After Monday's public hearing about the Primary Day voting shitshow, we interviewed an election coordinator from Hell's Kitchen who's worked elections for the past three years. (The election coordinator is responsible for managing the polling place and poll workers.) He agreed to speak with us on condition of anonymity because, as he tells us, he hasn't gotten paid yet. By the way, did you know poll workers make some pretty sweet coin? $225 a day! Sure, they have to show up at the crack of dawn, but as our source tells us, the lucky ones spend hours lounging around the equivalent of a DOE rubber room.
Officials have slammed Board of Elections director George Gonzalez for the confusion, malfunctions and disorder that defined the debut of the city's new optical scanning voting machines. For damage control, Gonzalez has ordered the board's P.R. firm (with which it has a $6.7 million contract ) to do an opinion poll about the well-documented Primary Day debacle. (Yesterday Mayor Bloomberg dismissed the $90,000 opinion poll as "great theater.") Our source's account of that day offers a detailed look at how your participatory democracy sausage gets sloppily made.
So how did you get to be an election coordinator? I just showed up. I was not trained because they literally did not have enough people to do that. Myself and another person became coordinators with no training whatsoever on how to operate the machines. We were left to make it up as we go along! I showed up at the Board of Elections standby center at 450 West 33rd Street at 5 a.m. It's like the DOE rubber room. There were maybe 300 people there, and you wait around for assignments. I was expecting to be a regular poll worker, but they said, "You can be an election coordinator." I asked, "How?" They said, "You'll just know, you'll figure it out." They pay $325.
Where did they send you? I was sent to a senior center in the Clinton neighborhood in Manhattan, where we had about 120 voters come in throughout the day. We didn't get there until 7 a.m. and nothing was set up. The machines were not operational. The guy at the door was there on time, but not because the Board of Elections notified him; he found out when to report through the senior center. We went in not knowing the procedures and that day we never had a ballot marking device that works.
What's that? It's designed for disabled voters. It has Braille, and it lets people who can't stand up and push the paper ballot into the scanner cast their vote. I heard that many other districts were unable to operate the ballot marking devices simply because no one knew where the keys were!
There was a lot of confusion. We did the best we could; we were on the phone with the Board of Elections 15 or 20 times that day, going over manuals and procedures, but I'm not convinced we followed all procedures to the letter. There were complaints that voters had no privacy but it's a mixed bag; a lot of them couldn't read the thing and needed help marking the ballot and scanning it. The scanners themselves worked fine, at least for us. The machinery is not complicated. The best improvement they can make would be to raise the font and do something to more closely replicate a private booth. But when they have a full ballot in November with a lot more people, with three or four times the volume, I don't think the Board of Elections will be able to handle it.
What do you know about George Gonzales, who runs the Board of Elections? My understanding is that the Board of Elections went through several candidates who were local community board people, and he was sort of the compromise candidate. I'm told he had no demonstrable background for this kind of work, but I don't know. I think he has no ability to understand what's involved in this effort, and to be fair he came very late to the game. I don't think he knows what he's doing. They trained the workers decently enough, but there are a lot of people who've been doing this for years and can't be bothered to do anything differently.
At that hearing last week, Gonzalez said a lot of poll workers didn't show up. I don't buy that at all. There were literally 500 people in the room at West 33rd Street waiting for assignments. If they were organized, people would have had assignments and reported for them on time. Instead there's a cattle call at West 33rd Street, and there are cars waiting to drive them to places that need help, and they get there late.
Do you think you'll go back for the general election in November? I don't know. It's exhausting! I've had very pleasant experiences working in my home district over the past couple years. If i can get an assignment closer to home I'll do it. But they need to double their efforts when it comes to the newer breed of people who are coming in. Some of the ladies who have been around forever still work really hard but there's a new generation that just wants to sit on their butts and get a paycheck, which is $225 for a poll worker.