Election Watchdogs Positioned to Record Voting Mishaps Caused By New Ballots

Monday, September 13, 2010

Voting rights advocates are poised with poll watchers, online surveys and phone hotlines to record what they think is going to be a chaotic day as New York City residents try out new electronic voting machines for the first time in the September 14 primary.

So many advocacy groups have expected voting machine mishaps for so many months, the big story of the day will be if all actually goes smoothly.

Poll watchers for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and for the Center for the Independence of the Disabled will be fanning out in the city on Tuesday to see how New Yorkers fare with the new system and whether poll workers are adequately trained to help the disabled, the elderly and the just plain confused.  The League of Women Voters will have a live hotline throughout the day to receive complaints and ask voters to fill out surveys to report any problems they experienced while voting.  Voters can also call the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on their Election Protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.

Voting rights organizations are worried there will be fewer poll workers and translators this year as a result of budget cuts. Combine that with new confusing technology, they say, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Advocates and election watchdogs say the new machines -- and the new paper ballots they come with -- set voters up to make several mistakes. They say the optical scanning machines too easily allow voters to mistakenly vote for more than one candidate

"The machine doesn't reject ballots that it can't read at all," says Larry Norden, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center, which is suing New York City and the state board of elections, demanding that they provide better safeguards against overvoting.  

Voting advocates also point out that the new paper ballots -- which are about a third smaller than the ballots for the old lever machines -- are too hard to read. The print is so small, each voter will be offered a magnifying glass. They also say the ballot design is visually confusing. For example, bubbles are placed too close to a different candidate's name, and the space for write-in candidates is obscurely placed in the far right-hand side of the ballot.

Disability rights advocates are worried that poll workers will forget to encourage disabled voters to use special machines that are equipped with audio recordings and Braille keypads. They can magnify ballot text and allow mobility-impaired voters to cast their ballot with their breath through a "sip-and-puff" instrument. They also prevent overvoting. Rima McCoy of the Center for the Independence of the Disabled says in the past, disabled voters reported that poll workers weren't well-trained on the machines and couldn't adequately assist voters trying to use BMDs.  

But watchdog groups say there's a blessing.

"I should say the good news in a weird way," says Norden, "is the fact that this is a primary election so there will be low turnout and you'll have the most well-informed and educated electorate that you can have in a statewide election." Norden says these types of voters are more likely to ask for help if they're confused. Rolling out these new machines during a general election, he says, would have caused more extensive problems.



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Comments [32]


I went to go an early vote Wedenesday here in Jacksonville, Fl and I was told that I couldn't vote! Eventhough, I'd voted and had been called for jury duty for the past 15 years.. this was absurd. I was told that I couldn't vote because of a felony conviction of almost 20 years ago. I completed my probation, and restitution payment of five years. I called Tallahasse to see what the problem was, and they told me that my "civil rights have never been restored" and it would be a year before it would be possible because of the shortage of help there. I asked the lady at the clemecy board had she receieved anymore phone calls similar to mine, and she responded " all day ~everyday!~ I am a law abiding citizen, a "Democrat" who has a voters registration card, and that was a slap in my face!

Oct. 21 2010 08:49 AM
Aly from NY

Let me preface this by saying I'm close to the age of 30, an avid voter, and I consider myself pretty advanced when it comes to technology. I've also been through school and have advanced degrees... heard the ballot was a lot like a scantron test - dumb idea (I never liked tests in school), but I've taken my fair share of those test. So OBVIOUSLY I thought this would be easy in, easy out. Not the case....this experience was terrible!!!

Everyone waited on line for a really long time while two people tried to set up our machine. I'm not sure if it was broken or just not ready for the day. It got set up and then it slowly moved from there.....But it also went downhill from there. ugh.

I had to ASK for a privacy sleeve. Then the volunteer looked put out that I would even ask for it! For the record, the sleeves were sitting in a pile right next to him.

I get to the small booth and there were markers on the table. I don't know what idiot allowed markers but the selections smudged!!! Putting it in the privacy sleeve, or accidentally resting your wrist on a previously colored circle were two things I observed as a cause of smudging. Don't they test this before an actual election?? Any ballot that was rejected, due to smudging, was pushed back out of the machine and had to be given to to a poll worker. About half the people at my polling place (when I was there) had to go back in line because they also smudged their ballots.

I didn't feel my PRIVATE VOTE was at all confidential. First, I couldn't use the privacy sleeve because it smudged my everyone at the ballot reader saw my sheet. Then they got my voided ballot....and they can easily know it's mine because they have my name and ballot number recorded. I also saw many voided ballots left open.

This process was so rediculous.

Sep. 14 2010 11:01 PM
Kathy Dopp from Albany County, NY

Voting machines and voting materials in Albany County, at least in my polling place, were left unguarded in a room from Thursday to Tuesday, inviting the possibility of electronic or other types of tampering.

Here is the story. I took 8 pictures.

Sep. 14 2010 10:11 PM
David from Great Neck

No problems! Voted on new Nassau County machines, which are different from NYC (from ESS, Sen. Chuck Hagel's company). Had no problem using the "ballot marking device" (a black Bic pen) and then inserting ballot into the scanner. Then got a nearly immediate OK.

I believe the elderly and people who have never used a fax or an ATM will have problems. Otherwise, looks like 1980s technology and very easy to use for 99% of us.

Sep. 14 2010 05:44 PM
David from Great Neck

No problems! Voted on new Nassau County machines, which are different from NYC (from ESS, Sen. Chuck Hagel's company). Had no problem using the "ballot marking device" (a black Bic pen) and then inserting ballot into the scanner. Then got a nearly immediate OK.

I believe the elderly and people who have never used a fax or an ATM will have problems. Otherwise, looks like 1980s technology and very easy to use for 99% of us.

Sep. 14 2010 05:42 PM
Diana from Bronx

To answer Sabine French: I think the two ways to vote refer to the two methods of marking the ballot - by hand with the pen provided, or by using the ballot marking device, designed for disabled voters. Both yield marked ballots which are then fed into a scanner, either by the voter or a pollworker. Also: Sabine, it sounds as though you somehow managed to vote without having signed the poll book! If so, that's a major pollworker error, and means that anyone could just walk in and vote, whether they are registered or not. But how did you get your ballot then? It's a primary election, so you have to be registered as either a Democrat or a Republican in order to vote - you are supposed to sign the poll book and then the poll worker overseeing the poll book and ballots checks the poll book where you signed to see if you are Dem or Repub and gives you the correct corresponding ballot. I think a major flaw in the new system is that the physical layout of the polling site - where the scanners are, where the privacy booths are, where the poll books are, where voters are meant to stand and wait on line - all of these logistics are largely left up to the pollworkers to figure out based on the physical arrangement of the site. These things matter! They should be given a lot more thought, so that privacy is ensured, lines are kept to a minimum - and voters are properly signed in and the count - through the green (Dem) or red(Repub) voter cards - is accurate. The number of voters signed in should equal the number of votes cast which should equal the number of voter cards collected by the poll workers. Want to be these numbers won't match up at the end of the day?

Sep. 14 2010 04:16 PM
Fred from Queens, ny

I filmed in Queens this morning... Apparently they had the wrong
voting machines at the station in Huntley's district- very upsetting.

Sep. 14 2010 04:12 PM
Gail from PS 41, 11th st off 6th, Manhattan

Voting was smooth, 76th in my ED at 1pm, but Eric Schneiderman had his posters INSIDE the 100 feet boundary for electioneering and the Bd of Elections rep seemed less than able to understand the issue, let alone do something about it.

Sep. 14 2010 01:56 PM
Sabrina French from 10003

Addendum: From listening to NPR, I thought that using the scanner was one of two options. I asked the worker about that and she said one could only register one's vote via the scanner. Is that true?

We had two scanners which was fine for today's primary but hope they add another for November.

Sep. 14 2010 01:39 PM
Sabrina French from 10003

Voting site on 3rd Ave between 14 and 15th Street was empty at 10:45. Process easy. Workers seemed knowledgeable. Type TOO SMALL and CLOSE TOGETHER.

Biggest complaint probably not specific to the adoption of the new machines: No one asked for any identification and they didn't ask me to sign anything. I think in the past they asked me to sign so they could compare signatures (although I doubt they ever did.)

Sep. 14 2010 01:31 PM
philip feil from Manhattan

I just voted on 109th St between B'way & Amsterdam Ave. Most of the machines were not functioning. The person helping with the machines told me it didn't matter which way I scanned my ballot, face up or down.

Sep. 14 2010 01:22 PM
Albion Liburd from New York City - the Upper West Side

I voted this morning, and unfortuately I may be one those 'zealots' because I was only the 9th voter in my district, the 65th. The new ballot worked fine, the only issues are that there is no privacy. I have the sense that the creators of the nation felt that the concept of one 'man' one vote also meant that no one would know who you voted for and the new system while quicker and easier fails to meet that tenet. The other problem is that now that we have a new voting system, we have to upgrade the usual cast of politcal characters who man the voting sites. At my site on W 109th St it took me about 60 seconds to complete and scan the ballot, but it took me 30 minutes for the poll workers to determine my district and find my name. When I scanned my paper ballot, I was told by the worker that I could put my ballot in the scanner either side up. While listening to this morning's program, one caller said that they had been advised to put the ballot in the scanner face up. It makes me wonder exactly what happened to my vote. Improvements for the future, 1) better trained or educated poll workers, 2)the development of a system to at least provide the sense of privacy otherwise I believe that voters will not give the voting process the kind of respect and seriousness that the process deserves, 3) a better organized ballot, the print was much too small, as was the layout of the ballot. It was confusing, perhaps the offices for the different levels of government could be highlighted with different colors. The layout seems that it could likely to used minimize party designations. And and all, the new system is faster, but with some bugs that need to be corrected.

Sep. 14 2010 12:52 PM
Gene Russianoff from Park Slope, Brooklyn

My tale of Election Day woe: My voting site didn't open until about 8:30 a.m.

My wife tried voting at 6:30 and I tried voting the first time at 7:45. But both times we were told they "still did not have the key to the ballot box." I ended up voting at nine, but ran into one voter earlier who couldn't stay and who said she was working until 9 pm.

I vote at a place called Camp Friendship in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It's on 8th Street, btw 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue. I voted in the 52 Assembly District, 12th Election District.

Sep. 14 2010 12:12 PM
Andrea from 69th Assembly District

I voted at 8:30 am in the 69th Assembly District in Manhattan (109th St. off Broadway) and witnessed a chaotic situation. 1st - a line of over 40 people waited for the one functional scanner (the second was fixed about 30 minutes later). 2nd - the large staples holding together the paper ballot pads are stiff and so it is almost impossible for the Bd. of Election employees to remove the perforated pages without ripping the top of the page slightly. If the page is at all ripped, the scanner will not accept the ballot so we all had to wait while multiple people took turns trying to figure out how to rip off ballots! 3rd - green cards were collected while we stood in line but when voters finally got to the scanner we were told we could not vote unless we had a green card. Voters therefore had to run around the gym looking for "the lady with my green card." 4th - the scanner took our ballots saying that the vote was recorded but that there was a "system error." We were assured that the error message “doesn't matter” but no one seemed convinced. Our Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell was outside on the street aware of the dysfunction but helpless like all the rest of us...Good luck with a larger turnout in November.

Sep. 14 2010 11:25 AM

can someone PLEASE teach Andrea Bernstein how to speak, so her voice does not go up and down in that annoying fashion?!
She is more difficult to listen to than ponderous scott simon

Sep. 14 2010 11:18 AM
George from washington heights

Person before me handed ballot to the man at the scanner without waiting to see if it scanned in properly. I saw that it did, so no vote lost that time. I scanned my own ballot in and waited to make sure it was read. Simple enough. Even so, glad I looked online for instructions ahead of time -- that just took out any anxiety over the "newness" of this process.

Sep. 14 2010 10:55 AM
Mark Perry from Chelsea

I voted at 7th & 27th St. FIT, the only one at the time and it went relatively smoothly. I would not have liked to have been there with a crowd and in a rush. Yes the type was small it seemed not very private and certainly not the experience of pulling the lever and casting your vote but if it turns out to be progress than good. It seems more is left up to humans, the checking in, the act of voting with a pen, the scanning. Is this progress? Seems like more human error down the road. Thank you.

Sep. 14 2010 10:45 AM
Alleen from Queens

No voting machines had arrived yet at my polling place (65ed/27ad) in Richmond Hill, Queens, when I went to vote at 8:45 this morning. The workers were just turning people away, saying to come back later -- but they couldn't say how much later.

Sep. 14 2010 10:45 AM
Valerie from East Flatbush, Brooklyn

1) Print too small for baby boomers. Need reading glasses.

2) Almost skipped over the section for US Senator. My mother did.

3) Open to the mistake of marking marking more than one candidate for one position. This was not possible with the old machines.

Sep. 14 2010 10:42 AM
Diana Finch from Bronx

Just to correct two things Mr. Norden said on-air. It's not true that if the old lever machines failed, voters could not vote and had no alternative - emergency paper ballots were always available, to be filled out at the polls by the voters and counted later by optical scan machines (as the affidavit ballots are counted) at the Board of Elections offices. Similarly, if the new machines are not working at your site today, don't leave without voting - you can vote on a paper ballot which will be held to be counted later by Board of Elections staff on the optical scan machines at the offices. And a question: would you add to this article the League of Women Voters phone number mentioned above?

Sep. 14 2010 10:41 AM
Joquetta from Bronx

I am listening to the show and while there are certainly some improvement that can be made the process is very simple. Its no ones fault that people don’t pay enough attention to the task at hand. Simply read the instructions and follow accordingly. You can’t tell me that there were no problems with the old system. Everyone is speaking with this nostalgia about the old machines that were also frequently broken.

Sep. 14 2010 10:39 AM
ANNE from Chelsea 10011

I am 40, a college graduate and I have great vision. I found the paper ballots to be EXTREMELY confusing and difficult to read. The design is very difficult to understand. The ballot we used is broken into 4 columns. The first two are fairly easy to understand and state (in extremely small print) to "choose one" in each column. However the third and fourth columns are impossible to understand. At the top of each column it states "choose 12". There were then twelve names listed and then a new row with the words "GROUP" indicating a new section. In this new section were eleven names and then a section for write-ins. I asked four different people if I was supposed to vote for twelve in each section or twelve in the entire column and I got a four different answers. No one was clear and no one could say for sure what I should do. I opted to vote for twelve in total. I then submitted my ballot into the machine which I found easy to do. I am not sure I voted correctly and I only hope my vote will count. I think this ballot design is VERY unfair to the voters and to the candidates who spent so much time and money on their campaigns. It smells a little fishy. Who designed these ballots? Would be interesting to find out.

Sep. 14 2010 10:33 AM
mike from clinton hill bkn

The ballots themselves were not very well organized. Too many instructions on the left, printed in tiny point size. Same size horizontal rules made the columns hard to scan. No whitespace between columns make some races look double-wide. Please, NYS, hire a graphic designer next time.

Sep. 14 2010 10:14 AM
Donald from Flushing

I went to my polling station this morning in the 16th Senate District in Queens and was told that both Scanners were not working. I filled out the ballot and was told to put it in a slot underneath the scanner. I don't understand how two brand new scanners don't work. Weren't these things ever tested? I have no idea if my vote will ever be counted or just stay in that slot until November.

BOE- Bring back the old lever machines or get your act together and make sure your machines work on voting day! This is what millions of tax payer dollars went into producing? Why aren't these things tested to work before election day? What a disaster.

Sep. 14 2010 09:56 AM
Marisa from Wash Heights

the place to mark the ballot was on wheels and not locked so it skidded across the room. Thankfully no one else was there. When i went to scan it there were about 12 people hanging over me to make sure i did it correctly. So much for privacy!

Sep. 14 2010 09:50 AM
Ray from DUMBO Brooklyn

125ED/52AD polling place in Brooklyn was still not open at 8:30. No voting option available. Terrible.

Sep. 14 2010 09:18 AM

I voted this morning in the 80th Assembly Distric in the Bronx without a problem. I completed my ballot in a private booth (there was a magnifying glass available, but I thankfully dont need that yet) and inserted it into the scanning machine. The ballot was straight forward, no surprises at all.

Sep. 14 2010 09:17 AM
Jean from New York, New York 10009

I tried to vote using the new system at the 42 ED / 74 AD, Stuyvesant Town 2, 16 Stuyvesant Oval, Stuyvesant Town, Manhattan. Supposedly the "coordinator" had not shown up and the 2 poll workers and 1 police officer could only offer a paper ballot. I will go back after work. If I still can't vote the new way, or the line is too long (could that happen in a primary?), I will vote by paper ballot.

Sep. 14 2010 09:00 AM
David from Upper west side

It went well given there were very few voters. It is hard to imagine how the one or two scanners will be enough for the crowds during a Presidential election in two years.

Sep. 14 2010 08:41 AM
Nancy from Mt. Kisco

Two of the three machines in my voting place in Westchester were broken. It took me 30 minutes to vote, and then it was by affidavit. I'm not even sure it will be counted. There is a tremendous lack of privacy with this new system.

Sep. 14 2010 08:37 AM
AARON GRUENBERG from park slope

I voted twice before 7 this morning, or maybe not at all. The first ballot was too big to fit in the scanner, and from the wrong pile. Voices were raised. I heard "we'll fix it for next election." Machines were broken, badly designed, unlighted and poll workers disagreed about procedures. The biggest problem was the polling place in the isles of an auditorium. If only three people come to vote, they trip over each other. Poll workers said it was the school (PS 321) which would not let them use the empty room next door, where past elections were held.

Sep. 14 2010 08:27 AM

In my district, the 50th Assembly District in Brooklyn, there are polling stations that aren't open, and others with no voting machines or even ballots. People are being turned away without even being given emergency ballots.

Sep. 14 2010 07:31 AM

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