Sunday, November 9, 2008

Record number of voters file long list of complaints about 'Stone Age' trip to polls

Sunday, November 9th 2008

Voters are looking none too happy as they wait in long lines on Election Day at Public School 158 polling place on York Ave.

Record numbers of New Yorkers showed up to vote Tuesday, and most got what they came for - a chance to do their civic duty.

Quite a few got something more.

Names of registered voters mysteriously vanished from the books.

Ancient voting machines didn't work properly or didn't work at all.

Addled poll workers were confused about rules, unable to answer basic questions and unsure what to do when things went awry because of the heavy turnout.
"It's just a system that needs attention," said Neal Rosenstein, elections specialist for New York Public Interest Research Group, who believes the city Board of Elections' approach dates to the Stone Age.

Mayor Bloomberg agrees. He's been at war with the board, refusing its pleas for more money and blasting its incompetence and inefficiency. He called it a "terribly run organization" that many deride as a patronage mill.

The board spends $13.8 million on more than 500 patronage employees, including 104 "clerks to the board" and 62 "administrative assistants," records show.

On Election Day, "The reliance on a patronage system to handle elections is severely tested, if not to the breaking point, to the agonizing point," Rosenstein said.

Rosenstein said NYPIRG fielded 1,250 calls from voters either confused or just plain angry.

National nonpartisan vote monitor group Election Protection said New York State ranked at the top of voter complaints it received, with the vast majority of calls coming from city voters.

The group tallied more than 1,750 calls about problems in the city Tuesday, including 1,166 registration issues, 538 polling place problems, 292 equipment breakdowns and 96 poll worker problems.

As of Friday, three days after the election, the city Board of Elections was still counting "call tickets" that quantify where problems occurred. Affidavit and "emergency" ballots won't get counted until next week.

In a statement, board officials blamed the long lines on the large number of new voters who showed up.

"This year, we have seen an unprecedented number of new voters at the polls," the statement said. "We are pleased that so many new voters are participating, but in a city with 12 million residents, long lines are inevitable."

So what did the taxpayers get for their money Tuesday?

At one Manhattan polling place, workers couldn't find the pages with names of voters that began with "L."

On one machine in Brooklyn, the Democratic Party line simply didn't work. On another, Republican John McCain was listed on the Working Families Party line.

At Public School 109 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where some machines broke down, poll workers reportedly told voters to come back later - although they are supposed to hand out paper ballots. This particular complaint surfaced at numerous spots across Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Another caller described the situation at the polling location at 270 E. Second St. as "mayhem" with only one working voting machine. She waited 90 minutes before giving up and going to work.

One caller said a poll worker at PS 213 in East New York, Brooklyn, was "cursing people out." Another said a poll worker insisted on coming into the booth with the voter. When he asked her to leave, she refused, stating, "I wanted to see if we vote for the same people."

Another caller said he didn't want to say a poll worker was drunk, but the worker was "clearly having some problems."

In Manhattan, a voter complained poll workers at the 86th Precinct gave them only two minutes to vote.

Problems were particularly acute in New York's Asian-American communities. Margaret Fung, director of the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund, said the group fielded 664 complaints Tuesday.

Mostly, voters complained of name problems - poll workers who mixed up Asian names.

In Bensonhurst, for example, a voter named Man On Chan tried to vote. On the voter rolls, his last name had been reversed with his first name, and poll workers wouldn't allow him to vote.

"He was really upset. He'd had exactly the same problem before, and it wasn't fixed," Fung said. "It's that kind of frustrating problem that deters voters from coming back."

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