Friday, September 21, 2012

CMs James, Williams, Gentile Sound Alarm on Recent Voting Problems Ahead of Election Day

September 20, 2012


On September 20th, 2012, Council Members Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), Vincent J. Gentile (D-Brooklyn) and Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) joined their elected colleagues and good government groups, including Common Cause-NY and Citizens Union, in voicing serious concern over widespread voting problems that occurred during last Thursday's primary election. Joined by Council Members Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn), Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan), Leroy Comrie (D-Jamaica) and Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), they also sounded the alarm on the impact such issues, if unaddressed by the Board of Elections (BOE), could have on New Yorkers' ability to vote in the general election taking place in less than two months.

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.

"While the BOE may not have intended to disenfranchise New Yorkers, their negligence in addressing key voting issues had that accidental and unfortunate effect," said Council Member Williams. "In my travels on Primary Day, I saw voters leaving poll sites screaming and cursing over the general chaos. Many were redirected and misdirected to the point that they lost the will to cast a ballot, and that cannot be our status quo. The BOE must address these issues, particularly for groups like seniors and immigrants that fall on the other half of the digital divide."

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

"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," said Council Member James. "It is imperative that these issues are rectified before the November elections."

In addition to recounting individual and citywide obstacles, Council Members Williams, Gentile and James proposed several reforms, some of which have also been suggested by the good government community, to hopefully be enacted in advance of the general election.

This included changes such as, but not limited to:
• Utilizing standout print and/or ink color in all BOE informational communications.
• Sending an additional mailing 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 BOE be more proactive in checking poll sites during Election Day.
• Quickly and publicly releasing detailed compilations of voter complaints.
• Expanding a voter education campaign to subways and bus shelters.
• Increasing BOE collaboration with elected officials, senior centers, civic associations and related stakeholders.

"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. This is now the second election in which our elections administration failed to serve the voters. There are constructive things which can be done to prevent problems in November. If the City and the Board of Elections fail to act now, there will be no excuse if November turns out to be strike three for our election administration."

"We put a man on the moon in less time than it's taken to modernize voting in New York City," said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio (D-New York). "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. The window to fix these problems gets narrower every day. There is no excuse for a repeat of Primary Day's chaos come November."

"The primary election on September 13th was beset by numerous problems, despite the low turnout," said Council Member Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan), chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations. "In preparation for a hearing on October 15th, I conducted an informal survey of voters' experiences at the polls. The most common problems reported to my office were confusion about poll site and election district (ED) changes due to redistricting, misinformation from poll workers including directing voters to the wrong poll site or ED table, issues with the size of the font on the ballot, and problems with the ballot scanner including a lack of privacy when poll workers had to assist voters. However, it should be noted that the Board made several positive steps to increase voter awareness, including the launch of a newly designed website and a smartphone app, both complete with a poll site locator and sample ballot tool. I urge the Board to focus on correcting these problems before November, and I ask all stakeholders to take advantage of the voter outreach tools that the Board has made available."

"The act of voting is the gateway to political participation in our city and country; it is an inviolable right that is made manifest by the assurance that every vote is counted," said Council Member Rosie Mendez (D-Manhattan). "However, during the past two elections we have received numerous accounts of potentially disenfranchising outcomes, including unreadable ballots, machine errors, closed polling places, incorrect information regarding polling places, confusion with respect to redistricting changes and under-informed poll workers. Such outcomes are unacceptable because the social cost of disenfranchisement is absolute. That is why I am proud to join with my colleagues today to sound the alarm for November and redouble our efforts to provide proactive solutions that will empower voters and encourage meaningful participation this fall."

These complications will be raised during a scheduled hearing of the Committee on Governmental Operations on Monday, October 15th, as well as legislation that is aimed at improving the electoral process.

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