By Lindsay Emery
Westchester residents spent about two and a half hours Wednesday night reciting a litany of harrowing stories trying to vote from their experiences during the June 23 primary.
Residents participated in the Board of Legislators’ Election Information Task Force virtual meeting Wednesday night to discuss what the Westchester County Board of Elections could do to improve voting for the November general election. Concerns are also expected in the fall about how to protect the health of poll workers and voters and how to manage a large turnout.
“I went by to take a look that evening because I heard there were extraordinary lines,” Dobbs Ferry resident Sandra Herman said. “When I arrived at 8 o’clock, I counted over 130 people waiting on line. I’ve sent in a video of that line. At nine o’clock, there were over 160 people waiting in line to vote, once voters could no longer join the line to vote.”
Herman described how she witnessed multiple cars pull into the Ardsley Middle School parking lot only to turn around and leave once drivers saw how long they would have to wait to vote.
While some residents detailed problems at the polls, others described an absentee ballot system riddled with flaws.
Fred Silverman noticed that the envelope for returning his absentee ballot were already sealed when it arrived at his home and wondered if his signature on his ballot matched previous ones. Many speakers pointed discrepancies in postmarking ballot envelopes and that there was no way to track absentee ballots. They were unsure whether their ballots even made it to the Board of Elections, let alone counted in the primary.
“The number of absentee ballots that are floating around is a security nightmare,” said Allegra Dingler, a board member for Citizens for Voter Integrity New York. “There needs to be a lot more tracking.”
Dingler explained that the Board of Elections website needs to be upgraded so the public can check on the status of their absentee ballot. Other voters said that the website is in such desperate need of an upgrade that it might make more sense to create another site with relevant information regarding registration and how to vote.
Another concern was the location change of many polling sites, prompting others to ask why they weren’t alerted sooner.
“There were many problems during the primary,” said Myra Saul of the Concerned Voters of Westchester coalition. “The most egregious one: the Board of Elections violated the election law related to timely notice of poll sites and changes in poll sites. This left voters scrambling for alternatives and led to long lines.”
The Board of Elections should adhere to communications guidelines and attempt to reach voters through social media and print, Saul added.
In addition to the changes in poll sites, Saul and others pointed to a lack of training for voting inspectors and a lack of poll workers.
“Several members of our committee were told that their services were not needed to be poll workers for this election and those people were standing on long lines,” said Janice Griffith, president of the White Plains/Greenburgh branch of the NAACP.
Voters who shared their experiences at polling sites and representatives of various organizations said they could help the Board of Elections achieve a successful presidential election.
Others pointed to a larger systemic problem with the way elections are handled in the county. Lulu Friesdat, executive director of SMART Elections, an organization dedicated to reform elections nationwide, explained how Westchester’s election commissioners do not emphasize voters’ priorities and run the risk of major problems having bought the hybrid voting machine Dominion ICE.
“That machine has a very specific security vulnerability in that it is able to print additional votes on the ballot after the voter casts it,” Friesdat said. “This is such an extraordinary risk that the New York State Board of Elections has now required that any jurisdiction using the Dominion ICE machine must reconcile the number of times the printer prints and the number of assisted voting sessions, which is the only time the machine is supposed to print.”
Friesdat said that the commissioners should be replaced by administrators who can focus on running an efficient and secure election, instead of two people that have direct conflicts of interest by leading their respective political parties.
Even though many voters brought up creative solutions, including a hotline for poll workers to answer questions in a timely manner, the public expressed how discouraged they were by the Board of Election’s handling of the primary. Lisa Best, a Mount Vernon poll worker, described how she felt when she received a card in the mail with an incorrect polling location.
“This is very disheartening and very concerning because if these kinds of things are happening in a primary, it is very, very worrisome for what may happen in November that will take away the fair voting process for the voters who worked very hard for their right to vote,” Best said.
The Board of Legislators is planning a meeting during the week of July 20 with Board of Elections commissioners and staff.