Despite President George Bush’s narrow victory in the rest of the country, in Queens there was no contest. Seventy-one percent of voters in the borough voted for Senator John Kerry.
Throughout the city, the many reported glitches in the voting system were not a deterrent to the record number of people who turned out. More than half a million people voted in Queens—381,102 for Kerry, 150,614 for Bush and 4,824 for Ralph Nader.
Melvin Shulman, a retired accountant, waited an hour to vote for Kerry at Russell Sage Junior High School in Forest Hills. “We must have a change,” he said after casting his ballot. “This country is going in a disastrous direction with Bush as President.”
Polls show a large majority of New Yorkers agree that Kerry would have been a better choice. In Bronx and Manhattan, 82 percent of voters would have preferred the senator to be president. In Brooklyn, 74 percent of voters chose Kerry. Only in Staten Island did slightly more than half of the voters choose Bush.
More than 400,000 new registrations in the past year increased the number of city voters to almost four and a half million. Turnout was larger than at any time since the 1960s, which was one cause of delays and confusion at many polling places.
The New York Board of Elections was deluged with more than 1,000 calls an hour rendering its services useless for those who couldn’t get through. Its web site was down for much of the day on Monday. By Tuesday evening, more than 3,000 calls had been made to the New York Public Interest Group’s election telephone hotline by people complaining about broken machines, polls opening late, long lines and workers who did not know how to set up equipment.
Throughout the city, outdated technology also caused problems. New York was one of 24 states to get waivers allowing the Board of Elections to delay the replacement of mechanical voting equipment with newer technology. The federal requirement was put into place after the 2000 election.
In Queens, hundreds of voters complained that their polling place was changed without any notice. For the elderly and disabled, being redirected to faraway polling places was a hardship serious enough to dissuade many from voting.
Miriam Lefkowitz, 82, had voted at Russell Sage Junior High School for 20 years. When she arrived Tuesday morning to vote she was told that her polling place had been switched to another site more than half a mile away.
“They didn’t send me a letter. I didn’t move so I don’t know why they changed it,” she said. “They didn’t tell me why. They didn’t know and they didn’t care,” she added about the workers at the polling station. Deciding that the walk was too far, she did not vote.
Others, like Harriet Kahn came with official materials from the Board of Elections that indicated Russell Sage as her polling place. Kahn and her husband had both voted at the school for the past 40 years. When she came to vote she was told to go to another site, but eventually decided to fill out an affidavit instead.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in all the years I’ve been living here,” Kahn said. “I’m really angry because I don’t know if my vote is going to be counted.”
At PS 115 in Floral Park and PS 20 in Flushing more than 100 Asian voters were turned away from the polls and told to go to other sites. “I think it’s a huge hardship for the elderly and disabled,” said Margaret Fung, executive director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “This year we were struck by the large number of people who were turned away. It seems obvious that the Board of Elections did not send out letters.”
AALDEF will investigate if these voters were told by the Board of Elections to go to the wrong sites when they originally registered.
In Woodside and Jackson Heights, many voters—primarily Latino and those voting for the first time—never received voting cards, according to Ana Maria Archila of the Latin American Integration Center in Woodside. “There are still a lot of glitches in the system that need to be resolved,” she said.
Many people came to the center for help in determining their polling place. Because phones at the Board of Elections were busy most of the day, it was almost impossible to get the situation straightened out.
A large number of people who came to the center found out they were not officially registered to vote. Archila said she spoke with at least four couples who had registered together and only one of the partners was able to vote. Of those who asked for provisional ballots, many were told there were none left at the polling places, and at least one person was told their provisional ballot would not count.
The problems in the system were not limited to New York. Common Cause, a citizens’ lobbying group, logged at least 183,500 calls through the group’s toll-free voting hot line. Of those calls, 83,000 came in yesterday, close to 4,000 from Queens.
The bulk of those complaints, according to spokeswoman Mary Boyle, were about registration problems, long lines and absentee ballots never received. Part of the problem, she said, was that the system had been overwhelmed by 15 million people who registered since the last election.
“We think what happened proves the weakness of the system,” she said. “Clearly, there needs to be reform.”