New Yorkers Give Feedback on the Voting Process

A hearing on the voting experience on Tuesday at 2 Lafayette Street in Lower Manhattan drew a full house. (The Ink/Angel Au-Yeung)
A hearing on the voting experience on Tuesday at 2 Lafayette Street in Lower Manhattan drew a full house. (The Ink/Angel Au-Yeung)

From first-time voters in Queens to poll workers in the Bronx, more than forty people signed up to share Election Day stories during a public hearing on Tuesday night in Lower Manhattan.

The hearing, organized by the city Campaign Finance Board , covered three topics — the U.S. voting system, individual experiences on Election Day and how to improve voting in New York.

Speakers on the topic of the voting system called for open primaries and less restrictive voter registration rules.

“We should have non-partisan primaries where it’s not just a choice between Democrats and Republicans,” said Harlem resident Mary Douglas, 40, a small business owner. While she is a registered Democrat, she wants to switch to independent due to her lack of faith in the platforms and leaders of both Democrats and Republicans. “The whole process of voting needs to be reworked and focused on the voters and not the political parties,” she said.

Douglas and others who want to switch party affiliations might face another potential obstacle. New York’s closed primary system requires voters who want to change parties to do so six months before the actual primary. That’s a time when voters may not be focused or have a clear idea which candidates will make it to the primary. By the time the choices are more clear, it may be too late for an independent to register as a Republican or Democrat in order to vote in the primary.

Michael Sollars, the director of public relations for the Campaign Finance Board, acknowledged this regulation as unfriendly to voters. “New York has some of the most restrictive voter laws in the country,” he said.

During the discussion of personal Election Day experiences, speakers described long lines, broken voting machines and understaffed polling stations, among other topics.

First-time voter Minhazul Islam, 18, from Queens, described the scene at his polling station at the Winchester School in Queens Village.

“People were pushing and shoving each other,” said Islam, who attended the hearing as a representative of the South Asian Fund for Education, Scholarship and Training, a nonprofit that offers social and cultural programs for recent immigrants. “It was not very civilized.”

He also expressed concerns over long waiting lines, especially for the elderly. “There should be one line for the elderly and another line for everyone else,” he said.

Diana Finch, 62, a poll worker from the Bronx, described how her team was understaffed on Election Day. “We had just the minimum amount of workers,” she said. “Why doesn’t the BOE require us poll workers to confirm so they can figure out which polling stations will need more workers?”

Other suggestions for improvements included a call to return to paper ballots.

“This is so stupid,” Nisi Jacobs, 48, said. “We have to get rid of these machines.” Jacobs was one of the creators of a website,  #HandCountedValue, that advocates for a return to paper ballots that would be dropped inside clear boxes.

“Countries all over the globe still vote without computers,” she said. “We must go back to paper because computers are just too easy to be rigged.”

Turnout for the event was about double the number of people who came for a similar public hearing in May following the presidential primary. “There is a lot of energy right now among New Yorkers for change,” said Sollars.  “That’s a hopeful theme. I hope that people seize it.”

A transcript of the public hearing will be sent for review to the Board of Elections. The Campaign Finance Board will then determine if it wants to recommend changes to the voting system.