New York's first primary day using new voting machines brought scattered reports of balloting problems across Long Island Tuesday - though not as widespread as New York City voters faced - and delays in counting votes in Nassau County, election officials said.
The state's old machines, with their trademark levers, were replaced for the first time in more than 80 years with paper ballots filled out with a pen and fed into an optical scanner. The change made New York the last state in the nation to comply with a 2002 federal law, and Tuesday's primary was seen as a key test.
Results in Nassau came in slowly last night as poll workers reported widespread problems printing election results from the new machines, Democratic Party election commissioner William Biamonte said. In dozens of phone calls after polls closed at 9 p.m., technicians at election headquarters in Mineola took poll workers through step-by-step troubleshooting techniques.
By 10:30 p.m., hundreds of red cloth envelopes filled with results were arriving, creating a backlog as workers scrambled to scan and count them.
An "extremely light turnout," Biamonte said, helped prevent minor problems from snowballing. "If we would have had a record high turnout, we would have had a record number of problems," Biamonte said.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli called the problems "disturbing" and vowed to investigate. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the problems are "a royal screw-up - and it's completely unacceptable," according to the AP. Nassau's voting machines are the same as those used in the city. Suffolk's machines are produced by a different company.
Long Island voters worried their votes were not counted.
Jean Schwartz, 62, a retired teacher from Syosset, said a poll worker tore her paper ballot slightly. The machine declared her ballot invalid but would not give it back, she said. Workers assured her the votes would be counted, but she wasn't so sure.
"I've never had a problem voting in 50 years until now," she said.
Frank Perino of Islip, who is legally blind, said a ballot machine for disabled voters - required at all polls - did not work at Windham School.
Ivan Young, an assistant Suffolk election commissioner, said the machine was working properly, but Perino said he waited almost two hours as workers tried in vain to fix it.
After declining for privacy reasons an offer from workers to fill out his ballot, he came back later to find the machine had been fixed. So he voted.
Election officials and experts said the problems could be fixed before November. "This enables us to work out most of the kinks now to have a smoother November," said Jerry Goldfeder, a Fordham University election law professor.
With Nomaan Merchant and Mitchell Freedman