November 15, 2013

Did your vote count?

Last week, we heard reports of all sorts of troubles at the polls, including those of people who had trouble deciphering the ballots, others whose ballots were rejected for unknown reasons, and many who felt their privacy and right to a secret ballot were compromised. Still others reported receiving incorrect or misleading advice from election inspectors who had been improperly trained, were overworked, or both.

In Pound Ridge, machines in District 1, the town’s largest voting district, suffered a glitch and failed to report the votes registered on the Independence and Conservative party lines. As of Tuesday — a week after the election — town clerk Joanne Pace said she had yet to learn why from the county’s board of elections. Bedford clerk Boo Fumagalli, who won her own re-election campaign, reported “nonstop” voting complaints. Among them were snoozing election workers, privacy compromises and incorrect or inadequate instructions. When problems arose, inspectors should have contacted the Westchester County Board of Elections but failed to do so.

“This is not new, it’s since we’ve started with these machines,” Ms. Fumagalli said in an interview last week. “The ballot doesn’t even fit. We had people down on the floor, people sitting at tables. We had election inspectors who were literally voting for the people.”

One inspector fell asleep in his car — after the polls had closed but before delivering the ballots to the town house — delaying the results by an hour, she said. Some voters missed turning over the ballot for the proposition votes altogether, while others expressed confusion over its layout and design. She added that some voters were frustrated by the small, hard-to-read print on the ballot, which took up only about a third of the space and left the rest blank.

In one case, the clerk asked a polling worker about a voter who said she was unable to vote for the candidates of her choice. “Oh, you mean the woman who wanted to vote for A, B and C?” the poll worker casually replied, showing an uncanny familiarity with the voter’s choices.

A letter from a Pound Ridge resident in this week’s paper presents an excellent point that the ballot was not easily (if at all) available prior to the election, so voters had little or no chance to familiarize themselves with its format. In a year with multiple races, including unfamiliar county judgeships and ballot propositions, a clear ballot presentation was mandatory. Even the helpful League of Women Voters 2013 voters guide and its accompanying website failed to present a replica of the ballot for voters to review.

Westchester County uses an ImageCast Optical Scan ballot voting machine, which allows the user to vote on a paper ballot privately and independently. A voter marks their selections, then insert the ballot into a scanner. The machine reads the ballot and stores it internally. After the polls close, the machine prints a tape displaying the number of votes, and the tabulated results, of all the votes cast on that machine.

The computerized machine, in use in Westchester since 2010, was introduced to comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002 aimed at providing more accurate recounts in contested elections, especially after the debacle of the 2000 Florida election recount.

Ever since its launch, there have been problems.

We would have expected some improvements since the machine’s initiation in 2010, at which time voters described paper jams, ink from markers bleeding through on the ballots, “human errors” and other glitches. This year New York City voters witnessed massive machine breakdowns. In Brooklyn, 70 machines at 21 poll sites were inoperable, many of them improperly programmed, according to the city’s board of elections. Many of the computerized scanners failed to boot up at all.

According to Ms. Fumagalli, who, along with the Westchester County Clerks Association, reported her experiences to the board of elections, this is one of those issues for which remedies are often promised. The county’s board of elections commissioners are locked in a tug of war over party politics. Perhaps typically, as we were researching this article, the state’s board of elections web page,, returned this result: “PAGE NOT FOUND.”

It is unlikely that any of the above complaints would have affected the results of our local elections this year. But in a close race in a small town in which a key vote literally can be decided by a handful of ballots, such issues are simply unacceptable. Board of elections representatives, polling workers and government officials must be held accountable when it comes to securing our right to vote and our right to privacy while doing so.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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Pound Ridge/Scotts Corners

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Bedford Village

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  2. Bueti’s Deli – 526 Bedford Road (Route 117)


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Mount Kisco

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Cross River

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  3. Cameron’s Deli –  890 Route 35    

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