Voters Complained: Mass Confusion at the Polls

What was your experience this year at the polls?

I was one of several thousand NYC voters to receive notification two weeks earlier that my poll site had been moved for the September 13 Democratic primary election.

However, when I arrived at my newly assigned location, the poll workers could not find my name on their lists.

Are you sure this is where you’re supposed to go?” one woman asked. I showed her my letter. And she confirmed, “Yes, you’re supposed to be here, but for some reason, you’re not on any of our lists.”

So she handed me an affidavit ballot. I filled it out, sealed it in the envelope and tried to hand it back to the woman who gave it to me.

“Oh, that doesn’t go to me honey, take it that table over there.”

I walked over “there,” and tried to hand one of the volunteers my ballot. But she too claimed she wasn’t the right person to accept affidavits.

So finally, after seeing the growing look of exasperation on my face, the woman sitting at the adjacent table offered to take it for me. She set my envelope to the side -- a bit too casually for my comfort -- amongst a pile of other papers and leaflets, and I half-wondered whether my vote would even make its way to the roll...

As a reporter who is always “on call,” I tried to interview a few of the voters before leaving my poll site. One woman, a poll volunteer who was responsible for directing people inside, said she had not yet voted, but she planned to vote before the polls closed.

However, as a poll worker, I was surprised to find that she knew so little about the candidates nor the voting process itself:

“To be honest, I don’t really know any of the candidates. But my friend told me I should vote anyway, because if I don’t, they’re going to enter a vote for me,” she said. “She told me just to vote for all the Democrats.”

(It was a Democratic primary, so all of the candidates were Democrats anyway).

As I was leaving my poll site, I heard the same group of women who greeted me telling another voter she was not on their list and asked whether she was sure she was at the right location...

Back at my desk throughout the day, I received two separate emails from readers complaining of mass confusion at their poll sites: Poll workers were rude; and poll workers didn’t seem to know what they were doing; or their names were not on the list:

“Some of the poll workers at that site were something else,” wrote Judith K in an email. “They seemed to have little rules for everything; I was corrected twice about where to stand to wait for a table, I was not allowed to leave my 'green card' in the privacy booth while I left it for a moment to seek better light (my vision is not good), even though no one was back there except a NYPD officer, and the list goes on, and on...  It seemed as though I was being unnecessarily hassled about every little thing, and I've been voting for the better part of 30 years!”

Whether everyone’s vote was counted on Thursday, we will never know. However, District Leader Robert Cornegy said he too received a large number of complaints, and he said a lot of it had to do with poll reassignments after the district lines were re-drawn.

“The amount of confusion at the polling sites for this election was unprecedented,” said Cornegy. “I don’t want to go so far as to call it voter suppression. But I can say that the problem is big enough that I plan to address it with the Board of Elections. This needs to be handled and corrected before the presidential election.”

“It was horrible, infantilizing and demoralizing,” wrote Judith. “ We are not unruly children, but responsible adults. Voting should be empowering - not disempowering!”

What was your experience this year at the polls?

bphill32 September 17, 2012 at 06:34 PM
I too had a poor experience. I went to my voting location @ PS81 only to be told that my address wasn't on the list, and that I needed to go to the PS on Bushwick Ave & Dekalb. I thought that was odd, as I live one block from PS81 and the notice I had received told me to go to PS81... I took the poll workers advice and walked to the other school, only to be turned BACK to PS81! It was very frustrating, when I got back to PS81 the same poll worker said, "you're back! sorry, I guess I missed your name"...
rendak September 17, 2012 at 07:20 PM
I received notices from both BOE and my block association that our polling place had been changed from PS 5 to PS 137. I allowed 15 to 20 minutes to go vote before work. I was bounced around from table to table by inept poll workers who clearly had no clue what to do with me when they couldn't find my name on the rosters. Some of them couldn't look up an alphabetized name if they had all day. In the end one poll worker who had a clue decided I belonged at yet another school (PS 21) and gave me a slip with that info on it. But by then I was late and decided to pursue voting after work, but I ended up working until too late. Later, I found the Board of Elections Poll Finder webpage and by typing in numerous address from my block it became clear that the residents on the north side of the street vote in one place, and the south side in another (the one indicated by the poll worker). Shame on my block association for not ascertaining this before putting fliers in all our doors. If this had been the November voting day, I would be completely furious. As it is, I can only hope that PS 21, which is located on a block I always avoid, is the correct place when that day comes.
SuF September 18, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Same for me. I went to my usual table and she said I wasn't on her rolls, sent me to another table where there was some time taken trying to find me. She did, and I was able to vote, but then I made sure that my partner (who wasn't voting that day) was on the list so that when November came, there wouldn't be any problem. I was also asked why I didn't have my new voting card with the new district number on it. I told them it was because I had never gotten one. Humph. Hard to understand how they make all of this such a complicated mess.
SuF September 18, 2012 at 12:31 PM
I looked up the site that "rendak" mentioned. Here it is for anyone who might find it helpful.... http://gis.nyc.gov/vote/ps/index.htm
M Davis September 19, 2012 at 10:56 PM
The names of the two candidates running for District Leader in the 56th AD were listed in small print. The candidates names should be in BOLD print to make the ballot user friendly.
Judith K. September 26, 2012 at 01:31 PM
M Davis, I agree! I am Judith K., who was quoted in this article. It was because the print was so small and light that I needed to leave the 'privacy booth' to seek more light so I could read it, and then was promptly hassled by poll workers for leaving my 'green card' in the booth (while I'd left it for a moment so I could attempt to read the ballot). Doesn't a readable ballot make sense? 'Sounds like you think so, too!
VBHouse November 07, 2012 at 02:19 AM
Our polling place was moved to P.S. 81 which was a mass of confusion. P.S. 81 was ½ the size smaller than P.S. 25 which had always been the place we voted and was never a problem. In order to get to their district line and then the scanners, people had to literally pass through other lines as there was no room to go around. Our line, district 16 was so big that the line snaked around the room and other lines like we were on a slow-moving congo line! At one time a worker said they were taking the senior citizens to keep them from standing on long lines. I took my 82 yr. old mother who walks with a cane up to the front but the people at the desk said that it was not true. We then went back to our place on the line only to see seniors who had went up receive their ballots and some individually being taken to the front by workers. Many seniors, like my mother, remained on the long lines. If they were going to do this, they should have made announcements that seniors were allowed to come to the front of the line. To do it the way they did was decisive. I don’t think that people mind having seniors come forth, but it was just the way in which they did it. It took over 2 hours to vote.


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