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Richmond Hill gets election practice run

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“Congratula­tions, you have now cast your vote,” an energetic Vishnu Mahadeo told Brenda Rambaran as they stood on the corner of Liberty Avenue and 133rd Street last Saturday evening.

Rambaran was one of many people who took a break from eating and dancing at Sybil’s West Indian Bakery and Restaurant’s annual Labor Day block party to learn about the democratic process.

She was an enthusiastic participant in a fading Board of Elections program where voting machines are lent to community groups to help them educate voters.

“The Board of Elections loaned the machine to us to help us get out the vote,” said Mahadeo, a member of Community Board 9. “In the last two years there have been over 8,000 new registered voters in Richmond Hill.”

Rambaran, for one, was impressed. “I’m registered to vote, but I’ve never voted before,” she said. “It’s interesting. It’s inspiring.”

“How about public advocate? How about borough president? How about City Council?” Mahadeo asked another aspiring voter. “Now let’s say you make a mistake. If you pull the lever back, it doesn’t count. Nothing happens until you pull the big lever.”

Mahadeo said that in a 10-minute stretch three people who showed up at his voting booth did not know how to vote and one wasted his vote by pulling the lever before selecting candidates.

Ray Mohammed was one voter who was confused by the logistics of the process. “How many people can you vote for?” he asked Mahadeo, pointing to the list of candidates on the machine. “You can vote for one person in each category,” replied the community leader without missing a beat.

“He just taught me how to operate the machine,” said Mohammed. “I appreciate that.”

Radha Singh said she was motivated to vote by the close 2000 presidential election. “That’s when I realized it was important to vote,” she said. A United States citizen for 10 years, Singh will step into the voting booth for the first time Tuesday.

She was thankful for the dress rehearsal. “It’s brilliant,” she said. “It’s exciting that they’re doing all this for us.” Turning to Mahadeo, she asked, “I just press this for mayor?”

City Council candidate Anthony Andrews, who was on hand for the celebration at Sybil’s, applauded Mahadeo’s efforts. “What this is doing is great. The key is to get voters in Richmond Hill motivated,” he said. “The idea is to energize people of this community, especially new American immigrants, to get out and vote.”

But despite the overwhelming reception for Mahadeo and his roving voting machine, which was also taken to prospective voters at a Hindu temple the next morning, city officials say the lending of machines is coming to a halt.

“It’s much less prevalent than it used to be,” said Joseph Gentilli, deputy executive director of the Board of Elections. “Up until about a year ago we had a very liberal policy. But machines were getting damaged. A machine once came back with no doors and no electrical system.”

Gentilli estimates that no more than 10 machines were lent out this year. “It’s a program that’s dying,” he said.

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:23 pm, October 10, 2011
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