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?