Election Protection, a non-partisan coalition that protects voters’ rights, is accepting calls until 9:30 p.m. tonight from people with questions or problems relating to voting in the state’s primary today. The hotline number is 866-OUR-VOTE, and assistance is available in English and Spanish. Legal volunteers for the group are monitoring poll sites in all New York City boroughs today and conducting surveys of voters’ experiences with the new voting system. (We’d appreciate hearing on the blog, too, if you’re having any problems!)
This is the first election in which all New York voters will use the state’s new system of paper ballots and optical scanners, rather than the mechanical-lever machines the state used for many decades. People with disabilities and any other voters also have the option of using a ballot-marking device to fill out their ballot, rather than doing it manually. Dozens of counties piloted the system last year — either countywide or in some polling places — but Westchester and Rockland counties and New York City were not among them.
Election Protection is particularly concerned about the paper ballots allowing people to “overvote.” Unlike lever machines, which prevented voters from choosing too many candidates, there is nothing to stop them from filling in too many ovals or squares on a paper ballot. The optical scanners detect this problem and give voters the option of getting their ballots returned and filling out new ones, or casting their votes anyway. Voting-rights advocates think the use of the term “overvote” is confusing and that people who receive this message may decide to cast their ballot anyway. Doing so means their votes in contests in which they overvoted will not count.
“There is often an increase in problems and confusion at polling places any time a jurisdiction implements a new voting system for the first time,” Eric Marshall, manager of legal mobilization at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, these types of problems could be compounded on September 14 by the lack of overvote protection and lead to the disenfranchisement of countless New Yorkers. Election Protection is ready to do its part to ensure traditionally disenfranchised voters are able to fully participate in Tuesday’s primaries,” Marshall continued.
The toll-free hotline is open to the entire voting public but targets historically disenfranchised communities, including blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, senior citizens, young people, low-income voters and people with disabilities.
Election Protection is a nationwide voter-protection program that had more than 10,000 legal volunteers helping voters, poll workers and election officials in 25 states two years ago.