Better-functioning poll sites are a win all around
By Brad Hoylman and Keen Berger
“Better.” “Much better.” “Same as always.” “Worse.”
How was voting in the primary on Sept. 12? If you voted in the 66th Assembly District, Part A (most of the Village, some of Chelsea), your answer is most likely “Better.” As district leaders, we checked on all 17 poll sites in our part, as we have done in the past. We found some notable improvements.
Unlike past years:
• All the polls opened on time at 6 a.m. (Last year one opened at 7 a.m.)
• No polls closed early before 9 p.m. (Last year one closed 10 minutes early)
• All the machines were correctly programmed. (Last general election some machines would not let voters split their ticket!)
• None of the sites was so short of workers that massive “standbys” were needed. (Last year our biggest site was sorely understaffed.)
• Coordinators were all awake. (Last year one was asleep when we made a surprise visit.)
• Handicapped access was improved. (This year a dangerous ramp at one poll site was replaced by a friendly door clerk who took voters to a safe entrance.)
However, despite clear improvements, we still saw problems:
• One worker started to take down the “No Electioneering” signs outside at 8:30 p.m. We stopped him.
• One worker was too busy complaining to do her job. She was a Board of Elections appointee; the coordinator will decide if she should return for the general election.
• After last November, we removed one coordinator for improper conduct. The new Board of Elections appointee did not show up. Fortunately, our co-district leader in Chelsea, Mary Dorman, was at that site before 6 a.m. and upgraded one of the experienced inspectors. (The site was one of four that we share with other districts.) We confirmed that appointment at 6:15 a.m.; the Board of Elections agreed by 3 p.m.
But all in all, primary voting was smooth. Machine breakdowns were few, and those that were reported fixed within the hour. Disabled voters could vote on new, more private, more accessible machines at 200 Varick St. (Celia Wu was there all day to assist.) Next year, better machines with a verifiable paper trail should be at every site. The new challenge will be to ensure trained poll workers in every election district to show voters how to use them.
Part of the credit for this smooth primary day belongs to some stellar coordinators. They make sure that voters are respected and poll workers do their job well. Some experience coordinators have been retained (Leslie Peters at Westbeth and Arlene Cassarino at P.S. 3); some coordinators who had quit have come back (Rose James at Brittany and Charles Stimpson at the New School); some good ones are new this year (Sandro Sherrad at P.S. 41, Thelma Wilson at P.S. 3 and Claire Ryan at Hayden Hall). Each of them merits our gratitude.
Part of the credit goes to dozens of new poll clerks, door clerks and inspectors. For the first time, we asked people to apply or reapply for those jobs, explaining why they thought they would be good, how well they knew the neighborhood and who would recommend them. More than 100 applications were returned. Those who qualified were appointed. Legally, we can appoint only Democrats; we gave the Republican applications to their district leaders.
A word about district leaders. When we were campaigning, many voters asked “What do district leaders do?”
Our one official task is to appoint the people who work at the polls. The Board of Elections then follows up, trains workers and pays them ($200 to $300 for a 16-hour-day). The Manhattan office of the Board of Elections is headed by Tim Gay, who listens to our suggestions and tries to ensure efficient voting.
In addition, district leaders express community concerns, follow through and get things done. We listen and talk to everyone, bringing the local voice to our elected officials. In the 66th, we have Assemblymember Glick, State Senator Duane, City Councilmembers Quinn, Mendez and Gerson and Congressman Nadler. All six have been responsive.
It’s important that we provide the B.O.E. with local reports on polling sites. If you have complaints or suggestions based on your voting experience on primary day, please send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some coordinators and workers need to be replaced we hope to do that before the General Election on Nov. 7. We need more conscientious, friendly poll workers. They don’t have to be a member of the Village Independent Democrats (our local club) but they need to be registered voters.
The next test for the Village is on Tues. Nov. 7. We anticipate some great victories, partly because our district votes in greater numbers than anywhere else in the state. We expect “better” or even “much better” voting experiences for voters within Part A of the 66th Assembly District. Next year all of Manhattan. In 2008 Ohio and Florida?
Hoylman and Berger are the Democratic district leaders, 66th Assembly District, Part A.