Senior Citizens Find Help to Get to the Polls


Andre Lilly, a disabled veteran, was taken directly into the polling station after waiting for 10 minutes. (The Ink/ Xuejie Zhao)


Diane Mccants, the transportation coordinator of Hamilton Grange Senior Citizens Center, was making phone calls one after another after she got to work on Election Day. “Hamilton Grange” and “pick up” were the most frequent words popping out of her mouth. Half an hour before each pick-up, she had to call the clients to check if they were still planning to go out. She said people booked trips to polling stations because they weren’t always accessible.

For the majority of New York City voters, their designated polling stations are within walking distance from their homes. But the relatively short distance is still an obstacle for senior citizens who have difficulty moving around. Non-profit organizations for seniors and senior centers provided transportation service to polling stations, complementing the assistance provided by workers at the polls.

Mccants said four senior citizens from Hamilton Grange had booked trips to polling stations but their plans were constantly changing. She said two went early on their own and one canceled because of illness. Only tone person scheduled to be picked up at noon made the trip to the polling site at 626 Riverside Drive.

Craig Himmons, the director of Hamilton Grange Senior Citizens Center, said the transportation service has been operating for about 20 years. “We take them everywhere they want to go,” said Himmons. “During election time, we always take them to polling stations if they ask.” Himmons said the senior center’s transportation service mainly picks up clients in West Harlem but can go as far north as Inwood and as far south as 59th Street.

Other organizations are providing similar services for seniors across town. Jenny He, director of the Community Arranged Resident Transportation program, a free transportation service for seniors provided by the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens, said the group transported around 10 seniors to a polling station on West 53rd Street.

DOROT, another non-profit organization for seniors on the Upper West Side, provides form filling assistance service during election time in addition to its escort service to polling stations. Rachel Bowers, a staff member of DOROT, said the group helped fill out 16 to 20 absentee ballots and have four trips of planned transportation service on Election Day.

Seniors citizens receive assistance at polling stations as well. Carolyn Brown, a 75-year-old retired professor who voted at Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Elementary School on West 146th Street and Amsterdam Ave, said she knew that seniors could go straight in but she chose to wait in line for about an hour.

“It’s always interesting outside, and I am not in bad shape as a lot of people,” she said Brown, waving goodbye to a young girl she had just chatted with.

Andre Lilly, a 76-year-old disabled veteran who voted at the same station, said he was lucky to be taken in after 10 minutes of waiting when some workers saw that he was walking with difficulty and brought him inside. He said there were many workers inside the station and they are all were ready to help.

“But there could be more people outside, as observers, to look out for the seniors and disabled,” said Lilly

“They needed more people to take the seniors to the front of the line,” said Brown, pointing to an elderly woman who just turned the corner. “It’s just too long; she shouldn’t be waiting here. It must be at least half an hour.”

Onita Estes-Hicks, a 75-year-old retired professor who voted at 626 Riverside Drive, said she didn’t mind the crowd because she lives in the building and can choose the time to vote. She saw two seniors being helped in the polling station and one of them was really bent over on his walker. She said the poll workers are really helpful.

“The two senior seniors each received considerable help in voting,” said Estes-Hicks. “So we might think of something else like a bench for seniors to rest, or a desk with chair so that senior seniors do not have to stand to fill out the ballot.”