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Poll Workers Report Higher-Than-Expected Turnout in State Primaries

By Jill Colvin | September 13, 2012 7:03pm | Updated on September 13, 2012 7:09pm

NEW YORK CITY — Poll workers said turnout was far higher than expected Thursday, as New Yorkers headed to the polls once again for the state legislative primaries.

Despite the unusual Thursday date and the fatigue of the election season's third primary, registered Democrats and Republicans trickled into school gymnasiums from Greenwich Village to Inwood to Morris Park to cast their votes.

“We really expected there to be not a big turnout because of it being on a Thursday, but I was wrong," said Randall Jones, a site coordinator at P.S. 33 on Ninth Avenue, who estimated that more than 500 people had cast their ballots by mid-afternoon.

The same was true at poll sites in the Village and Pelham Parkway, where poll workers reported hundreds of voters throughout the day.

"It's not as dead as I thought it was going to be," said Anthony Brewington, 35, a site coordinator at P.S. 41 on West 11th Street, who said about 155 people had voted before noon.

Among them were Ray Durland and Earl Shields, a married couple, who said they were close friends of State Sen. Tom Duane, who is stepping down after more than a decade representing the West Side.

“Unfortunately we have to let go this year,” said Durland, 69.

Both cast their ballots for Brad Hoylman, the former chairman of Manhattan’s Community Board 2, whom Duane has endorsed — but said that, even though they’d received personal calls from Duane and lots of mailers, they hadn’t realized until the last minute that Thursday was primary day.

“We heard the news yesterday or the day before, and I thought, ‘They’re having a primary?” said Shields, 80.

“We’re so concerned about the up-and-coming big one that we’re not concerned about this one in a way,” added Durland, referring to the upcoming presidential race, which has dominated the news.

Others, meanwhile went about their daily business without thinking to vote.

“I didn’t hear,” said Roger Roth, 64, a registered Democrat in Duane’s district, who didn’t realize it was primary day until approached by a reporter.

"I know there's always an election in September, but i didn't know it was this week," said Amalia Maldonado, who lives in Riverdale in The Bronx. "It's usually on a Tuesday."

To help boost turnout, many candidates spent the day visiting polling station after polling station trying to make a final push.

“We’re calling voters and talking to them in the street and at polling stations,” said Hoylman, as he greeted voters with Duane outside of P.S. 33.

Hoylman said the unusual number of primaries this year had upped the pressure on candidates to get out the vote.

“It’s an enormous challenge,” he said. “And then to have it on a Thursday instead of a Tuesday has had a dampening effect.”

Some voters also reported complications stemming from newly drawn State Assembly and Senate district lines, which changed many voters’ districts and polling places.

Caitlin Burns, 28, who lives on the border of Inwood and Washington Heights, said she was forced to travel to three separate polling stations early Thursday morning before eventually casting her ballot in the race between State Sen. Adriano Espaillat and Assemblyman Guillermo Linares.

Burns said that she mistakenly headed to the wrong polling station, a local middle school, after voting there during the Congressional primary back in June, and never receiving any notice her poll site has changed.

Staff there referred her to another polling station, a local YWHA, where she was told she wasn’t on the rolls and was referred to yet another location. There, she was informed that she was indeed registered at YWHA, where she was eventually allowed to vote.

“It was just hugely frustrating,” said Burns, who added that, had she not been so committed to voting, she likely would have given up.

Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez said that all voters received notices of their the poll sites in August, and updates later if sites had changed.

Still, the biggest problem for many voters was the tiny type on the ballot, which many, especially elderly voters, said made the ballots extremely difficult to read.

“That font was so small!” complained voter Andrea Campanale, 75, who lives in Penn South in Chelsea, after casting her ballot.

“That was ridiculous,” she said.

With reporting by Patrick Wall.