The Executive Director of the City Board of Elections says the main reason for voting problems on Primary Day is chronic underfunding. George Gonzalez says if the Board had millions of dollars more, it could have hired more workers and conducted better public education campaigns about the new voting system.
"I don't have enough staff, or I don't have the money, or I have people from the outside telling me how to do my job," says Gonzalez during testimony before the state Senate elections committee. "I don't tell anybody how to do their job, and I would appreciate it, if they would just leave me alone."
On September 14, voting rights advocates reported widespread problems, including polling places opening hours late, broken or missing voting machines, poor training of poll workers and lack of ballot privacy.
Gonzalez says polling places opened late for reasons that were beyond the Board's control: last-minute poll site changes, excessive testing of optical scanners, late delivery of machines and the failure of custodians and police officers to show up on time with keys.
Gonzalez also testified that the Board of Elections wanted to phase-in the new system more gradually over the past four years.
However, voting technology expert Bo Lipari told the Senate committee that the City Board actually chose not to participate in a 2009 pilot program involving the new voting machines.
Often defiant and defensive, Gonzalez testified for more than an hour before state Senators Joseph Addabbo, Jr., Bill Perkins, Daniel Squdron and Liz Krueger. As for ballot privacy, Gonzalez says he was confused why that was an issue to so many people.
"If one of the complaints is that the font size is too small, and they can't see it, then why would holding up a ballot expose the voter's choice?" Gonzalez asked. "That's what boggles my mind, but that's another meeting."
Gonzalez says the Board will try to train poll workers better about protecting ballot privacy during the November election.
Doug Kellner, who co-chairs the New York State Board of Elections, says Mayor Michael Bloomberg shouldn't have criticized the City Board of Elections so quickly on Primary Day.
"Most of the late openings of polls were failures by the Police Department or the Department of Education -- two agencies that report to the mayor," Kellner says.
When speaking with reporters outside the hearing room, Gonzalez accused the media of blowing the voting problems out of proportion. He says the press was scaring voters from coming to the polls in November.