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Queens Chronicle

Many primary voters confused by shift in polling places

Redistricting, Board of Elections errors causing problems

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Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012 11:23 am | Updated: 2:26 am, Thu Oct 11, 2012.

As expected following this year's redrawing of state legislative districts and the Board of Elections' admission that it directed thousands of people in Queens to the wrong polling places, a number of voters were unpleasantly surprised when going to cast their ballots in Thursday's primaries.

People encountered problems everywhere from Laurelton to Queens Village, from Bayside to Flushing, from Forest Hills to Woodhaven.

At PS 36 in St. Albans, a sign directed voters to head over to PS 118 in Hollis instead. But not all bothered to do so. The two schools are about one mile apart.

"This is a bunch of crap," voter Lenore Dunton said. "Are they trying to prevent people from voting?"

Stacey Cibble of St. Albans said she called 311 to confirm that PS 36 was her polling place, just five minutes before going to cast her ballot — only to get there and learn of the move to PS 118, to her great annoyance.

Another woman who showed up at PS 36, and declined to give her name, said she wasn't going to bother going to PS 118 since the BOE hadn't notified her that her polling place was moved.

Citizens in Southeast Queens are voting in two Democratic primaries for the state Legislature. One race was between state Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) and two challengers for her 10th Senatorial District seat, City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) and Gian Jones, a member of Community Board 14 in the Rockaways, The other was between Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) and attorney Clyde Vanel.

The winners were Sanders and Clark.

Handwritten signs redirecting voters outside schools that used to be polling places were a common sight throughout Queens. Another common thread found across the borough was that older voters seemed to be having more trouble with the changes — but that may be due in part to the simple fact that seniors generally turn out to vote in greater numbers than younger people.

Not all voters were confused and miffed, however.

"It was very easy; I'm a happy voter," said Dennis Maxfield of St. Albans, who cast his ballot at PS 118.

On the other side of the borough, Tony Nunziato, a Maspeth businessman, Republican activist and one-time candidate for office, said he and his associates had been calling GOP voters in the area to ensure they all knew where to go.

But others were not so well prepared. 

At one polling place in Forest Hills, poll workers said the redistricting is causing problems, but also attributed some of the confusion to voters not checking their notices to see where they were supposed to vote. Other workers, however, said the BOE didn't handle the redistricting and notification process effectively. The workers spoke on the condition that the precise location of the polling place not be revealed.

It was a site where voters in both major parties were casting ballots. Republicans were choosing between City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Forest Hills attorney Juan Reyes for the GOP nomination in the 15th Senatorial District. The winner, Ulrich, will face incumbent Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) in November.

Meanwhile Democrats at the location were casting ballots in the 16th Senatorial District, choosing between incumbent Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and challenger John Messer, an attorney and businessman. Stavisky won.

At PS 20 in Flushing, where Democrats were voting in the Messer-Stavisky contest and a five-way race for the Assembly seat now held by Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), and Republicans are choosing between two candidates for the Meng seat, most voters seemed to have no problems.

But one woman said she had been directed by the BOE to vote at a different school. When she went there, a poll worker said she should be voting at the Queens Botanical Garden. She thought that was odd, so she checked with another worker — only to be told that she should go to PS 20, where she has voted for years and expected to go in the first place. A worker said she should have received a notice about voting at PS 20 in the mail, but the woman said she hadn't, and neither did anyone else in her building.

PS 98 in Douglaston is another school that had been a polling place in the past but no longer is, the Queens Chronicle discovered — though the BOE still lists it as one. But many people in the area who the paper talked to didn't know it was Primary Day anyway. Those who did were casting ballots in a Democratic contest between Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece and CB 8 member Nily Rozic for the 25th District Assembly seat, now held by Rory Lancman, who declined to run for re-election after losing a primary for Congress in June. Rozic won.

Another school that's no longer a polling place — though voters got notices saying it was, and there was no sign redirecting them — is PS/IS 270 in Laurelton, located a block away from Sanders' office. A security guard there said she had turned away at least 200 would-be voters in the morning. Many then went to Sanders' office to find out what to do, but the office was closed, with the councilman's staff all in his Rockaway office.

One would-be voter said she had called the BOE only to be told there was no primary in her district. She said she then asked who had dropped out, thinking that she would be voting in the Sanders-Huntley-Jones race, but it turned out her area was moved into the district represented by state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica).

Meanwhile, outside PS 173 in Fresh Meadows, many people who had voted there in the past were told to go to PS 154, which is about 18 blocks away.

Hilda Rozic, the mother of Assembly candidate Nily Rozic, was handing out leaflets about her daughter outside PS 173. 

“It’s a shame," she said. "It was a good campaign. Some people are angry. It’s not an easy thing to go to the other school, especially for the older people.”

Rozic said she wasn’t sure if people had not been informed about the polling site change or it they had misplaced the mail sent by the Board of Elections.

Yet another school that's no longer a voting site is MS 158 in Bayside. A sign there directs voters to nearby PS 31. Ted Teng, a worker with the Iannece campaign, said he happened to be outside MS 158 when two elderly voters asked him about the change in their polling place.

At PS 306 in Woodhaven, some poll workers expressed concern about turnout in one election district that included a section of Ozone Park between Atlantic Avenue and 101st Avenue. Those voters were moved to their new polling place as redistricting placed them in Senate District 10, the seat held by Huntley. 

Only one voter had voted in the Democratic primary in that district in the morning, said the worker. Construction on Atlantic Avenue at 95th Street also complicated the walk or drive between the school and that section of Ozone Park. 

Among those voters who did know exactly where to go were Ulrich, the councilman running in the state Senate District 15 race, and his wife, Yadira. They voted at 10:30 a.m. at PS 63 on Sutter Avenue in Ozone Park. Speaking to reporters after casting his vote, Ulrich exuded confidence.

Coming to the end of a tough contest against Reyes, the Forest Hills lawyer, Ulrich said he believed the nasty nature of his opponent's campaign would help him.

"He's going to lose big," Ulrich said. "Voters are not happy and people are not happy with Juan Reyes and his campaign."

Ulrich did win by a wide margin.

Ulrich had tough words for Reyes' campaign operatives, suggesting that whoever wrote a pair of mailers that attacked the councilman's ties to the state GOP and his friendship with gay colleagues on the City Council "should never work on a campaign again."

In addition to the reports of problems the Queens Chronicle received in the field, the newspaper had also taken at least four phone calls by noon from residents wondering where they should go because there was no balloting at their usual polling sites. PS/MS 200, the Pomonok School, located in the Electchester section, was one of those cited by the callers.

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