The NYCity News Service investigated tips as a partner in ProPublica’s nationwide Electionland project on problems at the polls on Nov. 3. Here’s a look at what we found in text, photos and audio, including a report from the scene of a confrontation at one Brooklyn site:
Early Issues in Bed-Stuy
Voting at PS 23 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn was delayed when the site ran into connectivity issues when the polls were to open at 6 a.m.
A caller to Electionland’s tip line said long lines formed when balloting was delayed by internet problems.
Although those issues appear to have been fixed and most voting was going smoothly by 10 a.m., the Willoughby Avenue site’s only assisted voting machine—designed to make voting accessible for the physically challenged—was still waiting for a replacement. This can present problems for voters requiring audio or visual assistance to cast their ballots.
Because of connectivity problems, the location only started taking votes at 6:20 a.m., Linda Bacon, the city Board of Elections on-site coordinator. With help from a board technician and the school, the connectivity issue—which was preventing poll workers from checking voters’ registrations—was solved.
But the location’s only ballot marking device (BMD) is out of order. BMDs help people with impairments hear or read the ballot and vote. Bacon says poll workers were waiting for a replacement but they haven’t been told when they will receive it. “I’m just a little stressed,” she said.
Bacon has been coordinating poll locations for almost every election since 2011. She says a major improvement this time is the addition of new poll-line workers. Six of them are working at PS 23 to help manage the process and keep lines to a minimum.
Most voters were not affected by the problems.
Gloria Ford, who came to vote with her family, said she “just walked right in!”
Rough Start in Crown Heights
Some voters were frustrated by scanners that weren’t working at a polling site this morning in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Colleen O’Connor arrived at at 8:15 a.m. and joined a small line of other voters. But she soon realized the site, which has only two scanners, was at a standstill.
“And they [poll workers] said that they had both scanners down since 6 a.m., since the polls opened,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor estimated she waited over an hour to vote, and that even by that time, just one of the machines was working.
“It’s frustrating just to wait in line, especially when there’s not even that many people,” O’Connor said. “But it got done.”
She added that she was more concerned for the many older voters who were waiting with her. “I feel worse for them,” O’Connor said.
Another voter, who preferred not to be identified, expressed a similar frustration.
“The machines should be working when you get here,” he said.
A Board of Elections official at the site said the issue, reported by a caller to Electionland, was resolved quickly, calling it “no big deal.”
Another board official said no voters were turned away, or left the line before being able to vote.
Voting appeared to progress smoothly after the scanner problems were resolved.
John Leh said he waited for over 45 minutes to vote, but that everything went smoothly, adding that all social distancing and other COVID-related guidelines were being followed.
“It was all up to code,” Leh said.
A Board of Elections spokesperson and City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who represents the district, have yet to respond to requests for comment.
Confusion in the Bronx
Some voters who had long cast their ballots at PS 062 in the Longwood section of the Bronx were told they had come to the wrong place today.
First-time poll worker Tony J. Villegas Jr., 23, who lives down the block and voted at the school on Fox Street, said he was confused when someone who lives nearby was one of several who were turned away.
Tony J. Villegas Jr., a poll worker working at PS 062, his elementary school.“He lives across the street and for this [site] not to be his district is absurd…” Villegas said. “Those who are told this is not their district and have to figure out where to do it, it’s insane. It’s crazy the amount of people who were told not to vote. It doesn’t make sense.”
Other voters who have lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years said they have always come to the school for Election Day. That made today’s confusion all the more surprising to Villegas.
“Him and I live not too far from the school…but he was not being allowed to vote here. Meanwhile, I am,” he said. “If I didn’t have the same problem why should he?”
The Board of Elections has yet to respond to a request for comment.
Villegas, who is a program coordinator for a nonproft, said he saw about half-dozen voters who were turned away and believes there might have been more. Others showed signed documents allowing them to vote at this polling site.
“Some people are voting elsewhere and are told to come here,” he said. “The same thing is happening here, where people are being told to go vote elsewhere. They live here and are being told to vote elsewhere.”
Poll workers said they witnessed the same issue play out with other voters.
Smaila Djofo, 40, was standing at an entrance to the school when was approached by a woman confused about her voting district who asked if she was at the correct site. Smaila said he sent her inside to speak with other poll workers, who ended up turning the woman away.
Marelly Quiles, 44, who works aide for the elderly, has been voting at PS 062 for about 12 years. She said the process was quick and she had no problem casting her ballot.
“I moved but I haven’t changed my address, so I came here because this is where my old address is at,” said Marelly.
In Hell’s Kitchen, the Wrong Address
Voters in Community District 4 on Manhattan’s West Side ran into problems when registration cards mailed by the Board of Elections gave them the wrong address for their polling place.
The address for the site within One River Place—a giant luxury-apartment complex overlooking the Hudson at 650 West 42nd St.—was given incorrectly on some cards as 459 West 41st St.
The address for the building’s back entrance, where voters were directed by building staff and poll workers to drop off ballots or vote in person, is 659 West 41st St.
That meant the address was off by one digit—459 instead of 659— when came to the building number. That translated to about a quarter-mile difference for voters who showed up at the wrong building and were redirected to the right site.
Leo, a Russian-born man who refused to give his full name, was one of the voters caught in the confusion.
“I have been circling around the building for about 30 minutes,” Leo said, before he found a poll worker named Keenan Fine, who was sent to the location by his supervisor to assist lost voters. Fine escorted Leo to the correct site.
“At least quite a few people figured it out, but there were some who got really confused,” Fine told the NYCity News Service.
MiMA apartments at 459 West 41st St., where voters were mistakingly sent, is about a 10-minute walk from the actual polling site.
MiMa resident Nina Scupp took it upon herself to give directions to confused voters.
“I had to escort an elderly woman who was confused and ready to give up,” said Scupp. “I have already redirected four or five misdirected voters in the matter of just 20 minutes.”
Scupp said that her brother, who lives in the west Bronx, had called her stating that he also received a card that had an incorrect address for his polling site’s location.
The Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment.
Listen to Holly DeMuth’s report on the disturbance at one Brooklyn polling site. Her story starts at 17:14 into the election edition of AudioFiles.
An Outburst in Park Slope
A man driving a truck festooned with pro-Trump signs and flags was caught on video shouting and cursing at voters and poll workers outside MS 88 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, this morning.
Poll workers said his behavior was frightening and appeared to violate laws about electioneering too close to polling sites. But police said the man—identified as Eric Nocera, a Brooklyn auto-body shop owner, by the New York Post—did not violate the law.
The man stayed in the area for around 30 to 45 minutes, poll worker Hilary Shepherd told the NYCity News Service.
“It just escalated really quickly,” she said, calling the situation “a totally unhinged episode.” The man arrived with his adult son and parked outside the school while the son went inside to vote.
Nocera told the Post that some people who saw his vehicle “got very upset,” cursing as they told him he “needed to be more than 100 feet away from the school, which we were.”
Shepherd said that poll workers called police, and officers showed up 10 or 15 minutes later. But the police didn’t prevent the man from lingering outside.
“It was a bit scary, but especially when the cops are acting very lax about it,” said Shepherd, who added that officers did talk to the man in trying to deescalate the situation but didn’t make him leave. He eventually left on his own.
Hear this Trump supporter threatening physical violence. He’s been here for 50 minutes. @nypd said they are aware of the threats and “that is why we’re here.” Threats at polling sites at ok, as long as it’s 100 feet away from polling site entrance? @BOENYC @bradlander pic.twitter.com/Qxk7SgJWtS
— Kathy Park Price 박지혜 (@KathyParkPrice) November 3, 2020
New York law prohibits electioneering within 100 feet of a polling site entrance. According to the city’s Board of Elections website, electioneering includes distributing, wearing, or carrying political literature, posters, banners, or buttons. Shepherd, along with poll worker Marie Edesess, contended that the man was closer than 100 feet to the site.
Edesess said she asked the man to move because he was displaying political signs so close to the entrance. She said he refused, profanely asserting his right to be there.
“He was incredibly bombastic and angry,” said Edesess. “He challenged people to come and say something to him.” She added that he threatened to put people in the hospital if they stepped over and spoke to him.
“It’s not just threatening, it’s threatening someone in front of a poll site,” Edesess said.
Today, we responded to a polling site at 544 7th Ave in Brooklyn for a dispute.
A vehicle supporting one candidate was reported to be within 100 feet of the location. Upon investigation, the vehicle was an appropriate distance away. There was no interference with voting. pic.twitter.com/0YCzRJS2te
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) November 3, 2020
The NYPD said the vehicle was found to be an acceptable distance away, and that there was no interference with voting. When questioned about the situation later at a news conference , Chief of Department Terence Monahan said that officers had handled the altercation appropriately, and that it was considered a closed case.
Shepherd said that police should have intervened to stop the man from standing so close to the entrance and shouting at people. Still, while the man’s behavior was unsettling, she didn’t think he frightened any voters away.
“I think it caused a stir,” she said. “If anything, it just amplifies this divisive culture we have right now.”