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Tiny Type on Ballots Leaves Voters Squinting

By Aidan Gardiner | November 5, 2013 11:39am | Updated on November 5, 2013 2:25pm
 A voter studies his completed ballot at a polling station on November 5, 2013 in Brooklyn.
A voter studies his completed ballot at a polling station on November 5, 2013 in Brooklyn.
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John Moore/Getty Images

NEW YORK CITY — Tiny type caused huge headaches as voters headed to the polls Tuesday morning.

Across the city, voters complained that the miniscule 6-point type on the new paper ballots was too hard to read.

"It's so tiny. I need my glasses," said Melinda Katz, candidate for Queens borough president, after voting at P.S. 144.

Voters were particularly baffled by the rows of small type on the back of the ballots, describing six proposals including allowing casinos across the state and raising the retirement age for judges.

"The type was too small. Even with my glasses it was hard to read," said 69-year-old Alan L., who voted in Flatiron. "It said something about casinos and the ages of judges, but I had to abstain from those because I had a hard time reading."

Retired mason Brian Pressley, 56, of Harlem, also said the type size on the ballot made it hard to read.

"It's too small. I can't see anyway," said Pressley. "I had to look real close."

The city had used the classic lever voting machines in the September primary, but on Tuesday reverted to electronic voting machines that scanned paper ballots.

The ballots used such a tiny font in order to fit the long roster of candidates, along with translations in Chinese, Korean, Bengali and Spanish, according to Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan.

The mayoral candidates portion of the ballot alone has 15 different names — some of which are repeated for different parties.

"There's a limited amount of real estate on a piece of paper, and so we have to work on that moving forward," Ryan told reporters Tuesday. "Clearly it is something that we must address moving forward."

Ryan added that the Board of Elections website has sample ballots so voters can take a closer look before heading to the polls, and there are also poster-size printouts of the ballot at polling sites.

Voting monitors at the New York Public Interest Research Group said they had received "a handful" of complaints about the type's size Tuesday morning, a spokesman said.

"We had one person who, because of the darkness of the polling site coupled with the font size, just gave up," said NYPIRG spokesman Gene Russianoff.

Russianoff said he heard similar complaints during the 2010 elections.

"It eventually has to get solved because what're we going to do, end up with size 1 font?" he said.

"The print is very, very small," said Francis Green, 55, of Bed-Stuy. "The station I was at had a magnifying glass, but other stations did not."

Samuel Cohen, 85, who voted on the Upper West Side, was confused by the propositions on the back of the ballot.

"The type was too small," said Cohen, who added that the proposals also had too much jargon.

Cohen has been casting ballots for 64 years and said voting on Tuesday "was very confusing. The old machines were better."

With reporting by Emily Frost, Colby Hamilton, Heather Holland, Jeff Mays, Paul DeBenedetto and Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska.