It was expected that there would be confusion among some voters in last Thursday’s primaries due to redistricting and the resultant shifting of some people’s polling places to new locations. But all across Queens, voters also reported being given bad information by the Board of Elections, prompting some to forget about voting altogether.
At PS 113 in Ridgewood, Republicans were voting in the primary race for the 15th state Senate District between City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Forest Hills attorney Juan Reyes, while Democrats were casting ballots in the 38th Assembly District race between incumbent Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and challenger Etienne David Adorno, a City Council aide.
At least the Democrats were trying to. But they were told by poll workers that there was no primary for their party in that district, according to Miller, until would-be voters called his office about the problem. The office dispatched an attorney who informed the poll workers there was indeed a Democratic primary, and once they “found the book” for Democrats, as a Miller aide put it, voting ensued.
Miller’s southwestern Queens district was also the scene of a problem voters said was commonplace on Primary Day — being told by the Board of Elections to vote in a given location and going there, only to be told to vote somewhere else. The assemblyman said he was aware of that happening at PS 239 in Ridgewood. Several citizens who went there to vote were told to go to Christ Tabernacle Church in Glendale instead, only to be told by poll workers at the church that they should vote at PS 239 after all.
“People were not happy that polling places were changed,” said Miller, who, like Ulrich, won his primary in a landslide. “I’m sure the Board of Elections, when they made the changes, thought it was a good idea, but they didn’t take into account the inconvenience it would cause people.”
At least one voter Miller knows of who went to what poll workers said was the wrong location was denied an affidavit ballot when she requested one — the kind of provisional ballot people are given when their right to vote is disputed so that it can be counted later if they are found to be in the right, rather than the BOE.
“Voting is the people’s right, and they were denied it,” Miller said. “You need to give them every opportunity, every convenience when they’re trying to vote.”
Similar issues were reported all over Queens. The BOE told people to vote at PS/MS 200 in Electchester, but when they arrived, they discovered it was not a polling place anymore. The same thing happened at locations including PS 98 in Douglaston and PS/IS 270 in Laurelton.
In Kew Gardens, Democrats and Republicans in the same election districts were sent to two different places to vote, one in neighboring Hillcrest, resident Richard Reif said [see Editorial and Letters, page 8].
In Flushing, a woman who was told to vote at the Queens Botanical Garden was then directed to PS 20, where she had always voted. The BOE told her she should have gotten a notice saying to go to PS 20 after all, the woman said, but she insisted neither she nor anyone else in her building had received one.
The BOE did not respond to requests for comment and explanation of the various issues by press time.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio responded to such problems by releasing a “Voters’ Bill of Rights” in conjunction with Animal, an online alternative news outlet. De Blasio said the list of rights would be printed on thousands of posters to be distributed around the city to remind people how to protect their franchise.
“We’re fighting a rising tide of voter apathy — and it’s only worsened by the confusion we’ve seen at the polls,” de Blasio said. “No one should miss the cutoff date to register to vote or to request an absentee ballot. No one should turn around on Election Day because their name was misspelled on a voting list. Knowing your rights protects your vote.”
The 10 rights follow:
1. You are entitled to up to two paid hours off of work to vote if polls are not open for four consecutive hours before or after your work day, provided you notify employers.
2. You should receive a mailed reminder informing you when and where to vote.
3. You have until Oct. 12 to register to vote in this year’s general election.
4. If you have recently moved within New York City, you can vote at your new poll site with an affidavit ballot, even if you have not updated your registration.
5. If your name is misspelled on the voter rolls or you recently changed your name, you are still allowed to vote using the standard ballot and machine.
6. If your name is not on the voter rolls, you can still vote using an affidavit ballot.
7. Only some first-time voters are required to present ID at poll sites if they didn’t submit the needed information when they registered.
8. You can request an absentee ballot be mailed to you if you are unable to vote in person.
9. Voters with disabilities are entitled to assistance from poll site staff, as are non-English speakers.
10. You cannot be prevented from voting if you accidentally wear campaign paraphernalia at a polling site, but you should remove or cover it as instructed by poll workers.