They must be the ‘Bored of Elections’

Andy Campbell

New machines, same old problems.

Anticipating a spate of technical problems with new electronic voting machines on Election Day, Brooklyn voters instead encountered incompetence from the Board of Elections.

Dozens of poll sites throughout Brooklyn turned away voters this morning because the machines had not been delivered or were not properly set up when polls opened at 6 am.

At PS 34 on McGuinness Boulevard and Norman Avenue, one of the heaviest turnout sites in Greenpoint, voters were unable to cast ballots for three hours because the machines did not arrive.

One of those voters was a candidate — Kate Zidar, who was running against a longtime incumbent for district leader, an office, that, ironically, controls poll workers.

“They didn’t have machines, they don’t even have the book of names, they don’t have emergency ballots, they don’t have signage out,” said Zidar. “It is a hot mess, and it’s my polling site. I think it’s the beginning of a day of shenanigans.”

In Boerum Hill, voters at PS 32 did not get to cast their ballots until 7:30 am, and in Carroll Gardens, MS 142 and PS 58 did not open for voters or at least two hours because Board of Elections officials did not give keys for the machines to the NYPD in time.

In Park Slope, voters had to wait at Camp Friendship on Eighth Street until 9 am before casting a ballot because the voting machines did not have the proper extension cords and could not be turned on.

And in Williamsburg, the electronic scanners broke down entirely at PS 19 on S. Third and Keap streets.

“These machines are a piece of s—,” said Esteban Duran, a candidate for district leader. “This is our heaviest polling site.”

Councilman Brad Lander (D-Park Slope) believes that the Board of Elections was “unready for the change-over” since it took staff members a long time to set up machines.

“This is total incompetence by the Board of Elections that inconvenienced and perhaps disenfranchised many Brooklyn voters,” said Lander. “There are often one or two problems here or there, but this was a far bigger fiasco than in times past.”

When the polls were finally open, several voters expressed dismay at the new voting system.

Instead of flicking metal levers for each candidate and manually pulling a lever on a post-War-era machine, voters had to take a green identification card and a paper ballot from an election worker, color in bubbles on a sheet that resembled a standardized test, and then give the paper ballot back to another election worker who took the card and scanned in the ballot form.

“When you’re done, there’s nothing signifying that you actually voted,” said one voter in Park Slope. “At least with the old machine, you’d pull the red handle back to its original position and it made a sound that made it clear you voted. I loved that sound — it sounded like a prison door closing on a corrupt politician.”

Speaking of which, there were voting problems at Flatbush’s St. Augustine’s Church early in the day, said state Sen. Kevin Parker (D–Flatbush), who is on trial for beating up a New York Post photographer.

Parker reported that some equipment at that polling site, at Avenue D and East 43rd Street, was delivered late. In addition, he said, voters at the site also dealt with scanner malfunctions.

“It was horrible this morning,” Parker stressed.

Several voters at St. James Pavilion, a polling center at Jay and Chapel streets in Brooklyn Heights, said the process was confusing. By noon, only 150 voters cast their ballots.

“The print is really small,” said voter Virginia Drake. “I had to use a magnifying glass. I miss the red lever and the curtain”

Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, who lives in Park Slope, was among the many city leaders who was not amused by the late start to Election Day. DeBlasio said his office would hold the Board accountable for its mistakes to ensure similar problems do not occur in November’s general election.

“Today’s widespread delays and confusion with the electronic voting machines has damaged the public’s trust in our democracy,” said DeBlasio. “If the conditions at my poll site, which opened three hours late, are any indication, thousands of New Yorkers were likely disenfranchised. With such low turnout, these persistent problems could very well change the outcome of an election.”

Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vasquez acknowledged problems at some polling sites.

“For months, our staff has been diligently working to address various contingencies … to minimize problems that may arise on Election Day,” said Vazquez. “We increased our poll worker training by 50 percent … increased the number of poll workers by 20 percent, and have worked with community and civic interest groups across the city.”

— with Gary Buiso and Helen Klein

Poll workers Anthony Sneed (left) and Freddie Bess help Rebecca Chovnick Park Slope vote at her relatively quite polling site on Eighth Street.
Photo by Paul Martinka

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