By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — State Sen. Bill Perkins blasted Mayor Michael Bloomberg for calling the primary election a "royal screw-up," saying Monday that the mayor's words could have a chilling effect on voters.
Perkins, speaking in Harlem after a meeting about the new voting machines that were rolled out for the primary, said he was worried Bloomberg's comments about election-day issues might encourage voters to stay home.
"The mayor's comments were a little premature and will put a chilling effect on people coming out," Perkins said. "There is a lot of room for improvement but some things were done right. We need to build on what was done right."
More than 100 voters and poll workers gathered at Harlem Hospital Monday night to provide feedback about the new voting machines. New York was the last state to adopt new machines, and New York City transitioned from the old lever machines on Sept. 14.
Among the complaints last night was that poll workers were not well-trained, the font size of the ballot was too small and there was a general sense of chaos.
"The training was inadequate. My fellow poll workers did not know what they were doing. We need more training," said poll worker Stephanie Tolbert, 69 of Harlem.
"It was a nightmare," added the retired New York Public Library employee.
Stephen Thompson, the Help Vote America Act training specialist for the Board of Elections, said it is unlikely that 30,000 plus poll workers will be retrained before Nov. 2.
"Between now and the general election we have a limited amount of time. To retrain 30,000 poll workers at this time would be difficult at best and it would have a significant financial cost to New York City," said Thompson.
Valerie Vazquez, director of communications for the New York City Board of Elections, defended her agency's efforts, saying some people found that the process worked well.
"Some people felt it was a negative experience but others felt it was as easy as 1-2-3," said Vazquez.
The board's public relation firm is conducting a poll to learn about voters' issues with the new machines.
There are, however, some changes being made in advance of the Nov. 2 general election. Poll worker coordinators will attend a training session before the election. Vazquez said the BOE is working on better communication with the NYPD and Board of Education. Poll workers and police will also be directed to show up a half hour earlier, at 5 a.m.
In addition, the printed paper ballots will be issued in packs of 50 instead of 100, and the staples on the packets will be repositioned in light of revelations that workers ripped some ballots while tearing them from their booklets.
"We want to make sure for the general election we learn our lessons and move forward," said Vazquez.
Perkins said he's looking into the legislation necessary to change the font size.
"This (voting) is the key to our democracy. If this is not working right we want to fix it or we risk undermining our own democracy," said Perkins.
The mayor's office did not respond for a call for comment as of press time.