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New Yorkers Still Adjusting to New Voting Machines

By Nicole Bode | November 2, 2010 7:56am | Updated on November 3, 2010 12:09am

By Tara Kyle, Jill Colvin, Leila Molana-Allen, Carla Zanoni, Yepoka Yeebo, Nicole Bode and Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Staff

MANHATTAN — New Yorkers faced a slew of voting problems as they cast their ballots Tuesday, including jammed scanners, locked doors, unreadable print and unclear instructions.

But the issues did not appear as severe or widespread as Primary Day in September, when Mayor Bloomberg called the city’s new electronic voting machines a "royal screw-up."

"Generally things are going better than they did during September primary," said Pamela Smith, president of VerifiedVoting.org, which was part of an Election Protection coalition monitoring Tuesday’s election nationwide.

Smith said both voters and poll workers in New York City are growing more accustomed to the quirks of the new machines, and the Board of Elections is responding to technical problems more quickly this time around.

As of 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 1,385 New Yorkers had called 311 to complain about ballots, voting machines, poll sites or poll workers, the mayor’s office said. That's far more than the 215 complaint calls received during the entire day of September's primary and the 629 complaint calls during the 2008 general election, the mayor's office said.

Dozens of New Yorkers also took to Twitter to report voting problems, using the hashtag #nycvotes.

User MiriamRabkin wrote on Twitter that Harlem’s Election District 68 polling place turned away two of the voters in line in front of her.

"Who designed that ballot? The 2 people ahead of me were rejected for ‘overvoting,'" she wrote.

The city Board of Elections responded to many of the complaints individually, asking for more information and promising to resolve the issues.

The board “has taken steps to address lessons learned from Primary Day and believe today’s general election will include a smooth implementation of the new voting system,” Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez said in an e-mail.

In the past six weeks, the board retrained poll site coordinators, improved logistics and increased voter outreach, Vazquez said.

“Generally speaking, things are going well,” she said.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said he, too, saw improvements in the handling of Tuesday’s election.

"While there are still some hiccups in the process, my office is seeing less confusion and delays at the polls this time around,” de Blasio said in a statement.

Still, de Blasio’s office received complaints from 25 city voters about everything from dim lighting to lack of privacy. A person who voted at 715 W. 179th Street said there were no pens in the voting stations, and a voter at Eighth Avenue and 14th Street said the ballots were for the wrong election district, de Blasio’s office said.

Many voters told DNAinfo they had trouble feeding their ballots into the scanners.

Lawyer Meryl Weiner, who filled out her ballot at the 92nd Street Y, said the scanner flashed a message saying “vote not counted.”

After waiting 15 minutes fro poll workers to help her fill out and scan a new ballot, Weiner said she left, still uncertain if her vote had gone through.

“This is outrageous,” she said. “I have a job. I can’t stay here all day.”

Some voters were concerned that the elderly and disabled would have trouble filling out the ballots, especially given the miniscule print.

In Harlem, one scanning machine for disabled voters remained broken throughout the morning on Tuesday, as poll workers scrambled to find a repair crew.

"We've been calling since 7 or something in the morning,” said inspector Martin Baez, at the Adam Clayton Powell polling station on 125th Street. “You're talking about five boroughs and there are only a handful of them.”

Poll worker Kenneth Morris, 25, helps Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney re-scan her ballot after her first few tries didn't take Tuesday.
Poll worker Kenneth Morris, 25, helps Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney re-scan her ballot after her first few tries didn't take Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Gabriela Resto-Montero

Even elected officials had trouble voting. One scanning machine at gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Cuomo's Mt. Kisco polling station jammed up about 6:30 a.m., and Upper East Side Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s ballot was initially rejected by the scanner at the 92nd Street Y because she had folded it in half.

But Bloomberg, who has repeatedly chided the Board of Elections for its handling of the primary, said he had no trouble using the city’s new machines for the first time.

"It did work fine. I didn’t have any problems," the mayor reportedly said.

He also reportedly praised the polling staff as "friendly as can be," although he did complain that the print is too small.

A Harlem voter inspects his ballot Tuesday morning.
A Harlem voter inspects his ballot Tuesday morning.
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DNAinfo/Leila Molana-Allen