Dear New York City/State Board of Elections,
There was a time in my life when I didn’t take the voting process as seriously as I do now. I’d like to think of those as my uninformed and naïve younger years. Today, voting is a right that is sacred to me. So when there is any difficulty in the election day process I take it personally.
I live in Queens, New York. Usually, voting is easy. I walk around the corner and up the block. I show my ID. I get checked in. I vote and I walk out with a smile on my face. That was not the case today.
While my section of Queens was not hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy there were apparently other forces, in this instance “unnatural” ones working to make the process unnecessarily harder. I cannot imagine what my fellow New Yorkers in Staten Island and lower Manhattan are running into as they try to exercise their right to vote today.
First, you changed my polling site. That’s actually no big deal. I’m a New Yorker and I like walking. And quite frankly I’d go anywhere I needed to in order to vote. And then I actually walked into the polling location.
There was a line. Not a problem, because the more people voting the better. Yay voters! But then the line started growing and not in a good way. Poll workers came out and looked for people to go in one of two lines. Either you had your polling card information and could go to the right or if you didn’t you’d go to the left and they’d have to look up your information. Fair enough.
But this is Queens. Depending where you are, and I was in Jackson Heights, we are one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan boroughs in New York City. Because of that you need poll workers who are at the very least bilingual. That was not the case. Because of that voters who were just looking to find the right table to check in were misguided. So the single line became a double line which became a triple line, which equaled chaos.
Second, the time started to accrue. One young man who was several people in front of me and was excited to vote asked if he could please jump in front of others because he had five minutes before he had to leave for work or he would be fired. Now let’s be clear. This is a man who wasn’t impatient and just thought he should be at the front of the line. It was a service worker who was afraid of losing his job and was concerned because he had already been waiting on line for more than an hour. The poll workers ignored him and his fellow New Yorkers….they told him that they were in the same boat. I have no idea what happened to that young man but he did stay to vote possibly at the expense of losing his job.
Third, in my voting district, we vote hard. We’re always out in numbers and perhaps that’s why our line was so long. No, that’s just wishful thinking. Let me just be frank, our polling workers who were checking in people at my district’s table were not up to par.
When I asked a poll worker what was the hold up the frustration on her face said it all. She then proceeded to tell me that they had condensed polling sites so there were more voters at this location and it was a lot. Translation: they didn’t have enough people. She went on to tell me that people were upset who were now instructed to come to this location and weren’t on the voting registries. I asked her if there was an election supervisor there and she said that he had left.
Now I understand that the county supervisor may have many sites to oversee. However, if he were already at this location I can’t fathom that he would have thought what I was witnessing was an organized and fair experience.
People’s frustrations were getting to such a point that the Inspector who was there and realized that he had a situation that was at its boiling point, had to sit down and check-in voters because the workers who were supposed to be doing the work couldn’t keep up with the influx of people wanting to cast their votes.
Let me repeat that, the Inspector had to sit down and check in voters. So then who was left to inspect that the poll workers were doing their jobs correctly?
This is not a complaint letter. Really, it’s not. It’s a letter that the first amendment allows me to craft and a reminder that because of the 15th and 19th amendments and the Voting rights Act of 1965 that I’m even able to cast a vote today. I am a proud American who wants to participate in the process. And I will not be deterred.
But I am worried that those who are younger, or possibly voting for the first time may be so frustrated by what I witnessed today that they may leave and not vote at all. That’s an unacceptable outcome.
I hope that you agree. I don’t know if you do because when I called to voice my opinion to the Queens borough board of elections I was rushed off the phone, told it was chaos and a lot of people were voting. When I further explained that it was more so a lack of organization and unprepared poll workers I got an, “Ok I’ll let them know,” and click.
Please don’t dismiss when voters tell you that something is wrong. We’re not complaining. We’re trying to inform you that there’s a problem. As the day goes on I hope that the problems of the morning get worked out.
On my way out after I cast my vote, since no one really listened inside the polling location I informed the police officer outside that they should have more officers here later. I told her if the mass of people after work have to deal with what I just went through things could be bad. Her response, “I won’t be here.” I politely said, “That’s fine, but you might want to give your colleagues a head’s up.”
So here’s my head’s up to you fair Elections board. Get it together. New Yorkers deserve a better and more organized voting process.