Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Long Lines And Problems At the Polls


Jonathan Springer, a lawyer, was among those who did not mind the half-hour wait at the polls at 102nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue yesterday. ''It's really exciting to have all these people here,'' he said before voting in an election that many city poll workers said had drawn the largest turnout -- and the longest lines -- that they had seen in years.

And so voters lined up yesterday and waited for the moment when they could step into the voting booth. At many polling places, voters who found long lines in the morning went back after work. ''It was like going to see 'Star Wars,' '' said Andy Caso, 49, who had returned to the Congregation Mount Sinai synagogue in Brooklyn Heights to vote last night.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who arrived at 8:15 a.m. to vote at the Richard Green School on East 88th Street in Manhattan, waited in line for 30 minutes.

''I thought it could be organized a little better,'' he told reporters after he finally emerged from the booth.

It was not the only place where there was a crowd. Around lunchtime at the Dewitt Rehabilitation and Nursing Center on East 79th Street and Third Avenue, about 80 voters were waiting, sharing an entrance with elderly patients in wheelchairs and on gurneys. ''It's chaotic,'' said Brian Scheur, a nursing home official. ''I'm trying to take care of my patients here while all these people come in and out.''

Elsewhere, there were the usual tales of things that can go wrong on Election Day. Voters, poll workers and poll watchers complained of one- and two-hour waits, overcrowding, inaccurate translations and poorly trained election inspectors. Seventy repairmen worked all day to fix numerous broken voting machines.

Daniel DeFrancesco, the executive director of the city's Board of Elections, acknowledged that at times yesterday, some polling stations had neither working machines nor emergency paper ballots. ''We anticipated a heavy turnout, but never this heavy,'' he said.

But Gene Russianoff, a senior lawyer with the New York Public Interest Research Group who had been fielding complaints since shortly after the polls opened at 6 a.m., said the board should have been better prepared. ''It's not like the weather,'' he said. ''They knew it was coming.''

At Public School 34 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Vitold Lach bellowed his frustration. ''Some of the elderly people have gone home,'' he said, ''and it's not easy for them to come back.''

Nearby, at the polling station at St. Anthony of Padua, a Catholic school, supervisors noticed that their booths were broken by 6:50 a.m. and called for repairs, said Betty Williams, an election district coordinator. By yesterday evening, only one of six was working, and emergency ballots were running short. ''People are getting discouraged and just leaving,'' said Kimberly Adams, 25, a waitress. ''I think a lot of people are saying this is just how the system works.''

Leon F. Nadrowski, Republican district leader for the area, was not pleased by what he saw when he inspected the polls after hearing complaints. ''We demand that this entire area of Brooklyn, Greenpoint and Williamsburg, have new elections with workable machines,'' he said.