Councilmembers warn of Election Day woes

Several members of the New York City Council have voiced concerns about problems that surfaced at the Sept. 13 Primary Day which, if not adressed before hand, could result in voter disenfranchisement at the November general elections.

Last weekend, a group of Brooklyn and Queens councilmembers including Jumaane D. Williams, Vincent J. Gentile, Letitia James, Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) joined their elected colleagues and good government groups, including Common Cause/NY and Citizens Union, Joined by (D-Brooklyn), Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan), Leroy Comrie (D-Jamaica) and Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), sounded an alarm on the impact such issues, if unaddressed by the Board of Elections (BOE), could have on New Yorkers’ ability to vote in the general election less than two months away.

Diffiulties across the city affected a vast number of the primary electorate, notably seniors and immigrant communities, the councilmembers claimed, noting also that . Of particular distress was the amount of voters unaware that their poll site had changed; some individuals were sent to multiple locations by poll workers. Small fonts size on the ballots also stymied New Yorkers, especially in Manhattan and Brooklyn where the type was only seven point.

In addition to recounting individual and citywide obstacles, Council Members Williams, Gentile and James proposed several reforms, some of which have also been suggested by the good government community, to hopefully be enacted in advance of the general election. This included changes such as, but not limited to:

~Utilizing standout print and/or ink color in all BOE informational communications.

~Sending an additional mailing to voters making clear their poll site may have changed.

~Increasing the font size on all ballots.

~Training poll workers on all resources, including new online tools.

~Having the BOE be more proactive in checking poll sites during Election Day.

~Quickly and publicly releasing detailed compilations of voter complaints.

~Expanding a voter education campaign to subways and bus shelters.

~Increasing BOE collaboration with elected officials, senior centers, civic associations and related stakeholders.

“It’s clear that due to redistricting there was widespread confusion about polling locations which suppressed turnout and dissuaded eager voters from executing their constitutional right,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY. “Any obstacle to a safe and legal election is unacceptable. This is now the second election in which our elections administration failed to serve the voters. There are constructive things which can be done to prevent problems in November. If the City and the Board of Elections fail to act now, there will be no excuse if November turns out to be strike three for our election administration.”

The primary election on Sept. 13 was beset by numerous problems, despite the low turnout,” said Council Member Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan), chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations. “In preparation for a hearing on Oct. 15, I conducted an informal survey of voters’ experiences at the polls.

The most common problems reported to my office were confusion about poll site and election district (ED) changes due to redistricting, misinformation from poll workers including directing voters to the wrong poll site or ED table, issues with the size of the font on the ballot, and problems with the ballot scanner including a lack of privacy when poll workers had to assist voters. However, it should be noted that the Board made several positive steps to increase voter awareness, including the launch of a newly designed website and a smartphone app, both complete with a poll site locator and sample ballot tool. I urge the Board to focus on correcting these problems before November, and I ask all stakeholders to take advantage of the voter outreach tools that the Board has made available.”

These complications will be raised during a scheduled hearing of the Committee on Governmental Operations on Monday, Oct. 15, as well as a number of pieces of legislation, including one authored by Council Member Williams, that are aimed at improving the electoral process.

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