New York City watchdog decries 'irregularities' in primary voting

A woman fills out a ballot at a polling center during the New York primary elections in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City, U.S., April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York City official on Tuesday ordered an audit of the city’s election authorities, citing “deep concern over widespread reports of poll site problems and irregularities” as voters cast their ballots in the state’s primary election.

New York Republicans and Democrats are holding presidential nominating contests for the Nov. 8 election. Delegate-rich New York, the fourth most populous U.S. state, is a big prize for the candidates.

“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 into their polling site,” city Comptroller Scott Stringer said.

Stringer said his office had received reports of polling stations that failed to open on time and were unable to tell voters when they would be operational. A voter in the borough of Queens reported a broken machine and staff instructing voters to place their ballots in a “slot” for processing at a later time.

In a letter to the New York City Board of Elections, the comptroller cited reports that polling staff were unable to operate voting machines, were giving out conflicting information and erroneously directing voters to alternate sites.

Of particular concern, Stringer said, were allegations of widespread removal of eligible voters from registration rolls and incorrect party affiliations on voter records. Stringer said eligible Democratic voters in Brooklyn fell by 120,000 from November 2015 to April 2016 without explanation.

Board of Elections officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by David Gregorio and Peter Cooney