Renee Levine of Kew Gardens wasn’t even thinking about the upcoming elections until recently, when a neighbor asked her if she had looked at the voting pamphlet mailed to her by the city’s Board of Elections.
“No. Why?” she asked.
“I think you should,” he told her.
Levine and many of her neighbors have discovered to their shock and anger that the Board of Elections has changed their polling place from nearby PS 99 on Kew Gardens Road to PS 101 on Russell Place in Forest Hills Gardens.
Redistricting was required following the 2010 U.S. Census. Levine now, for example, is in the state Senate district represented by Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach).
“I’ve lived here for 42 years,” she said. “We’ve been through redistricting. But we always voted at PS 99. It’s two blocks away. You saw your neighbors there. That is our school.”
Murray Berger, president of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, said there are far more practical concerns for Kew Gardens residents who will make the switch, particularly for the elderly — those of distance and access.
“Some people who don’t drive can walk two blocks, or a third of a mile,” he said. “Now some of them will have to go a mile, maybe a mile and a half,” he said.
And lying directly across the path of that new walk, according to Levine and City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), is Union Turnpike.
“Never, even when they have redistricted, has the Board of Elections sent people to the other side of Union Turnpike,” a livid Koslowitz said on Tuesday. “You can’t send Kew Gardens residents to 101. There’s no way to walk there!”
Koslowitz said people on the Forest Hills side of Union have what she called the Austin Street corridor, allowing direct access to 101. Her polling place has been moved from the Forest Hills Library to PS 303 on 69th Avenue.
“That’s OK for me — they’re about the same distance,” she said.
Koslowitz and Levine stated that there is an added problem for Kew Gardens residents wanting to drive to PS 101 to cast their votes.
“You can’t park there,” Koslowitz said. “It’s Forest Hills Gardens.”
She was referring to the omnipresent signs in the Gardens warning drivers that they are on private streets, with a permit required to park there without risking getting a boot placed on the car.
Board of Elections representatives did not respond to numerous phone calls seeking comment on accommodations for the elderly or drivers who must now go to PS 101, though Koslowitz said they have been in touch with her office on the problem.
“They’re working with us and doing the best they can,” she added.
“I’m afraid some people just won’t vote,” Levine said. “One, they’ll say they can’t get there. Two, they won’t even know” about the change.
Levine and Berger said Koslowitz, Addabbo, and Assemblymen Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) have been helping from the start.
Levine and Koslowitz surmised that some sort of solution, such as having voting machines for multiple districts at PS 99, could be found while taking care to safeguard all other requirements.
“It seems to me that even with redistricting we can figure out how to accommodate people, making it easier to vote without disenfranchising whole communities,” she said.