Monserrate's Alleged Registration Drive

As part of the US Justice Department’s indictment of Former Councilman & State Senator Hiram Monserrate, it is alleged that Monserrate had LIBRE; the non-profit the feds allege Monserrate controlled spend @$31,000 on a voter registration as part of his 2006 Primary campaign for State Senate.


 Bharara said that Monserrate had a "hand-in-glove" relationship with LIBRE, awarding it about $300,000 in discretionary funds and having it spend about $109,000 of that on his voter registration drive, petition drive and canvassing and employee salaries and payments.
     The unsealed indictment states: "LIBRE used these funds to pay workers to go door-to-door and register voters, focusing, at Monserrate's direction, on the electoral district in which Monserrate ran for Senate in 2006."
     Although workers told voters they would submit the applications to the New York City Board of Elections, they used the information to keep a database with their names and contact information at Monserrate's direction and for his benefit, the indictment states.
     "In the summer of 2006, LIBRE sent databases containing the names and contact information for over 1,000 Queens residents gathered through its voter registration drive to members of Monserrate's campaign team," the indictment states.
     Bharara said that "1,000 voter registrations was significant" because the election was won - or, for Monserrate, lost - by a narrow margin.
     The databases gave him "an advantage by being the only candidate aware that these particular people would be eligible to vote in the 2006 primary election and that they should be targeted with campaign messages," according to the indictment.


Bharara, the US Attorney is correct that 1,000 potential new voters can be significant in a Primary election like the one that year for State Senate where 12,430 votes were cast and the victory margin was 242 votes, but I wondered as I read this how significant was it really.


I used our Prime New York voter file to see if I can answer the question.


There is no way I can determine who registered to vote as a result of LIBRE’s alleged actions but I can select voters who fit the pattern as described in the indictment. I selected voters in the 13th SD who registered in the summer of 2006 (reg. date after June 1) and on or about the August 18th deadline to vote in the Primary.


I discovered that 1,548 registered during that period and that 1,138 registered as Democrats. Those numbers are close to Justice Department figure of 1,000. Remember, some people registered without the assistance of LIBRE.


But of the 1,138 new Democrats, only 202 voted in the 2006 Primary, not the 1,000 that the government says was in the LIBRE database.


By the way, I think this a good time to say that everything in the indictment is a non-proven allegation at this time.


There are a number of ways to look at the 202 votes.


On the hand, 202 is 17.5% of 1,138, which is a higher turnout percentage than we saw in this year’s NY State Democratic or Republican Primaries.


But, if the registration drive really cost $31,000, then the cost per vote was $153 per vote, which is about what Mayor Bloomberg spent last year, and that assumes that all 202 were part of the alleged LIBRE voter registration database.


The real lesson of this exercise seems to me to be that (once again, I repeat, if the allegations are true) is that voter registration drives are not always the most efficient use of resources. I reminded of the old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.