NYC public advocate: Brooklyn voters were ‘disenfranchised this morning’

By Ron Brynaert
Tuesday, September 14, 2010 13:25 EDT
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Infamous butterfly ballot designer Theresa LePore can’t be blamed for any of this.

“Voters around New York State stepped into the brave new world of electronic voting machines in Tuesday’s primary elections amid complaints around the city of longer-than-usual delays and troubles with the scanners that are supposed to swallow and tabulate the new, SAT-style ballots,” James Barron and Elissa Gootman report for The New York Times.

On Monday, Beth Fouhy at the Associated Press noted, “Even the most jaded New Yorkers might consider this a recipe for chaos: New electronic voting machines are being introduced in the Sept. 14 primary. State and city budget cuts mean not enough staff has been trained to help voters use them. A glitch in the computer programming will let people mistakenly vote for too many candidates. And the machines come with paper ballots so hard to read, voters will be offered magnifying glasses.”

Election officials still insist the rollout of the optical scan voting machines should be relatively smooth, as New York becomes the last state to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act. HAVA, enacted in response to the contested Florida presidential vote in 2000, directed states to adopt simpler voting systems to avoid the nightmare that led to the contentious, 36-day recount in Florida that gave George Bush the state — and the White House — by 537 votes over Al Gore.

But voting rights advocates are so concerned about New York’s new system that one group has filed a lawsuit over flaws they have detected. And a state lawmaker has asked the U.S. Justice Department to intervene in what he warns could be a full-blown voting debacle.

“After years of voting the same way, you’ve now got to use a computer, and that’s not a friendly situation for people,” said Democratic Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, who’s running for attorney general. “This is a big change in culture, and it has real potential for disaster.”

No one is claiming total “disaster” yet, but the day isn’t over.

The Times adds,

Some polling places in Brooklyn did not open for more than 90 minutes — and there was one report of a three-and-a-half hour delay — as election workers tried to get the new equipment to function. Senator Charles E. Schumer was held up when he arrived at Public School 321 in Park Slope just before the scheduled 6 a.m. opening: He and other voters had to wait 15 to 20 minutes before the machines were ready to take their ballots.


The public advocate, Bill de Blasio, encountered at the Camp Friendship voting site at 339 Eighth Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn, said it had not opened until 9 a.m.

Someone is supposed to show up in the morning and turn over keys to activate the machines, but Mr. de Blasio said the keys did not arrive until sometime between 8:30 and 9 a.m., almost three hours late.

“Whatever the exact protocol is, it didn’t happen this morning,” Mr. de Blasio said. “It’s very troubling. This is a very high voting site. It’s ridiculous that it took by one account by 8:30 a.m., by another count 9:30 a.m., to open up.”

“So basically,” he said, “the folks in Park Slope were disenfranchised this morning. The irony is these are the machines that were supposed to resolve the problems in 2000,” Mr. de Blasio said.

Voting rights activist blogger Brad Friedman chimed in: “All of this, of course, could have been avoided, as New York Election Integrity advocates — as well as a number of election officials — have been fighting against the adoption of the new systems, after similar systems have racked up a disturbing record of failure across the nation since HAVA encouraged their implementation.”

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