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Confusion at the Polls Could Spell Trouble in November, Pols Warn

By Jill Colvin | September 14, 2012 4:23pm

NEW YORK CITY — A duo of city officials are raising red flags about Board of Elections failures following troubling reports of problems at the polls on Thursday.

City Councilman Jumaane Williams and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said they were distressed by a flurry of complaints from voters during Thursday's state legislative primaries, stemming mainly from voter confusion over poll site changes after district lines were redrawn earlier this year.

“What I witnessed at the polls today was simply the worst example of voter disenfranchisement I have personally seen,” said Williams, who spent the evening at Tilden High School and P.S. 269 Nostrand in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

“Voters, many of them seniors, were streaming out of polling sites screaming, cursing and near tears over the frustration they experienced,” he described, pointing to “countless stories" of voters being told that they were at the wrong polling sites and not informed of their ability to ask for affidavit ballots.

Among those left frustrated was Caitlin Burns, 28, who lives on the border of Inwood and Washington Heights. She 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 had 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.

It was a similar story for Claire Tuck, 33, who lives in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. She said she and her husband headed to the School of International Studies to cast their ballots Thursday morning, just as they'd done for the past three years. But this time, they were told their names weren’t on the list. Poll workers directed them to fill affidavit ballots, and insisted there was nothing else they could do.

Instead, the pair called the Board of Election's voter hotline, which told them they were actually supposed to be voting at P.S. 29.

“We were never given any notice of this whatsoever,” Tuck insisted.

“I don’t know how many people who were maybe not as determined as us were actually deterred from voting," she said.

In a letter to the president of the Board of Elections, de Blasio called on the board to immediately address the issues so they're prepared for November’s general election, by making  sure all poll site information mailed to voters was up- to-date and accurate. He also called for better poll worker training.

“With November’s Presidential Election looming, much more must be done immediately to prevent widespread confusion that could disenfranchise thousands of New Yorkers," he wrote.

Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez said the board sent poll site notices to all voters in August, as well as updates later if sites had changed.