News | West Harlem

New voting machines flummox some residents at the polls

A polling station inside P.S. 57 in Harlem on Tuesday afternoon was nearly empty, but poll workers weren’t complaining about the poor turnout.

New voting machines—the city’s new electronic machines, deployed for the first time in Tuesday’s primaries—had confused voters all day, and broken machines delayed the process even more, they said.

Though the polling station opened at 6 a.m., one of the machines didn’t start working until 8:30, and older voters have complained that the text is too small, poll worker Elizabeth Girodes explained.

“With the seniors, they’re not used to technology like touchscreens. It [the lettering] is enlarged, but they come in very apprehensive. That’s why there are so many of us here, catering to seniors,” Girodes said.

Many voters agreed that the new machines worked fine, but said they had to wait longer than they expected because some were broken.

“I went right in and took care of business, as always. No issues,” said Harlem resident Robert Goodwin.

Further south at P.S. 165 on 109th Street, things were going smoothly after a chaotic morning. “One [scanner] broke down this morning, and one was down half the day,” said poll site coordinator Frances Orta, explaining that the machine wouldn’t feed paper through.

Responding to claims that some voters had problems reading the text, Orta said, “That’s not true. We have things to enlarge [the text].”

Still, the limited number of machines available to record and scan votes made things difficult, voters said.

“If they only send two scanners and one breaks down, what do you do?” asked poll worker Helaine Juden. “Upper West Siders always seem to turn out to vote in high numbers.”

Local resident Nelly Alcantara said that she had to wait because one of the scanners was still jammed. “I like the way it was before. I know people who can’t read and write well, and this new way is very complicated,” she said.

While neighborhood residents grappled with the new system, students and professors were casting ballots on campus without any problems.

At the polling station in Wien, voters trickled in and out all day, leaving a dozen representatives from the city Elections Board twiddling their thumbs.

“It’s been light but steady,” said Public Safety officer Ray Barry, who was on duty in Wien on Tuesday afternoon.

Avery Katz, a professor at Columbia Law School, said he made sure to cast his vote, even if he didn’t feel passionate about any candidate.

“It’s just an election like any other, and I always vote,” he said.

While other polling places reported difficulties with new voting machines that allow voters to scan in their ballots, a poll worker from Morningside Heights said there were no problems at Columbia.
“We show people how to use it and it’s simple. No problems at all today,” she said.

Across campus in Lerner Hall, representatives from campus political groups were registering students and distributing absentee ballots for the general election in November.

Kaley Hanenkrat, BC ’11 and president of the Columbia University College Democrats, said about 45 people had registered to vote in New York over a three-hour period.

“With the primaries going on today, people are remembering that they need to register to vote for next month,” she said.

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