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Polling Place Changes Confuse Uptown Voters on Primary Day

By Nigel Chiwaya | September 10, 2013 8:13pm | Updated on September 10, 2013 9:07pm
  Dozens of voters arrived at poll sites in Washington Heights and Inwood on Tuesday only to be sent to other locations.
Uptowners Deal With Changed Poll Sites
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HUDSON HEIGHTS — Primary day turned frustrating for some uptown voters, who went to cast their ballots only to find their polling sites had changed apparently without warning.

Dozens of voters were turned away at poll sites in Washington Heights and Inwood throughout the day Tuesday, poll workers said. At 90 Bennett Ave. in Hudson Heights, workers said they turned away almost 30 voters, more than during last year's busy presidential election.

"It's ridiculous," said Siegfried Holzer, the site coordinator at 90 Bennett Ave., who added that voters who lived just a block south on Bennett Avenue were sent to their new locations — up hills toward either P.S. 187 Hudson Cliffs on Cabrini Boulevard or to P.S. 132 Juan Pablo Duarte on Wadsworth Avenue. "It seems to be that they weren't notified."

"I had a handicapped woman who lived down the street call me," added Holzer, who has worked polls in Hudson Heights for 20 years. "She said she couldn't make it up the hill."

Similar scenes played out at other sites in the city, including in Midtown and on the Upper West Side, after many voters' polling spots changed in the wake of the city's redistricting process, according to poll workers and advocates.

Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which ran a voter help line during the primary, said that voters should have been notified by the Board of Elections if their polling site changed because of redistricting — but the notice may have been easy to miss.

"The board letters in the mail look distressingly like advertisements," Russianoff said. "Voting literature sometimes gets lost in the sauce."

In The Bronx county building at 161st Street and Grand Concourse, site coordinator Darryl "Jay" Johnson said there were many instances where people who should have been on his voting register were not. Other voters confused by redistricting went to the wrong site, he added.

"Because of restructuring and realigning of the election districts, they may have switched your side of the street and you don't live there any more," Johnson warned confused voters.

One woman said she had voted at the site for years, but was suddenly told this was not the proper poll site for her district. Another voter who said he voted at the site each election found he wasn't on the rolls and had to use an absentee ballot, Johnson said.

Johnson estimated that 50 people at that site had to be turned away throughout the day.

At Midtown's P.S. 111, site coordinator Stephanie Clemente said that in addition to the changes because of redistricting, there were also issues with poll workers sending voters to the wrong site.

"Lots of voters left angry," Clemente said.

At the Bennett Avenue polling site uptown, Debbie Hes was frustrated after being told that she had to vote at P.S. 187 instead.

"It's inconvenient and I don't understand it," said Hes, who has lived on Bennett Avenue for more than 60 years. "I've been voting here for as long as I can remember."

Elizabeth MacEnulty, who has voted at the Bennett Avenue site for 10 years, was also caught by surprise.

"I didn't get any warning," she said.

With reporting by Patrick Wall, Iris Mansour and Andrea Swalec.