Bedford Park Seniors Test New Voting Machines

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A woman at the Bedford Park Multi Service Center feeds her test ballot into a new scanning machine, which the Board of Elections will use for the first time this year (Photo by Jeanmarie Evelly)

Voters hitting the polls in state elections this fall won't have any levers to pull this time. The State Board of Elections has traded in the old machines for a new voting system, debuting in New York on Sept. 14 during the Democratic primary.

The Bedford Park Multi Service Center for Seniors hosted a demonstration this morning to teach seniors how to use the new machines. Voters are given new paper ballots to fill in by hand, using a pen and coloring in a bubble for the candidate of their choice, much like a high school standardized test. They then bring their ballots over to a scanner and insert them into the machines to cast their votes.

The changes were put in place to comply with a federal law enacted after the confusion of the 2000 election, and New York is the very last state to make the switch. Still, patrons at the Bedford Park Center were resistant to the change.

“I'm afraid of computers,” said Millie Gilliamsen. “But I'll adjust.”


The machines have gotten pretty negative reviews so far-including one from this weekend's New York Times, which called the new system “a mess.”

Complaints include type on the ballot that's too small to read (it is, though magnifying glasses are provided) as well as confusing directions that could result in voters filling in more than one bubble (or voting for more than one candidate) for a seat. If this happens, the scanner machine will let the voter know that they've “over voted” and give them the option of going back to the beginning and getting a whole new ballot. Or they can choose to cast their vote anyway, in which case, it wouldn't count.

“I think they should have left the old machines as they were,” said Mary Diab, as she filled out her demo ballot in the center's rec room. “I don't think it's simplifying the voting process. It's complicating it.”

Seniors weren't the only ones at today's meeting-workers who said they were from Senator Pedro Espada, Jr's office, were also in attendance. The two showed up just before the voting demonstration was set to begin, and went around the room asking people to join a mailing list and handing out fliers that praised the embattled Senate Majority Leader.

“No one works harder for seniors than Senator Espada,” one of the leaflets read. It also advertised a “senior outing,” to Yonkers raceway, while another flier listed grants that Espada's given out to neighborhood groups this year.

The staffers were soon pulled aside by the Senior Center's Executive Director, who told them they couldn't hand out fliers during a voting event, since anything that could be deemed “campaigning” is not allowed.

Espada is one of three candidates who will appear on the new ballots Sept. 14. He is being challenged by political aide Gustavo Rivera and lawyer Daniel Padernacht.