Voters, and even some candidates, struggle with return of lever machines

lever machines where to vote nyc board of elections
The lever machines were criticized by some as confusing and antiquated, but the Board of Elections maintained they still work as well as ever.
Credit: Metro Archive

Despite widespread concern that the return to the old lever machines would be problematic, of 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning Board of Election Executive Director Jack Ryan said things were “going very well,” with no reports of machine breakdowns.

The polls had been open for a full two and a half hours, and only three out of more than 1300 poll sites were reporting “hiccups,” as far as Ryan knew.

But by noon, two groups running a phone line for voters who run into trouble at the polls said the city’s “long history of problem-plagued elections continued today.”

“It was a case of ‘I told you so,’” New York Public Interest Research Group and Common Cause/NY said in a statement.”

NYPIRG said their phone line handled a total of 76 complaints by noon, 50 percent of which were reporting broken machines. According to NYPIRG, the city’s 311 system received 73 election-related complaints by 9 a.m.

One mayoral candidate actually experienced the foretold difficulty with the lever machines.

Republican Joe Lhota went to vote at his polling site in Brooklyn Heights, only to find the machine was broken. He was given a paper ballot, but apparently not informed how or when his vote would be counted.

Fortunately for Lhota, emergency ballots will be counted at the end of the day today, along with the votes cast by lever machine. Affidavit ballots, filled out by people who show up to the wrong polling site or can’t be found in the poll book at their site, are counted later with absentee ballots. Russianoff said it’s entirely possible that affidavit ballots “could determine the outcome [of the election], along with absentee ballots.”

Democratic mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner reportedly also encountered difficulties, and very nearly had to vote by affidavit. But the Wall Street Journal reported that phone calls were made and the situation was resolved so he could vote by lever machine. The board had apparently mistakenly omitted his signature from the poll list book.

Voters with less resources and connections, however, also faced problems.

Davin Dale, 45, discovered his East Village voting site had changed, and had to be redirected to a new site. Mal Al, 46, also an East Village resident, said he didn’t pull the lever down all the way at first and had to get help from a voting attendant.

City politicians took to Twitter to notify the Board of Elections of problems in their district, from broken machines to claims of voters being “turned away.” To their credit, the Board of Elections maintained an active presence on Twitter throughout the day, meticulously promising to follow up on the exact addresses and issues reported.

Poll site attendants also seemed to face challenges. NYPIRG senior attorney Gene Russianoff described one “classic phone call” NYPIRG fielded.

“A voter was urged by the poll workers to call our number because they couldn’t get through to the Board of Elections to say they were running out of paper ballots,” Russianoff recounted.

Paper ballots are used when lever machines break down, as was the case for Lhota. By noon, NYPIRG said they had reports of 18 broken machines in Brooklyn, 10 in Manhattan, seven in Queens, three in the Bronx and one in Staten Island.

Some voters responded positively to the throwback equipment, though.

“The levers are old school,” 64-year-old Lower East Sider Desiree Rodriguez said, even thought she said her machine didn’t have sections for Public Advocate or Manhattan Borough President. “I’m totally for bringing them back.”

And for some candidates, it was smooth sailing.

“My technique is still good,” de Blasio said as he left the poll site.

And Quinn said the lever “brings back memories.”

“That clunk noise, you know what I mean?” she said. “Makes you feel a sense of completion.”

 

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


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