Charles Collins sat by the door of his local polling station for more than 20 minutes, directing people towards the stairs. This isn’t his job — he came to vote but wasn’t able to make it to the booth.
“For now I’m just directing traffic,” said Collins as he waved people through the crowded seniors’ center lobby. “Second floor, folks. Elevator’s broken.”
Collins, 63 is one of many wheelchair-bound voters stranded in the lobby at a polling station in University Heights — a seniors’ center with a broken elevator. They now have to wait for ballots to be brought to them so they can fill them out.
When the elevator suddenly stopped running at 11:30 am, people figured it would be back up soon. By 2:00 Aurelia Figueroa, the polling station’s interpreter, found herself going up and down the stairs constantly.
“I have permission to go upstairs for them,” she said, her hands full of papers and ballots. She is collecting their ballots, and bringing them to the lobby for the voters to fill out. “I come down, they write their name, and vote,” she said.
Before this was allowed, people had tried various methods to overcome the situation. Chris Johnson, 24, said people tried to voters in wheelchairs or walkers up the stairs. Others simply gave up.
“A lot of people were just leaving,” he said.
For a time, the small lobby was crowded with about eight people in wheelchairs and walkers. One woman who was on crutches made it up the two flights of stairs with help from her friends and some passers-by.
According to Celester Beasley, who lives just two buildings down, this wasn’t always the polling station for the district. It used to be in the lobby of an apartment building, on the first floor. He said they changed it to have more space two elections ago.
“I’m not going anywhere until I get service,” said Collins. “I’m gonna go vote for Obama of course.”
Editor’s Note: The problems at that one polling site in the Bronx are being mirrored in different ways across the city.
A 2:30 p.m. joint statement by theNew York Public Interest Research Group, Common Cause and NY Election Helpline read: “Hurricane Sandy caused great destruction and is contributing to disruptions and chaos at too many poll sites. Across the city, thousands of poll workers along with the board’s staff are laboring under tough conditions. Unfortunately a virtual tidal wave of voters is swamping some sites that are plagued with broken equipment and in some cases inadequate numbers of poll workers. Our helpline continues to hear reports of broken scanners, 2-3 hour waits at polls, improper ID checks and problems implementing the Governor’s Executive Order on Affidavit Ballots for displaced voters.”
That move allowed displaced voters from disaster affected counties to cast affidavit ballots at any poll site in the state.
Produced in cooperation with CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s NYC News Service.