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Poll Worker Barred From Duty After Speaking Out to THE CITY About Patronage

On a fixed income and counting on wages from early voting days, an experienced poll worker suddenly found herself on a Board of Elections do-not-work list.

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Charlene Davis said Brooklyn Democratic leaders denied her a poll worker job after she spoke out against conflicts of interests, Aug. 18, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A Coney Island poll worker says she was blocked from getting work this election cycle by a Brooklyn Democratic Party official after publicly criticizing conflicts of interest among some party leaders.

Charlene Davis, 63, was among a number of poll workers quoted in a story published by THE CITY on June 16 that highlighted the outsized role that political party officials play in the process for landing paid work at election sites in Brooklyn.

Davis says she was informed by Board of Elections staffers that she’d been sidelined — and that it was 46th Assembly District Leader Dionne Brown-Jordan who prevented her from getting election work during last week’s early voting period and Tuesday’s primaries for U.S. Congress and state Senate seats.

A city Board of Elections official confirmed that it was Brown-Jordan who requested that Davis be marked as “temporarily inactive” as of Aug. 4 on the BOE’s roster of poll workers.

Davis says Brown-Jordan, who was elected to the two-year, unpaid district leader post in 2020 and re-elected in June, recently told her in a conversation outside Brown-Jordan’s apartment that the employment snub was largely prompted by Davis’ outspokenness — a claim that Brown-Jordan vehemently denied in an interview with THE CITY.

“The district leader told me that I will never work again at the polling site because I was stupid and allowed you to use my name in the story,” Davis told THE CITY. “She shouldn’t be allowed to do that. It’s wrong.”

In June, Davis questioned the fairness of a process in which party officials who are running for elected office, such as Brown-Jordan, are allowed to determine worker assignments at the very poll sites where their names will appear on the ballot.

A Job or a Favor?

Turnout in early voting, which ended Sunday, was low, with just 63,505 ballots cast citywide, and 19,000 in Brooklyn, out of 2.3 million potential voters as of Saturday. But the advent of early voting in 2020 supercharged the financial stakes for poll workers. This year has 30 voting days, which could earn a poll inspector or clerk as much as $8,250 in total pay.

“If you’re running for office, you shouldn’t have a say in who gets to work in the polls or not,” Davis told THE CITY in the June article. “I feel like it’s a conflict of interest.”

She also complained at the time that she had to pester the Board of Elections to secure work during the June early voting period and primary, when she was assigned six days.

Brooklyn Borough Hall hosted an early voting site, Aug. 17, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Brown-Jordan, who lost in the Democratic primary against incumbent Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus in June, disputed Davis’ claims.

She noted that despite Davis’ strong public support for Frontus, Davis wasn’t shut out of election work during the June primaries.

“As a mother, grandmother, an active member of my church, and lifelong Coney Island resident, I have never and would never use such language towards my neighbors and constituents,” Brown-Jordan said of Davis’ claims about their recent run-in. “There was no effort made by Ms. Davis to inform me of her interest to work in the August election prior to the deadline set by BOE. Any suggestion to the contrary of my clear record accommodating her prior requests is baseless and pure politics.” 

She didn’t respond to a text message asking why she had requested for the BOE to mark Davis inactive.

A Board of Elections official said the Brooklyn Democratic and Republican county parties filled more than 11,000 of the early voting and primary day poll site slots in the current cycle — while the board itself filled just over 9,000. 

Among those awarded election work by Brown-Jordan this year was Patricia Brown — her mother — the official confirmed.

Power Moves

New York election law gives county political parties significant leeway in how they select residents in each Assembly district for poll site work.

Traditionally, the Kings County Democratic Party has allowed its currently 44 district leaders to handle the awarding of election site jobs. 

Two district leaders serve in each Assembly district. They function as unpaid members of the party’s executive committee, and also elect the party chair and nominate judges to the bench.

This year, however, the Brooklyn Democratic Party strayed from its decades-old format for assigning poll workers ahead of the June primary.

In a break from precedent, Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn allowed some of her unelected political allies — including several who were running to become district leaders in June — to handle the task. 

In turn, a number of Bichotte Hermelyn’s political opponents — including District Leaders Maritza Davila, Charles Barron and Shaquana Boykin — were blocked from assigning poll workers earlier this year.

The move prompted complaints that party leaders were trying to give their candidates a boost by weakening members not aligned with them, and sparked protests outside Brooklyn Borough Hall and the Brooklyn offices of the Board of Elections in June.

Joyce Scott-Brayboy, a community advocate and coordinator of poll workers in East New York for Barron, a City Council member, and his wife, Inez Barron — a former Council member and Assembly member — said longtime election workers were largely shut out this year because party leaders blocked the Barrons from making any assignments.

Instead, they handed the task to County-backed Nikki Lucas, a state Assembly member who wasn’t elected district leader until June.

“Some people were begging for positions,” said Scott-Brayboy.

There were additional factors that made this year’s process unusual.

Two County-backed candidates for district leader falsely presented themselves as incumbents to aspiring poll workers, and one incumbent district leader reportedly encouraged prospective poll workers to volunteer for her political campaign, THE CITY reported during June primary voting.

At the time, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Democratic Party had said the changes instituted by Bichotte Hermelyn were made in the name of efficiency.

Told last week of Davis’ claims of being shut out of election work by a party official, a different party spokesperson responded via email: “No comment.”

Needed Work

Davis, who travels in a motorized wheelchair with an oxygen tank, said she jumped through hoops to try to get poll site work this month. But she still fell short.

She contacted staffers at the Brooklyn Board of Elections office, who told her to go to the board’s headquarters in lower Manhattan.

Davis said she got a ride and went there on Aug. 12, but wasn’t able to get face time with board executives, or to find anyone who might offer a constructive solution.

“Nobody at the Board of Elections wanted to deal with it,” said Davis. “They wanted me to deal with Dionne.”

Davis said it had been the Board of Elections rather than Brown-Jordan who secured her polling site work in June, so she didn’t see the point in asking Brown-Jordan for help. She said BOE officials told her the “inactive” status on her name prohibited them from assigning her anywhere.

Poll worker Fatima Wilson, left, helps sign in voters at Brooklyn Borough Hall during early voting, Aug. 17, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Davis described the election work as essential to her because the $719 per month she earns from Social Security is almost entirely eaten up by her $700 rent. 

She lives with her adult son, who has special needs, and who earns about $200 per month from part time work.

City payroll records show that under early voting, Davis earned $2,470 as a poll worker in 2020 and $4,853 last year.

This week, she managed to land a job handing out flyers outside a polling place for state Senate candidate Bianca Rajpersaud that pays $18.75 an hour — but her total haul only will be about half of what she could have made working inside a poll site.

“It’s very difficult for me to try to maintain my household, so when I can do little things like this to help out, that’s what I do,” said Davis.

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