Rockland County Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Louis Babcock appeared before the county legislature’s Multi-Services Committee on Tuesday night to answer their questions about claims of voter disenfranchisement and poll worker training. Legislator Alden Wolfe told Babcock he received a complaint from a friend about one polling place that had a television with the FOX News channel on and when he asked the workers to turn it off, they refused saying it was informational. Wolfe received reports of surly poll workers and language barriers. Legislator Jay Hood, who voted in Haverstraw, said he witnessed a couple in front of him having difficulties voting and the wife being asked for identification.
Wolfe said he heard stories, “Some of which to me touch on the very important issues of potential disenfranchisement, denial of the right to vote for people who were lawfully entitled to do so. That was my purpose in initiating this.”
Hood brought up other concerns and said Haverstraw needs a poll worker who can speak Spanish fluently and translate. He said candidates were approaching voters in the parking lot and people felt like they were being accosted.
Babcock acknowledged Election Day problems were not limited to voter issues. He told the legislators about two incidents involving two poll workers in Nyack and one in Orangetown. Babcock said someone called in complaining that several workers at the Depew Avenue polling location were drunk and that one had fallen asleep at the voting machine. A coordinator went to check the site in Nyack and reported to the Sheriff’s Department she had been physically threatened and verbally abused. The workers were fired and arrested.
Orangetown Police called Babcock to tell him a poll worker had been arrested after approaching female voters and then following them home. Babcock said that worker was also fired.
The issue of voter disenfranchisement was a major concern. Joseph Coe spoke about possible discrimination of voters in the county.
“This isn’t a Democratic issue or a Republican issue,” he said. “This is an issue about preserving our democracy.”
He described a situation he saw in Pomona that he got involved in because the woman was not being allowed to vote. Coe said he spoke to the poll workers and asked for the woman to receive an affidavit ballot. They told him she had to get a judge’s order. At that point he asked Democratic Committee Chair Kristen Stavisky to intervene and find out if the woman who was a new citizen, was registered to vote. Coe said it turned out that she was.
Babcock said people could have difficulties voting because they go to the wrong election district. He said they should check their home address with the greeter to make sure they know the correct district. He said if they are not listed they receive an affidavit and the board of elections determines if they are registered voters.
Legislator Aron Wieder said people should be given affidavit ballots automatically they should not be challenged. Babcock said there could be anomalies with how names are written and an extra space could be added. He gave the example of McElroy being listed with an extra space so it appears as Mc Elroy.
He said the only time people should be asked for identification is if it is noted that they did not provide their social security number or driver’s license number on their application. Babcock stressed people can only be asked for ID the first time they vote.
Babcock said Gov. Cuomo’s Executive Order allowing registered voters to cast their ballots anywhere in the state caused confusion. Cuomo issued the order in the wake of Hurricane Sandy so displaced residents could still vote using an affidavit.
In Rockland approximately 115,000 people voted at the polls. The Board of Elections received 7,000 absentee ballots, affidavits and court orders. Babcock said the results were complete by 11:45 p.m. but there had been problems because of the number of people trying to check the website for updates.
Babcock said poll workers go through three hours of training that includes a video, demonstration of how the polling machine works and a test. Of the 1,300 people were hired as poll workers, 231 called in a day or two before the election to say they would not be able to work. He said they work a 16-hour day, cannot leave for lunch and earn $8.29 an hour.