Congressional candidate addresses voter suppression and other challenges in Democratic primary

NY-15 Congressional Candidate Assemblyman Michael Blake speaks Friday in Concourse Village about voter suppression.
Photo by Jason Cohen

The Primary election last week was a nightmare for many in New York City. Polling venues were changed with little to no notice, people waited on lines for hours, and some polling places opened late.

NY-15 Congressional Candidate and current Assemblyman Michael Blake could not believe how residents in the 79th District were treated on June 23.

While Blake trails progressive Councilman Ritchie Torres in the election results, he said that the voter suppression is not just about him, but all the people in the Bronx and the state. On Friday, Blake spoke in front of Concourse Village East at 158th Street, a polling site for 25 years that has accounted for the highest number of Black voters in the district and was suddenly changed last minute.

Blake told the residents there are still 43,431 absentee ballots that no one knows the status of.

“This is not about one candidate,” Blake said. “People died for the right to vote. People marched for the right to vote.”

With 1,900 units in Concourse Village, not a single person was given an explanation, Blake commented. While the other site was only eight blocks away, he questioned how the Board of Elections could expect seniors to walk in the heat and also want more people in one place when they are supposed to be social distancing.

“Unfortunately that was not the only challenge,” Blake said.

Daniel Barber, head of the NYCHA tenants group Citywide Council of Presidents, speaks about the issues he faced while voting. Photo by Jason Cohen

At M.S. 29 at 758 Courtlandt Avenue, voting was delayed by an hour, no one knew where to enter and the setup inside made it difficult to vote. At P.S. 93 at 1535 Story Ave., the affidavit box was so large that the police had to be called and no one knows where the documents are, Blake said. Lastly, at M.S .301 at 890 Cauldwell Ave., the line wrapped around the school and some people didn’t vote because there were an insufficient number of people working.

Additionally, Blake said some Bronxites were not given presidential ballots, poll workers had no guidance on how to help people and others just received their absentee ballots on June 23.

“We’re demanding that every vote is counted,” he said. “Why is it over and over again, people are forced to do an affidavit that are known Democrats? If that is not voter suppression I don’t know what is.”

Blake asked the Board of Elections where the absentee ballots are but they refused to tell him. He is calling for a city and state investigation, not just in the Bronx, but statewide, on the status of the affidavit ballots, absentee ballots, emergency ballots, voided ballots and what was the process in changing polling places.

Among the people who dealt with the voter suppression were Daniel Barber, head of the NYCHA tenants group Citywide Council of Presidents and Queen McFarland. Barber, who has voted for many years at M.S. 29, was told he could not vote there and needed to go to the courthouse.

He was furious and immediately contacted the Board of Elections, who eventually let him vote.

Queen McFarland speaks about her issues with voting. Photo by Jason Cohen

“The electoral process is a right that’s given to everyone,” Barber said. “It should be able to be exercised and voters should not be suppressed.”

McFarland said this was her worst voting experience in 50 years. She went to P.S. 67 at 2024 Mohegan Ave. and was given two ballots, which were affidavits and never received the presidential one.

At 6 p.m. she returned and got the right documents.

“If that happened to me, imagine how many other people that happened to,” McFarland said.

Toia, lives at Concourse Village East and has voted there for 25 years. She was shocked when she found out the polling site had been moved.

“It is an injustice right now, she stressed. “Why did they change it this year and give us no notice?”

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