While last week’s primary voting went smoothly at many polling places in Queens, confusion reigned at others, with some voters being turned away, poll workers not knowing their responsibilities under the law and, in at least some cases, not even knowing what primaries were being held, according to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The group is compiling a list of irregularities it observed at a number of polling places, and will be filing a formal complaint with the city Board of Elections with the goal of having them rectified before the next time voters go to the polls, its lead attorney said Thursday.
Among the alleged failures June 26 were the turning away of eligible voters and the refusal to give them provisional “affidavit ballots” to cast, a lack of signs in Bengali and Hindi, a lack of interpreters who speak those languages — all required by federal law — and ignorance of the fact that Republicans as well as Democrats had a primary to vote in.
“We went to 21 polling sites on Tuesday and we’re reviewing every report from every poll site very carefully,” said Glenn Magpantay, the AALDEF’s lead attorney and its democracy program director. “We’re compiling all our observations from Election Day and we’ll be filing a complaint with the Board of Elections.”
After the complaint is lodged, the board must formally respond within 60 or 90 days, as per the settlement of a 2005 lawsuit filed against it by several groups, led by the AALDEF, and then the two parties will meet to try to rectify the issues before voters next go to the polls in September, Magpantay said.
The goal is “to accommodate the growing and diverse community of voters in Queens,” he said, “so every American can fully exercise their right to vote.”
Among the worst problems the legal defense fund observed on Tuesday were these:
• At the Rosenthal Senior Center in Flushing, poll workers were confused about which districts were holding primaries. One worker turned away a registered Republican, apparently unaware that GOP voters across the state were casting ballots in a primary for the U.S. Senate.
• At Newtown High School in Elmhurst, where there is a sizable south Asian population, there were no signs in Bengali or Hindi, though there were interpreters for those languages available. The interpreters were sitting, however, in front of signs that said “Interpreter available” in Chinese and Korean.
• At PS 89, also in Elmhurst, poll workers were confused about who could vote, and around a dozen names of eligible voters were missing from the poll books. Magpantay himself visited PS 89 to observe voting, and a poll worker asked him for help alleviating the confusion — but he had to say he was only there to observe, not to assist voters.
• At PS 7, also in Elmhurst, two Chinese-American voters were not listed in the poll books, but rather than being given affidavit ballots as they should, they were turned away and given forms to register to vote.
• At PS 139 in Rego Park, another voter who was not in the poll book was turned away, denied an affidavit ballot and told to go to “the elections building.” It was not clear if that referred to the borough BOE office in Kew Gardens.
While some voters were denied their rights, things went smoothly at many polling places, Magpantay added.
“Some poll sites were very good,” he said. “The coordinators were very helpful, the poll workers knew what to do, the interpreters were there. In places like Bayside, Floral Park and Bellerose, the inspectors were very good.”
He could not say if there were any more problems last week than there are in any other election, until the review is complete.