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Voters Reporting Closed Poll Sites And Other Primary Day Confusion

At the Friends of Crown Heights School
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At the Friends of Crown Heights School Scott Heins / Gothamist

It's federal Primary Day here in the city, which in theory means that New Yorkers will have the opportunity to weigh in on their party's congressional candidate ahead of a general election in November. In reality, a tiny fraction of eligible voters will make it to the polls, thanks in large part to a cumbersome and confusing electoral process seemingly designed to discourage civic participation. Beyond not having same-day registration, early voting, or straightforward absentee balloting, New York is the only state that holds separate state and federal primaries on different days (the latter comes in September). And even if you do everything right, there's no guarantee that the Board of Elections won't just purge your name from the voter rolls.

Still, some New Yorkers did manage to clear the state's systemic voting hurdles, only to find themselves disenfranchised in other ways. Common Cause Director Susan Lerner tells Gothamist that her organization fielded complaints on Monday from "a lot of frustrated voters," many of whom are "infuriated that their time was wasted."

One Central Brooklyn woman told the group that she planned to vote at 6 a.m. before boarding a flight to Los Angeles, but was turned away from her polling site when she arrived because the coordinator who had the key to the machine still hadn't shown up. After waiting for 35 minutes, she left, and wasn't offered the opportunity to fill out an emergency ballot.

Another voter said she showed up to the polling station at Erasmus Hall High School in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, only to find that not a single voter scanner was working. She cast a paper ballot in a lockbox—one that may or may not be ultimately scanned, Lerner noted.

But the most common complaint we've seen so far comes from people who mistakenly believed they had a primary today, only to learn after the fact that their congressional candidate was running uncontested.

In most cases, those people showed up to closed polling stations; but in some instances, voters found their polling site was open, but only for Independent and Reform Party voters who wanted to fill out a write-in ballot—the result of a confusing political stunt pulled by the tiny Reform Party, which decided to host a write-in primary in Rep. Nydia Velázquez's and Rep. José Serrano's districts.

Sam Cohen, a Boerum Hill resident in Velázquez's district who thought he was voting in a primary today, told Gothamist he still doesn't understand what his ballot was supposed to accomplish. "I was surprised since I’ve voted at this polling place several times in the past and it’s always been easy," he said. "I’m just not sure what happened."

Other New Yorkers frustrated by the impenetrable system include a woman named Andrea who said she recently moved here from California, and assumed she'd be able to register to vote online. "I’ve had a permanent address here for weeks, but mailing in my voter registration took too long to be able to vote today," she said. "It’s super frustrating."

But whether the problems come at the polls or before them, Lerner notes that New Yorker's persistent voting issues stem from our lawmakers' failures. "New York State does nothing to inform voters. We make it extraordinarily, unnecessarily difficult to vote in this state, then our elected officials ring their hands about low voter turnout," she told Gothamist. "It's not surprising that people are completely confused."

While several bills aimed at expanding voting rights advanced in Albany this year, none of those reforms were included in this year's budget.

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