Om Pandya, Columnist
Ideology: Libertarian Conservative | Writing from: Florida
On Tuesday, citizens of New York had their work cut out for them when they went to the polls. The myriad of problems that faced them not only prevented many from voting in the first place, but also left some who cast their votes wondering if they would count.
As a first-time voter in New York (previously I voted absentee in Florida), my experience showed the bureaucratic mess that is the Board of Elections in New York. As there was a polling location in the building I lived in, I went downstairs to the polls and gave the worker there my ID. Unfortunately, they could not find my name on the list, and I was dismissed quite rudely. Absolutely sure that I had registered to vote, I dug through my belongings until I found my initial voter registration card, which strangely listed my location as down the street instead of in the building.
There again, poll workers could not find my name on the list. But confronted with my voter registration card, they had no choice but to allow me to vote. I filled out an affidavit and sealed my ballot inside (instead of inserting it into the scanner as usual), unsure if it would even count.
But I wasn’t alone. That day I spoke to several people with complaints about the new voting system and heard horror stories of their time at the polls. While I was at the polls, an elderly lady came in and attempted to vote. Although she lived next door, she was told that her polling spot was actually three blocks away. She futilely argued that she should be allowed to vote there because it did not make a difference in all actuality (there were no Republican primaries for Assembly or State Senate Seats—everyone in my congressional district had the same exact choices) but was sent off, grumbling that she did not have the time or the energy to make it to the other location.
Later that day I ran into a couple that told me that the poll worker attempted to give them ballots for the Democratic primary. When they informed the worker of her mistake she actually said they ran out of Republican ballots. Seeing as not thousands of Republicans came out to vote in every precinct, I’m willing to bet that the location did not even have Republican ballots, or had less than 100 to begin with. This couple held their ground and demanded to vote, forcing the poll to borrow Republican ballots from the next nearest precinct.
Another woman told me that, apparently, her ballot did not fit the scanner. The proper voting method is to fill out your ballot with a pencil, much like a Scantron test, and insert it into the scanner face-up. In her case, the ballot was too large to fit in the scanner, and she was redirected to another polling site. She said her friend was given a ballot that had a segment torn off at the top, where the poll workers separated ballots on perforated lines, casting doubt on the validity of the ballot.
In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, even more flaws were reported, such as broken machines, overcrowded booths, poll sites that opened up to four hours late and ballots with such small print that many voters could not read them.
In Manhattan County, so few Republicans come out and vote that every vote actually has a chance of swaying an election. It is a shame when even one vote is not counted, but when large swaths of voters are ignored, it undermines the democratic process. Serious reforms are needed, including simplifying and computerizing the registration to allow easy access to any precinct, ballots that are larger and clearer and perhaps even weekend voting. The weekend voting measure would allow many dedicated people to volunteer at the polls, providing voters with courteous and professional assistance. Many I spoke to expressed nostalgia for the old system, where marking your choice was as easy as pulling the lever.
Mayor Bloomberg declared the new voting system “a royal screw-up,” and as someone who had a much higher opinion of New York’s democratic process, I had to agree. Maybe we can’t fix low turnout, but we can try to count the votes of those who show up.