Beth Fertig is WNYC’s Contributing Editor for Education. She previously covered politics, which included City Hall during the Giuliani administration, and the U.S. Senate campaigns of Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. She also covered transportation and infrastructure.
NYC Board of Elections Says it's Working to Prevent Re-Run of Primary Problems
Monday, November 01, 2010
The lack of privacy, delayed equipment and confusion New Yorkers encountered on September's Primary Day have all been addressed, according to the New York City Board of Elections.
"We have worked very, very hard and dilligently to make sure that some of the hiccups that we faced on Primary Day will not happen on November 2nd, tomorrow, for Election Day," Board of Elections president Julie Dent told WNYC's "Brian Lehrer Show." She said the city's polling sites should be ready with scanners and privacy booths by the end of Monday. Equipment arrived hours late at some poll sites on Primary Day. The board fired its executive director, George Gonzalez, last week.
Dent also told WNYC the board has tried to clarify confusion about the ballot instructions. The ballot itself tells voters to fill in the oval above or next to the name of the candidate. But the ovals are actually below the name. Dent said palm cards would be placed in each voting booth to clarify that the ovals are below the candidates' names. But she ran into trouble explaining this to Lehrer on his program.
"It will just show the person that whoever they're voting for, that they will mark the oval next to the candidate of their choice," she said.
"You said the oval next to the candidate's name," Lehrer said. "My understanding is that was precisely the source of the confusion."
"I should have said below," said Dent. "The oval is below the candidate's name."
In addition to palm cards, the Board of Elections will put yellow fliers in the voting booths clarifying these instructions. But the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, which raised the problem with the ballot wording, says there's still the potential for confusion because the board is also posting a two-page flier from the state in every booth repeating the incorrect instructions (to choose the oval "above" or "next to" a candidate's name). Board of Elections attorney Steven Richmond says state law requires his agency to post this two-page flier. He also insists the state's wording isn't technically wrong because "next to" means "adjacent," which can mean "below."
So that means New York City voters will see voting instructions in four separate places. Got that? On their ballot (wrong), on the palm card (correct), on a yellow flier (correct), and on the state's two-page flier on the wall of the voting booth (wrong).
Election watchdog groups will be monitoring poll sites to help any New Yorkers having trouble. Bo Lipari, founder of New Yorkers for Verified Voting and technology director for the state's League of Women Voters, says he expects improvements were made following Primary Day. But he says there will be many more voters in a General Election and he's still concerned about the privacy booths - where voters fill out their ballots and then slip them into "sleeves" or folders.
"Those need to be placed in such a way that they're not facing out where crowds are," says Lipari. "Not facing out where people are walking behind. They need to be facing the wall or other obstruction." Voters had complained in September that their ballots were easily seen, or that well-intentioned poll workers helped them feed their ballots into the scanners face-up instead of face-down.
Other poll-watchers and voter-advocacy groups include the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Election Protection (which includes a coalition of groups) and the Center for the Independence of the Disabled, NY. The Election Protection coalition is urging people with problems to call 866-OUR-VOTE. There will be several call centers around the city hosted by law firms. The group will have legal experts and technology experts available to assist voters.
New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has also asked New Yorkers experiencing any problems to visit his Web site and to officially register their complaints by dialing 311.
There are also two propositions on the back of the ballot about term limits and government transparency that could easily be ignored.
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