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The curious case of New York's missing 200,000 votes

Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 5:26 p.m.

The New York City Board of Elections is in a quandary with the City Council to the tune of nearly 200,000 missing votes from the general election. While the discrepancy doesn't change results for any races, it does put the BOE back in the hot seat after previous problems with new voting machines during the primary elections.

Last week, the BOE caught the error after canvassing votes from ballots cast on November 2 and found 195,005 extra votes than counted before. Many of the new votes that surfaced came from Queens.

At the end of Election Day, the number of votes is printed out on a receipt to show the number of votes from each voting machine. After cutting and sorting them by district, calculators are used to tally results for each candidate and filled out on a form. The forms are then given to the police who take them to a precinct and the results are entered into a computer then transmitted to media and the BOE.

The BOE was highly criticized during the primary elections in October after numerous reports flooded in about malfunctioning voting machines, polling places opening late and untrained poll workers. During the general elections, while fewer reports of problems came in, there were still issues with the new system.

New York was the final state in the nation to convert from the big bulky lever voting machines to the new electronic scan voting machines this year, as required by law.

The screw up from the primary elections was so bad that it prompted the DOE to fire its executive director, George Gonzales, just one week before the general election. Since then, the BOE said that only one resume has come in vying for the job.

On Monday, the BOE faced the City Council and the community at a public hearing in Lower Manhattan. In a packed room, the panel included City Council Members Jumaane Williams, Inez Dickens, Charles Barron and Debi Rose.

The committee looked into what actions the BOE has taken to address the concerns of the primary election process. The public was also able to testify about their experience.

Williams, who heads the Committee on Oversight and Investigations, called the discrepancy "horrible" and said that the BOE was unable to compare the same issue of discovering uncounted votes in the past.

"I'm not even sure if we have anything to compare this to," he said. "I have to say there was a big improvement between the primary elections and the general elections. It's disappointing that while trying to hire a new executive director, only one resume came in. Maybe they are not taking things seriously."

During his testimony and questioning, Williams said that many of his constituents had to deal with several issues during the general election, including malfunctioning polling machines and the more common problem of the print being too small on the ballot.

Reiterating that so many of his constituents complained of being hassled or inadequately assisted at the polling station, Barron said, "Democratic district leaders cheat. They tell voters to vote for the Democratic Party and that they can't vote for the Freedom Party. We submitted a handful of complaints about electioneering that took place at polling sites. The Democratic Party controls elections and it must stop. Viola Plummer testified on behalf of the Freedom Party and we are fighting for justice at the ballot."