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9/11/01: Primary elections called to a halt

New York's citywide primary was called off five hours after the polls opened, and voting also was halted throughout the state following yesterday's World Trade Center attack.

"There will be no primary today, and we'll reschedule it once we get through this," said Gov. George Pataki, who issued a statewide directive closing polls about noon. No date was set for a new election.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said he and Pataki had jointly decided to end voting.

The executive director of New York City's elections operations, Danny DeFrancesco, predicted that the election would probably have to be completely redone, with those votes cast in the morning voided.

Elections experts also said yesterday's cancellation would very likely require that the entire elections calendar for the year be rewritten, forcing a delay in the general election now scheduled for Nov. 6.

"The Legislature is going to have to meet and pass a special bill dealing with all this," said Jerome Koenig, a Manhattan elections consultant and former chief of staff for the Assembly elections law committee.

State Sen. Martin Connor (D-Brooklyn), the Senate minority leader, said discussions would probably begin tomorrow or Friday on rescheduling the primary. "You know we'll have to reschedule it, but we're talking about a tragedy of monumental proportions," Connor said.

It was apparently the first time a statewide election had been halted after it started, but not the first time a city primary had been delayed.

A New York City primary scheduled for Sept. 10, 1981, was postponed for 12 days after the Justice Department raised questions about the fairness of City Council redistricting.

Poll sites throughout the city opened at 6 a.m. yesterday and had been open for nearly three hours when the first plane hit the World Trade Center shortly before 9 a.m.

Police manning poll sites were redirected and dispatched to lower Manhattan for the disaster, and by 10 a.m., the New York City Board of Elections was discussing canceling the election.

The city petitioned Queens Supreme Court Justice Steven Fisher about an hour later, and Fisher granted a request postponing New York City's election.

With communications disrupted, elections workers at various poll sites responded differently. Some closed down machines and tallied the votes, Koenig said. Others, particularly in lower Manhattan, may have hastily left their machines, according to Board of Elections attorney Steve Richman.

There were six polling sites at the World Finance Center, near the World Trade Center, as well as others scattered throughout the financial district.

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