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Hourslong Waits During Election Spark Push For More Polling Sites on UES

By Shaye Weaver | November 17, 2016 6:14pm
 Voters waited in line between one and two hours outside the Yorkville Community School on Election Day 2016.
Voters waited in line between one and two hours outside the Yorkville Community School on Election Day 2016.
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DNAinfo/Shaye Weaver

UPPER EAST SIDE — A "broken" voting system is to blame for the hourslong waits endured by voters during the election this year, say local elected officials who are calling for an overhaul including more polling sites and the option to mail in ballots.

Lines to vote in the next election could be shortened by opening new polling sites to spread out the crowds, Councilman Ben Kallos said.

"If you are part of a church, a synagogue, a nonprofit center, you could be incredibly helpful. If you're from a school and not a poll site let us know," he told residents during a Community Board 8 meeting Wednesday.

"We need to expand the number of poll sites. We can even put one in your lobby, as long as it is ADA accessible," he said.

Right now, there are roughly two dozen locations across the entire Upper East Side, according to New York City records. A polling site desert exists between 84th and 90th streets surrounding Lexington, Third and Second avenues.

On Nov. 8, a number of poll sites had one- to two- hour waits, with lines snaking around blocks, including at P.S. 158, P.S. 290 and P.S. 151, the Yorkville Community School on East 88th Street, which had a two-hour wait because its ballot scanners kept breaking throughout the day.

Poll workers called their technician at least four times that day, staffers said. By 1 p.m., five of the six machines had malfunctioned, they said.

Other neighborhoods had similar wait times, too, including Prospect-Lefferts Garden in Brooklyn.

CB8 Member Michele Birnbaum called the two-step voting process, where voters fill in their ballot and then scan it, "primitive."

"It is inexcusable to go from a one-step system to a two-step system," she said. "My concern is that they couldn’t verify votes because there was no paper trail. Scanning it in doubled the time."

Craig Lader, another member, said that the long line disenfranchised people from voting and said he will be working on advocating for early voting and vote by mail.

"The Board of Elections is broken and our government is also broken," Kallos said. "The BOE's executive director told me he cannot fire somebody for incompetence. They're suspended without pay, but not fired." 

He added that the current ballot scanners are not the ones he voted for when the city was deciding which models to use.

He and Councilman Dan Garodnick and Assemblyman Dan Quart also plan to push lawmakers in Albany for early voting and voting by mail.

A spokeswoman for Quart said there are a number of bills Quart supports in the State Assembly, including an early voting bill, which is currently stuck in the State Senate.

Until then, Kallos wants to see more locations open up before the issue is behind us, he said.

"Until this month, no one really cared," he said. "The outrage and the questions will evaporate in December, as will my ability to get Albany to do the right thing."