Problems at the polls for those who knew to vote

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 9/21/2012, 12:32 p.m.
Yet again, complaints across the city formed a thunderous roar from voters who feel they...
Bill Moore photos

Yet again, complaints across the city formed a thunderous roar from voters who feel they were disenfranchised during last week's primary election for New York State legislative offices. As the city deals with the recent redistricting, many voters said they were unaware there was even an election and were once again confused about where to vote.

While voter ID laws in some swing states are accused of trying to block voters, many elected officials and citizens in New York say a similar tactic is being used in New York City. Low voter turnout was evident across the city, as several polling places saw few voters. While some districts did not have any races, voters and elected officials report that the city's Board of Elections is still not communicating with voters.

Brooklyn City Councilman Jumaane Williams said that in his district in East Flatbush, he assisted constituents voting at Tilden High School and P.S. 269 Nostrand. He said he witnessed what he called "the worst example of voter disenfranchisement" he had ever seen.

"Voters, many of them seniors, were streaming out of polling sites screaming, cursing and near tears over the frustration they experienced," he said. "There are countless stories of voters being told that they were at the wrong polling site; it is understandable that there would be some issues due to redistricting, but with this much confusion, the problem clearly was a lack of accessible information."

Williams added that numerous voters were not informed that they had the right to ask for an affidavit ballot. He personally walked voters back to the polls to exercise their right, including one woman who was told her paper ballot would not count and was discouraged from filling it out.

Senior voters also complained again about the small lettering on the new voting machines, while Haitian voters were denied ballots printed in Haitian Creole, a widely used language in central Brooklyn.

"Quite frankly, it appears that the Board of Elections dropped the ball on today's election. They had the entire summer to correct the problems reported from the June primary," Williams said. "To ensure that voter disenfranchisement does not occur in November, the Board of Elections needs to act immediately on a broad campaign of education for voters and poll workers alike."

Assemblyman Karim Camara of Brooklyn's 43rd Assembly District also said his constituents lodged complaints of voter disenfranchisement. While his district had no primary challenges, a notice should have been sent to voters by the Board of Elections. He called the lack of information "unacceptable."

"I will be speaking with the Board of Elections about their lack of notification to voters concerning which districts were holding elections," he said. "I will work with the board to remedy this issue and will recommend the implementation of systems that notify all registered voters of upcoming elections in which they have an opportunity to vote."

Spokeswoman for the Board of Election Valerie Vazquez told the AmNews that all procedures were legally done by the board during the primary elections. She said mailers were sent out to all registered voters in August informing voters where to go, their new district if they have one and how to use voting machines.

She added that there were some areas where there was no contest. The Board of Elections recently redesigned its website (vote.nyc.ny.us) and launched a smartphone application that tells voters where to go and any changes in their district. Those with any problems, Vazquez said, should call 866-VOTE-NYC for any questions.

"We at the Board of Elections did our legally required mandate," she said. "In every case, we've gotten calls from people claiming they have not received voter information though we've used mail tracking to prove we sent it out. If any voter did not receive it, they should call their local post office."