NEW YORK — The city has long been home to the privileged and the destitute, but voters from all walks of life felt disenfranchised after a city-wide snafu at primary voting locations on Tuesday.
According to the New York Times, 71 polling locations opened late due to missing or malfunctioning machines. With polls scheduled to open at 6 a.m., some voters experienced a delay of up to 4 hours.
Other voters received an error message when scanning their ballots and left in disgust, unsure whether their votes would be counted.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, upon receiving complaints at City Hall, referred to the situation as a "royal screw-up" by the Board of Elections.
The state’s new optical scanning machines — similar to those already in use in Boston — require voters to fill in paper ballots, which are then scanned electronically.
Voters reported hard-to-read print and a lack of privacy when workers assisted with feeding ballots through machines. The new system is a departure from the lever-machine voting system used for the past half century.
“I think there are going to be people who are going to lose their votes,” Anne Koenig told the Wall Street Journal, after she was instructed to place her paper ballot in an emergency voting box to be counted later by poll workers.
The new system is already the subject of a lawsuit filed by NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice on behalf of the NAACP, Working Families Party, and other groups. The suit alleges that disproportionate numbers of minority voters will be subject to misreading the machine’s over-voting instructions, meaning their votes will be invalidated.
While a number of the primary elections on Tuesday were won by a wide marginâ€”such as Rep. Charles Rangel’s renomination in Harlemâ€”others were a closer call. Senatorial candidate Joseph DioGuardi clinched the Republican nomination by earning 4 points more than David Malpass. The Democratic state attorney general race was even tighter, with nominee Eric Schneiderman eking out 3 points over Kathleen Rice.
Such tight results call into question the number of ballots that may have been misread by the new machines, or the percentage of voters who were unable to vote due to late poll openings.
State Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez said, “We will apply all lessons learned from today’s primary election to November’s general election.”
With higher turnout, and higher stakes, due in November, voter disenfranchisement may become a key election issue over the next two months.