Late day surge yields high primary turnout

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The Democrats came and the Republicans stayed away.

The Board of Elections released its unofficial figures on last week’s voter turnout with nearly 32 percent of registered Democrats going to the polls. But turnout among registered Republicans was relatively low at less than 14 percent.

The overall turnout of registered voters across the city was about 29 percent.

But while the voters in Queens and the other boroughs headed to the polls despite the World Trade Center disaster, the Board of Elections was not as fortunate.

After the Sept. 11 primary was canceled due to the attack on the World Trade Center, it was rescheduled for Sept. 25.

The Board of Elections, located in Lower Manhattan, normally uses the New York Police Department’s computer system to tabulate votes from the machines quickly and release them after the polls close at 9 p.m. But since the NYPD’s computer system was down because of the terrorist attack, the board had to use another system that did not allow it to begin counting votes until Friday.

Computers broke down over the weekend, further delaying results. As of Tuesday, a week after the primaries, the Board of Elections would not call any council races.

On the evening of the primaries, the Board of Elections originally had projected a much lower overall turnout at about 15 percent.

“We expected a high turnout,” said Naomi Bernstein, spokeswoman for the Board of Elections. “But as the day progressed we got reports back from people that it was a light turnout. But a lot of people came out after 5:30.”

The primary went against recent voting patterns. In recent years, voters have avoided voting in the evenings. But a strong turnout in the evening this year pushed this year’s turnout past the 1997 primary turnout of 18 percent and the 1993 primary turnout of 23 percent.

In Queens, candidates reported problems with the paper ballots.

Paul Graziano, a Green Party candidate running against Evergreen Chou for Councilwoman Julia Harrison’s (D-Flushing) seat, said some paper ballots were missing and voters were turned away.

“There were massive irregularities at the polls,” he said.

John Baxter, running on the Independence Party line against Joann Ariola for Councilman Alfonso Stabile’s (R-Ozone Park) seat, reported similar problems. Baxter said election officials in his district did not even know that the Independence primary existed. “They were turning everyone away,” he said.

But other than the paper ballots, the primary seems to have been relatively problem free. Translators manned polling booths in Flushing to help in an area in which voters who do not speak English have traditionally had difficulty finding their way at the polls.

The New York Public Interest Research Group received fewer voter hotline complaints than usual last Tuesday.

“It seemed to have gone very, very smoothly,” said Bernstein.

Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300,Ext. 141.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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