Potential problems with lever machines at polls prompt hotline

voting election vote where to vote nyc board of elections
Concerns are mounting that the return to lever machines in Tuesday’s primary election will cause problems for voters.
Credit: Metro Archive

In anticipation of problems at the polls tomorrow, the New York Public Interest Research Group and Common Cause/NY created a non-partisan phone line to help voters who run into difficulties.

The hotline will be available from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Voters are urged to call 212-822-0282 and report any issues, such as broken machines or voters’ names missing from poll registration books.

The return to using lever machines was a move authorized by the state that goes against federal election policy. The city only switched from the lever machines to optical scanners in 2010, making New York the last state in the country to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act, which pushed for simpler voting systems in order to avoid issues like the 2000 Florida recount.

The return to levers was due to apparent concerns about making the quick turnaround between the primary election and the anticipated citywide runoff election in the event that no candidate receives 40 percent or more of the vote. After the runoff, the city is expected to return to the optical scanners.

NYPIRG senior attorney Gene Russianoff said there is a great deal of anxiety regarding the return of the old lever machines, and blasted the notoriously dysfunctional Board of Elections for their handling of the situation.

The Board of Elections has a Facebook page titled “Vote the New Way,” which Russianoff said is confusing, given the “new” way involves markedly old machines.

“You get the impression that the optical scan machines are still the ones being used, and that does not speak to a high level of educating the public,” Russianoff said.

Russianoff said a high-level public official at the Board today said if voters are told their names are not in the poll registration books, they should grab the book and check for themselves.

lever machines where to vote nyc board of elections
This is one of the lever machines voters can expect to see at polling sites on Tuesday. Credit: Metro Archive

The last time the lever systems were used, there were apparently many instances of “undervoting,” when votes don’t register. More than 100 people may have voted, Russianoff explained, but the poll site will only have record of 99 votes.

This happens because the lever system can be confusing and unwieldy: A voter can flick the lever down, but then pull it back up before moving the other handle.

In a way, it’s almost better for machines to be broken than for voters to encounter other issues: If machines are broken, voters can request emergency ballots, which are paper ballots that are opened at the end of the day and counted the same as any other vote.

But voters who run into problems like not being accounted for in the poll books have to vote by affidavit, and affidavit ballots will not be counted Tuesday.

A mistake that voters often make, Russianoff said, is realizing they forgot to re-register when they moved, and just opting to vote at their old polling site. Russianoff said it’s okay if you didn’t re-register, but vote at your polling site: The Board of Elections will later send you a postcard to confirm your correct address and your vote will be counted.

Voters can look up their polling site here. The New York City Campaign Finance Board also has a website and smartphone app to provide voters with information on polling sites and candidates.

 

By the numbers, according to NYPIRG

  • 700,000 enrolled Democrats
  • 50,000-100,000 enrolled Republicans
  • Each lever machine weighs 840 pounds and has more than 20,000 moving parts.
  • In 1957, 91 percent of eligible voters turned out for the mayoral election.
  • In 2009, that turnout was down to 29 percent.

 

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


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