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Poll problems disenfranchise voters, council members charge

New Yorkers are in danger of becoming disenfranchised when they go to the polls on Election Day, according to three city council members, who charged that problems that occurred on primary Day could spill over into November.

Council Members Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush), Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge), and Letitia James (D-Fort Greene) are all voicing serious concern over widespread voting problems that they said occurred during the Sept. 13 primary. They also said they wanted to sounde the alarm on the impact such issues could have on New Yorkers' ability to vote in the general election taking place in less than two months. 

The presidential race is expected to bring more voters to the polls than would show up in an ordinary election and it’s vital that the city’s Board of Elections (B.O.E.) get its act together, the lawmakers said.

Difficulties across the city affected a vast number of the primary electorate, notably seniors and immigrant communities. Of particular distress was the amount of voters unaware that their poll site had changed; some individuals were sent to multiple locations by poll workers. Small font size on the ballots also stymied New Yorkers, especially in Manhattan and Brooklyn where the type was only seven point, the lawmakers said.

"Voting is a right that should not require a magnifying glass," Gentile said. "Perhaps I'm living in the Twilight Zone, but I think rule #1 should be to print ballots that people can actually read,"  he said.

"While the B.O.E. may not have intended to disenfranchise New Yorkers, their negligence in addressing key voting issues had that accidental and unfortunate effect," Williams said.

“It is our responsibility as lawmakers to do everything we possibly can to strengthen and protect the right to vote.  My district has one of the densest populations of seniors in all of New York City – many of whom have issues with their eyesight.  This can turn Election Day into a nightmare,” Gentile said. “Voting is a right that should not require a magnifying glass. Printing ballots that people can actually read should be of utmost importance,” he said.

"The primary election showed us that the Board of Elections needs to make some technological, language, and functional upgrades to make voting as simple as possible for New Yorkers," James said.      
  
The reforms needed to make voting a smooth process, according to the council members, include:  

•             Sending additional mailings to voters making clear their poll site may have changed.
•             Increasing the font size on all ballots.
•             Training poll workers on all resources, including new online tools.
•             Having the B.O.E .be more proactive in checking poll sites during Election Day.
•             Expanding a voter education campaign to subways and bus shelters.
•             Increasing BOE collaboration with elected officials, senior centers, and civic associations. 

Citywide elected officials and voting rights advocates joined the call by the three council members for action.

"It's clear that due to redistricting there was widespread confusion about polling locations which suppressed turnout and dissuaded eager voters from executing their constitutional right," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY. "Any obstacle to a safe and legal election is unacceptable,” she said.

 "This isn't rocket science: voters should be sent to the correct poll site, be able to understand the ballot, and have confidence that their vote counted,” said Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio.

The Primary Day voting problems will be the subject of a public hearing of the council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Monday, October 15.

September 20, 2012 - 5:10pm


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