Broken Machines and Relocated Voters Cause Huge Lines at Polling Stations

By DNAinfo Staff  on November 6, 2012 8:46am  | Updated on November 6, 2012 3:03pm

NEW YORK — Broken ballot machines, missing privacy booths, confusion over new voting procedures, and lines longer than the presidential ballot marred the voting in the 2012 election in New York City Tuesday.

The chaos came in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which decimated neighborhoods and left hundreds of thousands without power. The Board of Elections moved dozens of polling sites Sunday to accommodate storm-ravaged areas, and placed at least one of them inside an unlit, unheated tent.

Adding to the confusion was an emergency order allowing New Yorkers to cast their ballots at any polling site, and new voting procedures that involve shading ovals on a ballot then sliding those selections through electronic scanners.

"This is a tedious process," said Russell Bond, 55, a retired city employee and former poll worker, who cast his ballot at Bronx Supreme Court. "I'm usually in and out in two or three minutes. Today, I've been here most of a half-hour."

Two-hour lines greeted voters at sites, including the Brooklyn Museum in Prospect Heights. Hundreds of residents crammed the lobby of the massive building, where only two of the four machines were working, voters said.

“I’ve been voting here since I’m 18 and I’ve never seen this," said Tawana Wiggins, 41. "I’ve been here for two hours now. Usually it takes me 15 minutes and I’m out."

Conditions were worse on Staten Island, where poll workers at P.S. 52 discovered when they arrived at 5 a.m. that they’d be erecting and working in a thin, powerless tent for the next 16 hours.

"They didn't inform us we'd be in a tent at all. I dressed for being inside, not outside, and we cannot leave," said a wheelchair-bound poll worker, who gave her name only as Diane. Her husband sat next to her at the site, rubbing her hands to keep them warm.

"When we got here, nothing was set up. It was pitch black."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who waited 40 minutes to cast his vote on the Upper East Side, slammed the Board of Elections for running an "inefficient" system and "not...represent[ing] democracy well."

"Everyone I talked to kept saying, 'What is this?'" Bloomberg said. "'What is this, a third-world country?'.... It's just a nightmare."

In the West Village, four out of the five voting machines at P.S. 41 on 11th St. stopped working, causing delays and long lines.

"Some of the scanner machines are broken, and we're trying to get them fixed," West Village district leader Keen Berger said.

By 7 a.m., lines of voters were snaking from ballot booths to the street at polling sites in Park Slope, Inwood and the South Bronx, fraying the nerves of voters who had hoped to vote early enough to arrive at their jobs on time.

They continued through the night.

"This is disenfranchisement," said one woman as she stormed away from a polling site at P.S. 282 in Park Slope, angry that she had waited at least a half hour to vote.

The site was inundated with hundreds of voters, many from a neighboring district whose polling site at John Jay Educational Campus on Seventh Avenue was closed and converted into a shelter for residents displaced by Hurricane Sandy.

As the line stretched nearly around the corner, some voters walked away before they could cast their ballots, forced to leave so they could get to work on time.

Adriana Stimola, content developer at the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in Westchester, was among those who who left the line before she had a chance to vote.

"I thought I was coming early and could get it done before the work day," she said, adding that she planned to vote for Barack Obama. "I feel like it's really crucial."

At other sites, workers ran out of absentee ballots, voters said.

The Board of Elections, which did not return calls and emails for comment, urged patience amid the chaos.

"We appreciate your patience as we sort out what will undoubtedly be a challenging Election Day," the New York City Board of Elections said on its Twitter feed shortly before 9 a.m.

At the Bronx courthouse, a line wound from inside the building's grand rotunda at 6:30 a.m. — just 30 minutes after the polls opened — through the lobby and onto a plaza outside.

"I've had more people here this morning than I've seen in whole days," said Daryl Johnson, a voting coordinator who has worked five years at the site.

Lines of voters also spilled out of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center on West 13th Street in the West Village.

"It's insane in there," said one West Village resident, who only gave his name as Peter F. "I got here at 6:30 a.m. I've waited almost an hour in line before I was able to vote."

In Red Hook, poll workers voiced concern that residents of the Red Hook Houses, which have remained without power since the hurricane, could or would not risk navigating the project’s dark stairs to cast their ballots at P.S. 27, the neighborhood’s polling site.

"The people that are stuck in the project with no elevator, they can't come out," poll worker Gloria McWilliams said. "They should have postponed until things were more cohesive."

Ongoing fuel shortages in New York City also posed a challenge.

Coney Island resident and Kingsborough Community College student Frances Chery, 25, who took advantage of the emergency order Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Monday to allow New Yorkers to vote at any polling station in the state, drove to a site at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brighton Beach, but worried she would not have enough gas to make it to campus.

"Gas is kind of hard to find right now," Chery said, adding that she wasn't able to look up polling sites online because her home is without power. "I just didn't know where to go. My mom told me about this place. She found out from her friend."

Some New Yorkers did find encouragement, however, from the long lines.

“It’s fantastic to see this many come out for the election today,” East Village resident Keith Canton, 62, said after emerging from a polling site at the Theater for New City on First Avenue.

“I didn’t even think about the amount of time I was online. It was so good. The people next to me were fantastic. We read, talked, it was good.”

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