A Frustrating Day for Voters in Inwood


Voter Daniel Pincus poses with 72nd District Assemblyman Guillermo Linares outside the IS 52 polling place in Inwood.
Voter Daniel Pincus poses with 72nd District Assemblyman Guillermo Linares outside the IS 52 polling place in Inwood. (The Ink/Matthew Seyler)

Elizabeth Martinez has been a poll worker many times, but the 2016 election was her first go at being coordinator of a polling place. It was an exciting prospect, but after a long day of broken scanners and lines down the block at the IS 52 location in Inwood, she was disappointed.

“I’ve seen worse, but because this one is my time, I wanted to be a lot more organized and better prepared,” said Martinez. “It was a very stressful situation, and a very distasteful experience overall.”

Many problems were outside of her control.

The polling station didn’t open until 6:25 a.m., 25 minutes later than scheduled. Tammie Cheeseborough, a 52-year-old information clerk at IS 52, said that police officers from the 34th Precinct were nearly an hour late bringing a set of keys needed to unlock vital election supplies including the poll list, signs and ballots.

Then five of the location’s six ballot scanners became inoperable, increasing the wait time for voting up to two hours.  Sherry Vaughn, a scanner inspector at IS 52, said that the problem was caused by voters trying to force their ballots into the machines too fast, causing jams.

“I called the Board of Elections, and it took them about two and a half hours to send a technician,” said Martinez.

The scanner problem appeared to have been resolved by mid-afternoon. Voter Paul Epstein, who came to IS 52 around 3 p.m., said the situation improved as he was in line. Other voters told him that they had waited over an hour to vote because of the inoperable machines. It took Epstein about 40 minutes.

Once Epstein was inside, he said he saw the scanners begin to work again one by one, until all six were in operation before he left at 3:40 p.m.

From 3:40 to 4:10, the line extending outside the building decreased from over 80 to just over 40 people. Within an hour the line outside the building had nearly disappeared.

Other voters complained about logistical problems. “This was a disaster here,” said Russell Smith, 74, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1979. He got in line at around 1 p.m. and wasn’t able to scan his ballot until 2:30 largely because of the scanners. “When I got in, there was one scanner, and about 250 people waiting to vote,” he said. That’s 250 inside the polling place, plus a line outside that at times wrapped around the block, according to Smith.

But the troubles didn’t end once voters were inside, Smith said. “The next thing you have to do is fill a ballot out with a black pen,” he said. “There weren’t enough black pens.”

Another problem was that “you’re supposed to fill the ballot out in an enclosed area, but it was impossible,” said Smith, citing the massive crowd inside the polling place. Epstein agreed that because there weren’t enough voting booths for the line, people filled out ballots in the open on school tables at the side of the room.

Not all complaints were about delays. It only took Daniel Pincus 20 minutes to vote, but he said he nearly turned in an incomplete ballot because of a lack of guidance from the polling place staff and poor lighting in the room.

“Just by casual curiosity I looked on the backside of the ballot and realized there were a whole bunch of names I didn’t see,” said Pincus, 62. “I kind of panicked.”

Pincus, who lives across the street from the polling place, spent the afternoon talking to incoming voters outside IS 52 to make sure they knew to look at both sides of the ballot. Several people leaving the polls stopped to thank him for his help.

Martinez also said that there were some conflicts between staffers and voters, with some voters complaining that staffers were rude to them. She said she was unable to fire anyone without permission from the city’s Board of Elections. Her only practical recourse was to try and mediate conflicts.

Martinez will be documenting the day’s problems in a report to the Board of Elections in hope that next time will be better.