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Queens voters see fewer polling problems

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Queens residents flocked to their voting sites Tuesday despite problems with the new voting system that many criticized because they said the small ballot font was difficult to read.

“It’s a beautiful Election Day,” said Joseph Hennessy, coordinator at the PS 101 poll site in Forest Hills. “People want to come out.”

Poll workers around the borough said turnout was good — granted, not as large as it had been in the 2008 presidential election, but still respectable, especially compared to the primary election that brought just 400,000 people out to vote citywide.

“There is a heavy turnout here in northeast Queens, which shows people really care about the issues and who represents them, and it shows, as is often said, that all politics is local, especially here in Queens,” said Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance.

In southeast Queens, sites were packed with voters taking part in the special election for former City Councilman Thomas White’s seat.

“We’re having a great turnout,” said Steven Bushman, a poll worker at August Martin High School in South Jamaica. “It’s bigger than the primary.”

Hennessy said about 455 residents had voted at PS 101 by 10 a.m., which he said was “a good number.”

“Everything seems to be going well,” Hennessy said. “The biggest challenge is the ballot because the font is small and difficult to read.”

Harold Laslo, a poll worker at Trinity Lutheran Church in Middle Village said he was pleased the machines at his site worked well, particularly considering there was a large turnout.

A poll worker at IS 73 in Maspeth said younger voters thought the voting machines were “a walk in the park,” although other voters slammed the new system.

“Whoever brought up this idea should be shot,” said Tom Sindoni, of Whitestone, after casting his ballot at PS 193. “The writing is too small, everybody’s having a hard time reading it and trying to follow it, and you can’t erase it. Three strikes you’re out — what kind of voting is that?”

The new voting system, mandated by the the federal Help America Vote Act, makes voters select their candidates by filling out ovals — something reminiscent of multiple-choice tests in school — on a paper ballot that is fed into a scanner.

The scanner then records the voter’s choice and the physical evidence of the ballot will remain — one of the main stipulations of the federal act, which was passed in part as a response to the confusion over the ballots in the 2000 presidential election.

Judy Stupp, the Republican commissioner for the city Board of Elections in Queens, said election officials had worked hard to address voters’ concerns that surfaced during Primary Day, when broken machines and problems with privacy were pervasive enough in the city that Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the event a “royal screw-up.”

“It’s been immensely better,” Stupp said of the general election.

Stupp said she understood residents’ concerns about privacy and said the board has worked hard to make sure people feel as though their ballots are secure.

“From a voter’s perspective, we understand this is very different, so we’re trying to do what we can at the Board of Elections to make them feel they’re voting in a private way. This is a big transfer going from a machine with a curtain to a privacy booth.”

Forest Hills resident Heidi Harrison Chain, president of the 112th Precinct Community Council, however, said she and many of the people she knew had no problem using the machines.

“It’s very simple, it’s nothing,” said Chain, who aired shows on Queens Public Television teaching people how to use the new system.

Josephine Wechsler, of Fresh Meadows, disagreed, saying the magnifying glass city officials provide individuals with who are having trouble reading the print “seemed to make things worse.”

While people like Hennessy, Bushman and Laslo said their voting machines had worked relatively seamlessly, two out of three scanners at PS 41 in Bayside were broken at 10:45 a.m., creating lines of between 15 to 20 voters.

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