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The Daily Need

Learning to vote all over again

At the Open Door Senior Center in Manhattan, voters learned the paper ballot method. Photo: Nicole Kenney

New York City has new voting machines. Voters, long accustomed to the 1960s mechanical booths — which made a satisfying thunk as votes were cast — were suddenly confronting shiny new optical scanners and paper ballots on Primary Day in September.

But this transition was far from seamless. Many locations opened hours late, poll workers didn’t know how to use the scanners and there were some ballot irregularities. Last week, likely in response to this debacle, the executive director of New York City’s Board of Elections was fired.

Ever since, the Board of Elections has embarked on an outreach program, demonstrating the new equipment to nearly 530 senior centers, churches and community groups across the city.

Lining up to use the new machines. Photo: Nicole Kenney

One such lesson in new voting techniques was held at the Open Door Senior Center in Manhattan’s Chinatown. With ballots printed in English and Chinese, reps from the board held mock elections for favorite ice cream flavors, best household pets and best pizza toppings to test out the new voting machines.

When voting for best household pet, for example, “dog” could be found under party lines A or B, while “cat” could be selected on C or D, just like candidates who run for more than one party.

Photo: Nicole Kenney

After pencils were handed out and ovals filled in, voters lined up to scan their votes. Each person slid the paper in and waited five seconds to see if the vote was accepted. Most went in without a hitch. But some people accidentally voted twice in one category. Some had crinkly ballots. They had to smooth out the paper, like smoothing out a dollar before putting it in a vending machine, and slide it in again.

By performing these careful rehearsals, the board is hoping to prevent massive Election Day snafus. They’re also reaching out to local colleges and universities to recruit a younger generation of poll watchers: people who grew up playing video games on touch screens.


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