Primary 2010|Machine Politics

As if getting New Yorkers to the polls on Primary Day wasn’t difficult enough, the city’s new voting machines may make it harder. Although New York managed to hold on to its lever machines longer than any other state in the country, tomorrow’s primaries will mark the debut of the controversial modernized system.

DSC_0025Alexandra DiPalma Janet Virgil and Jacquie Tellalian on First Avenue.

“I read all about the new machines and have seen the commercials, but I still don’t really get it,” said Jacquie Tellalian, 56 of Midtown, who was strolling on St. Marks Place recently. “They look like a nightmare from hell. It’s like, isn’t there an easier way?”

Rather than simply pulling a red lever, voters use pens to mark bubbles on paper ballots. These ballots are then fed through an optical scanner.

On Aug. 31, the city Board of Elections launched a campaign intended to familiarize voters with the new process, which replaces the machines that have been used since the 1960s.

The campaign, dubbed “It’s a New Day, Vote the New Way,” has included ads that appear on buses, subways, radio, TV, online and in daily newspapers throughout the five boroughs. The Board has also been holding public demonstrations to show voters how to use the paper ballot.

Still, many New Yorkers seem to be completely unaware of what they will be facing at the polls on Tuesday.

DSC_0022Alexandra DiPalma Jason Solarek in front of Change of Season on East Ninth Street.

“I read The Times, Journal and Daily News every day and still haven’t seen anything about the new machines,” said Jason Solarek, 35, who lives in the East Village.

Of those who do know about the new voting procedure, many still feel as though they’re unprepared.

“I know that there will be new machines this year, but I don’t think I know enough,” said Clinton Curtis, 38, owner of Change of Season, a shop in the East Village. “Plus, who has time to go to a demonstration on how to vote?”

The new machines are a result of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. Passed by Congress after the infamous “hanging chad” ballot count in the 2000 presidential election, the act required states to upgrade several parts of the voting system to prevent inaccuracies.

After years of delaying the transition, New York State was sued by the United States Department of Justice in 2006 the federal Justice Department filed a lawsuit against New York State in 2006, alleging violations of HAVA.

DSC_0019Alexandra DiPalma Clinton Curtis in front of his shop, Change of Season.

Teams of poll workers will be available to help voters on Primary Day, elections officials say. A magnifying sheet will be provided to enlarge print on the ballot, in addition to ballot marking devices which support voters who are reading impaired, visually impaired or disabled.

The promise of resources at the polls has made voters like Janet Virgil, 50, of Kips Bay, who was spending time in the East Village recently, more comfortable. Still, she’ll miss the old-fashioned lever machines of the past.

“I’m sure the new machines will be fine,” she said. “I just like the click, click bing.”

Early morning voters: Let us know what you think of the new voting machines — and pass on any tips or warnings to your neighbors.