City says it needed more money to run elections

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City Board of Elections officials defended themselves at a hearing sponsored by state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) last week on widespread problems on Primary D ay, saying they needed more government funds to effectively implement the new voting machines.

“Nobody takes into consideration what it means to put on an election,” said George Gonzalez, executive director of the city Board of Elections. “If I had funding for the staff I needed to put on an election, some of these problems would go away.”

Addabbo held the hearing Sept. 29 following numerous complaints from borough legislators and city residents, who said broken machines, uneducated poll workers and privacy issues were pervasive throughout the city, including in Whitestone, Springfield Gardens and Sunnyside.

“There were delayed openings, malfunctions, poll workers who were not sure about handling ballots and violations of voter privacy,” city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said at the hearing. “At my site in Park Slope, Brooklyn, there was a three-hour delay before it was fully functional. That means some voters go away and aren’t coming back.”

The new voting system, mandated by 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.

Addabbo and others at the hearing said they were pleased to discuss issues involving the machines in an attempt to fix the problems before November’s general election.

“Today is about identifying problems and finding practical solutions,” Addabbo said.

Board of Elections officials said at the hearing that they worked hard to educate the public about the new voting system and contended the problems during Primary Day particularly stemmed from a lack of financial support from the state. Still, Gonzalez said city election officials were working to make the general election a more seamless process, including having poll workers undergo additional training.

“Since the city and state have not provided the board with adequate resources, the implementation of the new voting system is placed in jeopardy,” Gonzalez said.

Queens legislators have reported a number of problems in the borough.

Halloran said that after reports of “computer glitches” at the PS 209 polling site in Whitestone, he called on the BOE to fix problems with the machines and ballots, including a small font he said was difficult for people to read. Southern Queens was also hit with problems, including at the Springfield Gardens High School polling site, according to City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton).

“In my district, Springfield Gardens did not get voting machines until 3 p.m.,” Sanders said. “I don’t believe they were handing out paper ballots to people either. If this is true, then you have disenfranchised people because most people sadly will not come back.”

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said the machines at the Queen of Angels Church in Sunnyside were not functioning when he went to vote at 7 a.m., and he had to cast an emergency ballot.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 6:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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