Regular voters in New York City were confused this past week when they received a mailer from the city indicating that they were, in fact, inactive voters.
“You were marked as an inactive voter by the New York City Board of Elections, but you may still be eligible to vote in the upcoming election,” the letter, sent from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, read in part. It went on to tell recipients how they could rectify their status, by submitting an address-confirmation card to the Board of Elections or by completing a brand new voter registration form, reported the New York Times.
Many people who received the letter, however, were confused by its contents — some of them knew for a fact that they were active voters, as they had just participated in the primary election held in New York state the month before. Others expressed fear of being kicked off the voter rolls just weeks before an important midterm election.
“I kind of panicked because I had [previously] checked my voter registration, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get it back in time and I had no idea when I’d been marked inactive,” Kaeleigh Farrish, who received one of the 400,000 letters that were sent out, said, according to reporting from Fox 5 News in New York.
Some people have been tweeting today about getting fake letters in the mail regarding their voter registration status. Problem is, they weren't fake..! They came from the city's Democracy NYC initiative. https://t.co/766zuyqaqQ— Yasmeen Khan (@yasmeenkhan) October 16, 2018
According to the mayor’s office, however, the fault isn’t their own. An outside group called Civis Analytics was contracted out by the office to send the letters.
Editor’s Note: After this story was published, a representative of Civis Analytics responded to the statement from the mayor’s office with an official statement of their own.
“Our relationship with the City is that of a software vendor (Civis) and software user (NYC). NYC’s Public Engagement has licensed Civis’s software for the past two years. Our software enables the City’s data analytics team to manage data and create lists in support of important civic efforts, such as public health awareness campaigns. We were not specifically contracted by Democracy NYC.
“After learning of the errors associated with New York City’s inactive voter letter campaign, Civis assisted the City in conducting an extensive analysis to identify the root of the problem. Together we determined that the error lies not in the data itself, but in the way the list was filtered from the original dataset. List creation using complex datasets is a difficult, time-consuming task, and as data scientists we recognize this as an understandable human error.”
Eric Phillips, Mayor de Blasio’s press secretary, issued a statement on the mixup, shifting blame to the Board of Elections, which the mayor has clashed with in the past on voter registration issues.
“It has come to our attention that a very small group of active voters may have received inaccurate letters from the city identifying them as inactive voters. We’re working to get to the bottom of why the mailing list used, which originated with the city Board of Elections, seems to have led to this error.”
The confusion comes at a time when thousands of Americans across the country are uncertain about their voting status.
A voter ID law in North Dakota, for example, has the potential to disenfranchise voters because it requires IDs to have street addresses printed on their cards, which conflicts with the reality of the situation for thousands of would-be voters, as many Native Americans in the state don’t have physical address. Tens of thousands of voters in Georgia have also been told their registrations have been put on hold, leaving them confused about whether they’ll be able to vote in November, according to reporting by CNN.