Brewer Leads Hearing on Voting Snafus

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By Gavin Aronsen

City Council members demanded answers from the city’s Board of Elections Monday, Oct. 4, regarding its handling of the Sept. 14 primary. New optical scan voting machines were debuted during that election, causing headaches for some voters.

During the hearing, poll workers and public interest groups voiced their concerns about voter privacy, late poll site openings and quality of worker-training to Gale Brewer, the Upper West Side Council member who chairs the Government Operations Committee.

West Side residents prepare to vote before the Sept. 14 primary. Photo by: Andrew Schwartz

Brewer wanted to clear up problems in time for the Nov. 2 general election, although board Executive Director George Gonzalez said a full review would not be completed until December.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the primary was marred by “bureaucratic missteps” and accused the board of blaming lack of funding “as an excuse for poor performance.” The Office of Management and Budget, she said, had consistently funded the board’s needs.

Gonzalez, however, argued the Board of Elections suffered from “chronic underfunding.”

He said the switch over to electronic voting machines “would be monumental under any circumstance” and said a preliminary analysis showed problems were similar to those of past elections.

The committee didn’t take stock in the board’s findings. Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr., of Queens said “a full review that’s completed after the election is not acceptable.”

Upper West Side resident Barbara Lee, who testified at the hearing and worked at Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School as a scanner inspector during the primary, said she witnessed many problems.

Privacy was a “big issue,” she said, as were machine paper jams and a lack of knowledge among poll workers about key procedures.

“I think that they were kind of nervous and overwhelmed by the new system and it didn’t go as smoothly as everyone had hoped,” Lee said.

Gonzalez said only 85 percent of about 27,000 poll workers passed the required training exam. Additional training will be provided for coordinators before Nov. 2, he said, but the board lacks the resources to retrain everyone.

Jerome Koenig, an Upper West Side resident and former chief of staff for the State Assembly’s Election Law Committee, didn’t notice any major problems at his polling site but said a “little more training” would help.

“I had to stop them from taking the ballots out of the privacy sleeve and putting them in the machine themselves,” he said. “They shouldn’t be near the machine at all.”

Brewer had her own privacy problem when she cast a ballot at her 97th Street polling site, which opened at least an hour late. The woman in front of her was given a sleeve in which to place her ballot, but Brewer wasn’t offered one.

“People did feel that their votes could be seen,” she said. “I got that complaint a lot.”

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