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Elections officials say disabled voters will have access to electronic devices at each poll site this year so that they can submit paper ballots for the September primary, even though inaccessible lever voting machines are being brought back.

A spokeswoman for the city's Board of Elections said in a statement today that ballot marking devices would allow "all voters, including voters with disabilities, to vote privately and independently at their poll site" on Election Day.

The Gotham Gazette reported yesterday that the BOE could face legal action from advocates for the disabled over its plan to bring back lever voting machines.

James Weisman, senior vice president and senior counsel at the United Spinal Association, told the Gotham Gazette that his organization was considering taking legal steps to stop the BOE from using the machines.

He said disabled voters would face physical challenges to using the lever voting machines.

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UPDATED: Board of Elections Says Disabled Voters Will Get Help-at Polls

The Board of Elections is bracing for any potential lawsuits over its plan to bring back lever voting machines for the primary and possible runoff.

The BOE's commissioners voted to pass a revised resolution on the plan for the lever voting machines at a public meeting today, with Board President Frederic M. Umane saying that new language would be "helpful" in case the agency got sued over the plan.

"It's been suggested that there could be litigation over this and it might be helpful to lay out and delineate, to a greater extent than what we did last week, some of the concerns and reasons why we want to be using the lever machines and not the optical scanners," Umane said earlier today before the commissioners voted to approve.

Civil rights and good government groups have criticized the plan for bringing back the lever voting machines. The BOE has said that the optical voting machines are too unwieldy to use for the mayoral primary this year or for the runoff.

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A lack of cooperation appears to be stalling an investigation — before it even begins — into allegations of possible waste and abuse at the city's Board of Elections.

An attorney for the BOE said at a hearing of the agency's commissioners that he and another attorney had refused a request for full access to employees by the Department of Investigation, which is spearheading the investigation.

Asking that DOI send any future requests in writing, BOE attorney Steve Richman also told the commissioners that his legal team criticized what they considered the possible political motivations behind the investigation.

They told the DOI representatives during a closed-door meeting that "it is beyond dispute that the mayor is not a fan of the board," BOE attorney Steve Richman told the commissioners. The legal team also pointed to a recent DOI report on the agency's handling of the 2011 election, which they said was "unfair, biased and did not tell the complete story."

"I agreed that if that report is any indication of how the board would be treated in the future by DOI, the board’s concerns are entirely justified," Richman said at the BOE meeting on July 9.

The DOI would not confirm Richman's account.

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Members of the City Council have called for an overhaul of how the Board of Elections administers elections following the chaos at the polls seen this past November during the general election.

The Council announced the following recommendations during a committee hearing today on the BOE's performance during the election, which was complicated by Superstorm Sandy:

  • Early voting at poll sites
  • Easier access to absentee ballots
  • End the use of voter cards
  • Begin using electronic poll books
  • Better training for poll workers
  • More oversight of poll workers
  • Split shifts for poll workers
  • Larger polling locations
  • Hire an executive editor for the Board
  • Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act

Here is Speaker Christine Quinn's statement, sent by the Council's press office:

The New York City Board of Elections must take responsibility for systemic problems and fix them immediately. Poorly trained poll workers and chaotic polling place procedures have been recurring issues, election after election. Implementing the reforms we are announcing today is a step towards bringing about the change voters expect and deserve.

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Yesterday’s election saw long lines, jammed ballot scanners and shortages of affidavit ballots. Few voters used shuttle buses to get to substitute polling sites. Scanners were broken at polling sites in Gramercy Park and Park Slope. Two of three emergency sites in Coney Island opened over two hours late. Some poll workers at sites had no idea that people could vote using affidavit ballots, and the city printed up only 250 per election district. According to unofficial results, the state Senate is now tied, but thousands of absentee ballots still need to be counted in very close races. Even if the Democrats win a majority, a number of Democrats say they'll back Republican leadership. Meanwhile, embattled Assemblyman Vito Lopez won re-election with 89 percent of the vote despite the scandal swirling around him.

In the Press...

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued an executive order allowing voters displaced by Hurricane Sandy to vote at any polling place in the state.

Voters from the five boroughs can fill out an affidavit ballot at any polling place in the state and the local Board of Elections will then mail their ballots to the correct county.

However, ballots will only be available for local elections, so voters who are displaced out of their Senate or Assembly districts will only be able to vote for the statewide races.

"We want everyone to vote. Just because you're displaced doesn't mean you should be disenfranchised," Cuomo said at a press conference this evening.

The move could drive down turnout in lower-ballot races. The contest between Sen. Joe Addabbo and Councilman Eric Ulrich in Queens could be severely impacted.

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Between 20,000 and 40,000 were left homeless in the city by Sandy. About half of those are public-housing residents. The 115,000 people in the Rockaways remain without power, as do thousands more in Red Hook and Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn, and New Dorp Beach on Staten Island. A cold snap is making this particularly problematic. Also, a nor’easter with 35-45mph sustained winds is likely to hit on Wednesday night, possibly bringing moderate flooding in areas already impacted by extreme flooding from Sandy.

Although the majority of the subway system is reopened, rail switch and signal failures will continue. It could also take several months to restore the A train to the Rockaways.

Fifty-nine polling places will be affected, and Mayor Bloomberg expresses little confidence the Board of Elections will manage it very well. The board still hasn't appointed an executive director and their Manhattan headquarters had no power all week. Those who can't get to their polling places may to go to the Board of Election's borough offices and vote until 5 p.m. today.

The city had been inundated with people dropping off goods, so officials and other groups are suggesting they give money, and possibly coats, instead. Dozens of buildings near the water’s edge, especially in the financial district, are weeks or months away from reopening. The fuel shortage could last for several more days. Currently 27 percent of gas stations in the area are empty. Major crime dropped significantly in the storm's wake, but burglaries saw a 3 percent increase. Generators, heaters, and other supplies for the canceled marathon remained unused in Central Park. More than 100 New York City public schools will remain closed today.

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A number of New York state GOP lawmakers have been promoting their ties to Gov. Cuomo as election day draws near, including the second-highest-ranking Republican in Albany, Sen. Thomas Libous. The governor is popular with voters from both parties. Many mailings featuring Cuomo's image don't mention the party affiliations of the candidate or the governor. The City Council is holding an oversight hearing today to make sure the city's Board of Elections is ready for the November voting. Meanwhile, candidates for city office are left struggling to plan for the 2013 primaries as the state decides whether to move primary day up to June from September for New York races. Congressional and presidential primaries were already moved to June.

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