Florida isn’t the only place where things get weird come Election Day. Last week, some of the city’s newest citizens got a first-hand lesson in voting, American style. In leaving their homelands behind, they may have escaped voter obstacles like intimidation, harassment and blatant ballot fraud. But they do have to reckon with a whole new set of obstacles–namely, the bizarre voting machines and the unaccountable bureaucracy of New York’s Board of Elections.
On Williamsburg’s South Side, busted ballot booths and missing or misspelled names in the registrations books meant that many voters had to resort to paper affidavit ballots, said site coordinator Cleibis Pena. At 9 p.m., some 150 paper ballots were counted out of the more than 2,000 voters that had passed through P.S. 19’s gym.
But many of the voters also balked at using the flimsy-looking papers. Especially for some Latinos, Pena said, the process was a little too reminiscent of sketchy elections they remember all too well from the past. “They remember that paper ballots had little value in their home country,” she said. “We lost quite a few voters that way today.”
At polling places in Brighton Beach, the very act of voting remained mysterious to some first-time Russian voters, especially since the Board of Elections hasn’t yet provided Russian-speaking poll watchers to assist them.
“Chaos. Armageddon,” said a haggard Alex Yakubson, the only Russian-speaking poll worker at a packed site at Brighton Beach Library. “The turnout of the Russian voters is unprecedented, and we can’t handle it.”
Rozalia Krashenaya came to the Shorefront Y on Coney Island Avenue to vote for Alec Brook-Krasny, a Russian community leader and businessman who is a write-in candidate for the State Assembly. Krashenaya said she didn’t understand the poll worker who explained how to write in her vote. And when she asked for clarification, he got testy. “He said my time was up and told me to go,” Krashenaya said. “It’s such a shame. I want to cry.”
Russians, though, must cope with problems beyond snippy poll workers: Outside the Shorefront Y, many Russians were asking how to spell Brook-Krasny’s name. Since many of these voters know only the Cyrillic alphabet, and they find even basic writing and reading in English difficult, Brook-Krasny supporters distributed rubber stamps embossed with the candidate’s name, so that all the write-in voters could vote without writing.
At J.H.S.189 in Flushing, Queens, about a hundred votes had been cast before center coordinator Oliver Tan reported to the Board of Elections that the words in Chinese for “Democrat” and “Republican” had been transposed in two places on the wall posters, and on some of the columns on six of the 10 ballot machines.
Quickly, workers at the center put masking tape over the wrong Chinese characters on the machines, and fixed all the translations on the wall posters with blue ballpoint pens. “Hopefully not too many people noticed,” said the 22-year-old Tan.
The printing problem “was widespread throughout Flushing,” Tan said, affecting many machines with Chinese translations. But the typo didn’t seem to derail Flushing voters. Hong Chang, a voter who spoke very little English, said he didn’t even notice the error. He and six other voters all had the same reaction: No one knew, no one told them, and no one cared.