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City grapples with some voting issues, but fewer than usual

The Board of Elections fared better in this election than in years past, though voters struggled with "complex" ballots and some broken machines.

Tobias Nichols, 2, yawns while waiting for his father, Dan Nichols, to vote on Election Day on November 5, 2013 in the Brooklyn. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images Tobias Nichols, 2, yawns while waiting for his father, Dan Nichols, to vote on Election Day on November 5, 2013 in the Brooklyn.
Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The embattled Board of Elections once again braved another Election Day.

The general election marked a return to the scan machines, rather than the lever machines used in the primary election.

Asked Tuesday morning about any issues arising, Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan insisted any problems should be "characterized as an irregularity."

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"We expect that there are going to be some problems in any election," he said. "A manmade system is by definition imperfect. So there's going to be some imperfections along the way."

But he insisted the BOE strives to "make it as perfect as possible" and promised "when we detect a problem... we deal with it swiftly and efficiently."

As of Tuesday morning, he said they had dealt with some issues in the 52nd Assembly District, which extends from below the Brooklyn Bridge towards Fort Greene and Park Slope. He said Borough Hall "was certainly one of the areas that we had an issue" in.

Referring to the malfunction that forced Republican candidate for mayor Joe Lhota to vote on an emergency ballot at the primary, he smiled and said, "We made sure that Mr. Lhota was not voting on an emergency ballot."

Lhota, for his part, shrugged off questions about the primary problems, claiming that it was a non-issue, despite having been vocally upset on that day. Back on Sept. 10, Lhota insisted on a need for election reform.

Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio on Tuesday likened the ballot to a standardized test. He had some suggestions for reform after casting his vote Tuesday morning.

"It's not the easiest process and I think we have to find ways to improve it," he said. "Certainly having the ballot measures on the back doesn't encourage voters to see them. The wording is better than it has been in the past but it's still difficult. So I think we need a series of electoral reforms in New York state. Most powerfully we need things like same day registration and early voting, maybe mail-in voting, the things that will really encourage and increase the amount of voting and participation."

De Blasio also wanted to "make the ballot itself clearer and simpler," but maintained "the bigger reform is the one that will bring a lot more people into the voting process."

Ryan did not respond to any of the specifics de Blasio laid out, but insisted the BOE "look[s] to work with every concerned person, whether it's an individual voter, a good government group, certainly elected officials, legislative, executive."

"We want to improve the process so that the voters have the most positive and easy experience and access to the polls," he said.

In fact, the BOE was extremely responsive to complaints on Twitter, as they were during the primary. Elected officials, including Councilmen Jumaane Williams and David Greenfield, tweeted or retweeted their constituents' concerns at the BOE's Twitter handle, and the BOE responded quickly.

According to the New York Public Interest Research Group, this election day actually saw less problems than previous elections. But the issues in the 52nd Assembly District were serious, he said: nearly half of the sites there reported broken scanners throughout the day. NYPIRG attorney Gene Russianoff said the Board of Elections vowed to investigate the cause of those problems.

Callers to NYPIRG's hotline apparently also complained of the 6-point font size on the ballots, an issue that Ryan also addressed. But Ryan emphasized the steps the BOE had taken"directly in relation to [their] acknowledgement that the font size was an issue," such as a large-size poster of a ballot at each polling station, as well as sample ballots on their website.

"We spent a little extra money so that the voters can come in and see the large size ballots," he said. "But clearly it is something that we must address moving forward."

Ryan also acknowledged the issue of the "complexity of the ballot," noting that there were 27 ballot lines for mayor.

Chiara de Blasio, the Democratic candidate's daughter, seemed to struggle with that issue, as she asked her father for advice. He responded by telling her, "As long as you do one vote for each office, doesn't matter which line you vote on."

De Blasio himself declined to specify for the public who he voted for, but said he "voted along the Democratic line." A few hours later, he stumped in Crown Heights with Brooklyn DA candidate Ken Thompson and Public Advocate candidate Tish James, among various other Democratic hopefuls.

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat

 
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