By Alexander Dworkowitz
Throughout Queens, Board of Elections workers, civic organizations, volunteers and election officials closely monitored Tuesday’s voting.
But despite the optimism of some election workers, many reported problems at the polls.
At the polling place at PS 20 at 142-30 Barclay Ave. in Flushing, Esther Curenton, site coordinator for the Board of Elections, said about 11 a.m. Tuesday that she had not seen any problems.
“We have always been fully staffed,” she said, saying there were 12 translators available for speakers of Chinese, Korean and Spanish. “People have been saying that we are one of the luckiest sites.”
But Mindy Kim, a Korean translator at the PS 20 site, complained that the relatively large number of translators was still not enough.
“I’m doing it alone basically,” she said. “[The other Korean translator] has to stay at the table. This morning I was in three different places at once.”
Problems at the polls are not new in Queens, a borough in which residents speak nearly 200 different languages. These problems were dwarfed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that took place several hours after the polls open for the primary. Gov. George Pataki canceled the primary in midmorning and it was rescheduled for Sept. 25.
The disaster also prevented the Board of Elections from employing the computer system typically used to count votes, forcing a hand count. The Board of Elections did not produce a final tally until Thursday, Oct. 4.
Due to the two-week delay in the primary compounded by a run-off Oct. 11, the Board of Elections had less time to prepare for Tuesday’s election, which took place as originally scheduled.
In order to get the city’s 69,000 voting machines ready in time, the Board of Elections hired dozens of outside technicians in addition to their own employees, the New York Post reported.
“There were a couple of things that broke, but we fixed each of them,” said Naomi Bernstein, spokewoman for the Board of Elections. “We’ve had 312 workers going around the clock since Sept. 11. Everything worked out fine.”
Showing signs of the rush, poll workers at PS 123 in South Jamaica said one machine had a light bulb go out. According to Delores Haynes, poll coordinator at the site, many senior citizens could not see well enough to vote.
“There are only two technicians in Queens,” said Haynes. “We’re low on the totem poll because the machine is still working.”
Haynes also said seven people had successfully used the handicapped-accessible ramp to vote at the school by noon, a much higher number than in years past.
But a few minutes later, a man in a wheelchair was frustrated when he tried to use the ramp. Apparently, the poll watcher assigned to the door leading to the ramp had left his post without telling anyone.
The man in the wheelchair banged on the door, but no one answered. By the time Democratic State Committeeman Anthony Andrews, a candidate for City Council in District 28, and a police officer tried to help out, the man had decided he would not vote.
“We can’t afford to have any more people discouraged by voting problems,” said Andrews.
Concerned about possible irregularities, the Republican Party sent volunteers to the polling sites around the borough.
“Everything’s good,” said one of the volunteers, who asked to be identified only as Mike, at PS 2 in Jackson Heights. “A few machines were down, but they got fixed right away.”
In addition to checking the integrity of the machines, the volunteers made sure no one solicited voters closer than 1,000 feet from the polling site. They also warned poll workers to watch out for people voting twice.
The poll workers’ knowledge of the law was also an issue. Kim said many of the inspectors were unaware of the state’s election laws.
“I had a fight with three inspectors,” she said. “They insisted that three people go into the booth, which you don’t have to do with interpreters.”
Kim referred to the law, which states that if a voter is having problems in the booth, than both a Republican and a Democrat have to enter the booth to ensure there is no bias. But if there is a problem in translating the ballot, Kim said, only one translator needs to enter.
Glenn Magpantay, staff attorney for the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, noticed problems while conducting a survey at the Benjamin Rosenthal Senior Center on Kissena Boulevard in Flushing.
“We’ve had some problems,” he said at the busy polling site. “Poll workers haven’t been the most hospitable.”
Reporters Dustin Brown and Betsy Scheinbart contributed to this story.
Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.