A veteran city poll inspector is claiming abuse of power after she was removed with a police escort from an early voting site following a dispute with a top Board of Elections honcho who just happens to be the son of Assemblyman Felix Ortiz.
Angela Sisto, a 62-year-old widow, said she was doing her job manning the affidavit ballot table at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help school early voting site in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood.
The affidavit table handles problems voters have with filling out their ballot and other troubleshooting issues. Workers there can also sign in people to vote.
Sisto said a man approached the table and demanded, “I want to vote here now.”
It turned out the man was Danny Ortiz, the deputy clerk of the BOE’s Brooklyn office and son of the longtime Brooklyn assemblyman, who lost his Democratic primary reelection bid in June.
Sisto said she asked Ortiz if he had checked in at the regular table to vote but he became indignant and things quickly escalated.
“I said, ‘Are you from the Board of Elections? Why are you being so confrontational with me? Why are you being abusive to me? Why do you people at the Board of Elections act this way?’” Sisto said
She said Ortiz was then joined by two female BOE officials, including Rodney Pepe, the newly appointed BOE Democratic commissioner for Brooklyn.
Instead of de-escalating the situation, Ortiz called Ray Riley, the chief clerk of the BOE’s Brooklyn office and a Republican, to agree to have Sisto removed from the polling site.
Then a police officer approached her to escort her out of the building , Sisto said
“It was an abuse of power. The whole thing was scary,” Sisto said.
“This shows the dysfunction at the Board of Elections. What happened to me just adds to the crazy dysfunction.”
The confrontation between brass and a front-line poll workers is just the latest controversy to befall the BOE, which has been branded as an antiquated, ineffective, patronage mill run by political bosses and in need of an overhaul.
The election agency has come under fire for underestimating turnout for the nine days of early voting, swamping many of the 88 poll sites with inadequate capacity to handle the flow of voters who waited in lines for hours.
Earlier, election officials were forced to resend nearly 100,000 absentee ballots to Brooklyn voters after a vendor provided the wrong return envelopes.
The BOE also disqualified more than 80,000 absentee ballots from the June primary elections, nixing many of them for technical issues that were often the agency’s own fault.
Sisto said she has a full-time job as a bank manager and used her vacation time for more than a decade to pitch in at polling sites during elections, and therefore should not have to put up with such alleged abuse.
Her daughter, Christine Sisto, a lawyer, also worked at the polling site, and her son-in-law, Liam McCabe, is a GOP district leader who monitors polling sites for the BOE.
McCabe said they treated his mother-in-law “like she was a criminal.”
“What they did was over the top. It was not right,” McCabe said.
Christine said she overheard part of the conversation and seconded her mother’s account.
The Board of Elections, in a statement, defended Ortiz and said it was Sisto who acted unprofessionally by preventing him from voting at her station, warranting her removal.
“We can confirm at that time based on the total number of voters checked-in and the total number of ballot stations that there were no lines at the site. Mr. Ortiz never identified himself as a Board of Elections employee. Instead he appeared at the check-in station to obtain his ballot as a voter,” said BOE spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez.
“Ms. Sisto, who was assigned to the check-in table, turned Mr. Ortiz away twice. Ms. Sisto made disparaging comments with racial overtones as witnessed by a Board Commissioner and another staff member. A call was made by the Republican Chief Clerk to the site Coordinator directing them to remove the poll worker from the site for misconduct. The Board does not tolerate mistreatment or disenfranchisement of voters at any of our poll sites across the City of New York.”
Sisto disputed that she made any racially insensitive remarks. She said when she uttered “you people” she was referring to BOE officials, not anyone’s race, religion or ethnicity.
One of the other poll inspectors who worked at the same table as Sisto backed her up.
“It was inappropriate to remove Angela. People were under stress,” said poll inspector Katharine Khatari, who noted she is Muslim and did not hear any racially charged comments.
“You’re supposed to have our back.. We’re working for you,” she said of Ortiz and other BOE officials
“You’re the ones with the title. You diffuse the situation. You don’t escalate it,” Khatari said.
Ortiz did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
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