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City tries to educate voters

Following an outcry by Queens and city legislators about widespread voting problems during Primary Day, the city Board of Elections said it is taking extra precautions to educate the public about the new voting machines before the Nov. 2 election.

BOE officials announced last week that they had issued a second citywide mailer that was distributed to the 4.3 million registered voters in the city to educate them on the new voting machines, which were used for the first time during Primary Day.

“The second voter mailer provides vital information to help voters understand how to use the new system, and we encourage voters to take time to read through the mailer so they are prepared before they head to their poll site on Nov. 2,” said BOE President Julie Dent.

Queens legislators said they had heard numerous complaints from city residents, who said broken machines, uneducated poll workers and privacy issues were pervasive throughout the city, including in Whitestone, Springfield Gardens and Sunnyside. Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Primary Day a “royal screw-up.”

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) said the large number of complaints about Primary Day operations prompted him to hold a hearing on the issue at the end of September, at which time BOE officials said some of the problems occurred because they did not receive enough government funding to implement the voting system.

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.

The recent mailers provide voter information in English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean and include instructions for voters with disabilities. BOE spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez-Rivera noted that board officials have held 530 public demonstrations in all five boroughs, including many in Queens, to educate the public on the new machines.

Vazquez-Rivera said they also tried to get out information about the new system at fairs and festivals in Queens, including the Cultural Collaborative event in Jamaica.

“We’re glad that the Board of Elections is sending a second mailer on the new system,” said Rima McCoyu, voting rights coordinator for the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York. “It takes time for people to absorb a change this big, and the more messages they receive, the better.”

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) 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. Southern Queens was also hit with problems, including at the Springfield Gardens High School polling site, according to 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 agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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