in a Williamsburg district?
• New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who dropped out of the race a month before the New York Primary, was credited with hundreds of votes that he most likely did not receive.
East New York was the epicenter of this purported Richardson revolution:
In one district, for example, Richardson was credited with 36 votes, yet Obama received zero votes and Clinton received 74. In another district, Richardson got 64 votes to Clinton’s 88 and Obama’s 125. In still another district, Richardson got 33 votes. In another, he got 79.
In one Greenpoint district, Richardson was even credited with the unlikely win, with 200 votes to Clinton’s 46 and Obama’s 76.
And in Fort Greene, where Obama did extremely well, election workers in one district rendered the count as 12 votes for Clinton, 40 votes for Richardson and none for Obama.
• In one Gravesend district, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who also abandoned his campaign before the New York Primary, received 19 votes to Obama’s zero. He also was credited with 174 votes in an East New York district where Clinton was credited with 222 votes and Obama got 141.
And in one Park Slope-Prospect Heights district, Clinton was credited with 133 votes to Obama’s 2. Kucinich was credited with 162 votes. The Ohio congressman is certainly popular in Park Slope, but he’s not that popular.
• In two districts, all six candidates were credited with receiving dozens of votes.
In East New York, for example, one district had these results: Clinton, 111; Richardson, 92, Joe Biden, 88; John Edwards, 83; Barack Obama, 79; and Dennis Kucinich, 67.
Not only is the total vote in that ED — 520 votes — significantly higher than the average hundred or so votes cast, there is virtually no chance that voters in that district cast the vast majority of votes for the four candidates who were no longer in the race
Taken together, the 70 districts with significant election-day anomalies could amount to a vote swing of more than 1,000 votes. Depending on where those votes are, it could mean one or two more delegates for Obama in a race to the nomination where every delegate will count.
Board of Elections officials did not respond to questions from The Brooklyn Paper, but the agency has cautioned other media outlets to avoid drawing conclusions from the “unofficial” numbers that are compiled by poll workers on Election Night.
The agency has almost completed its started recanvassing of the decades old, level-controlled voting booths, thousands of which are stored in Red Hook. Elections officials said they expected to have an official tally by Tuesday.
But already, the Obama numbers are moving up. In the Bushwick district where Clinton was supposedly ahead 118-0, she now leads 118–116.
Such “human error” happens “all the time” on Election Night said Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez. But the errors are usually fixed, she said, before final results are certified.
“That’s why we always say, ‘Those [“unofficial” numbers] are not our numbers,’” she said.
How do such errors happen? A Brooklyn man who worked as a poll watcher for the Obama campaign told The Brooklyn Paper this week how he “saved” 100 votes for Obama during an Election Night count in a Queens polling place.
“The vote totals [inside the machine] resemble old odometer readings,” said Paul Curley, who worked the primary as a volunteer for “Young Lawyers for Obama.”
“At each machine, one poll worker called out the numbers and another wrote those numbers down on a form that gets sent to the Board of Elections. … At one of the machines, a poll worker called out that Obama had received 30 votes. But I noticed that the number [in the machine] was actually 130, and I immediately pointed this out.
“The first poll worker peered up at the odometer more closely. Seeing that I was correct, he instructed the other worker to correct the number on the form. It was actually 130, not 30. … His 100 votes had almost vanished into the night.”
Curley did not attribute the error to maliciousness by election workers, but exhaustion after a long day and difficulty reading tiny numbers in an old machine.
But others seized on the Election Night anomalies to call for an investigation into the Board of Elections.
“The irregularities in the unofficial presidential primary election results warrant further examination,” Councilman Simcha Felder (D–Borough Park) told The New York Sun. “The New York State election process is especially susceptible to human error, and unfortunately these occurrences are frequent.”
It didn’t help matters that the miscount favored a local senator (Clinton, originally from Illinois) in her fight against an outsider from Illinois (Obama, who actually lived in Brooklyn for a year).
Many of the miscounts, for example, occurred in election districts that are represented by Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Bushwick) and Rep. Charles Rangel (D–Manhattan), two staunch Clinton supporters.
Lopez told the Times that his “old-fashioned” get-out-the-vote drive, not any Election Night shenanigans.
But critics want to be absolutely certain. Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, has also called for an investigation.
“The fact that this presidential race is so close and this is Hillary’s home state raises questions that need to be asked,” he said.