After nearly a century of casting ballots on lever machines, hundreds of thousands of Long Island voters Tuesday used optical-scan voting technology for the first time, and some raised privacy concerns.
For much of the day at the Pulaski Road School in East Northport, many voters said they were not given privacy sleeves to cover their marked ballots.
The Suffolk Board of Elections said the site was well-equipped with privacy sleeves and the staff would be reinstructed on proper voting methods "if they have not been giving the privacy sleeves to voters," said Assistant Commissioner Ivan Young.
Edith Fried, 89, said the new ballots were hard to read and she missed the curtained experience of the old system.
"I like it where you go in and do it secretly," she said. "I don't like that you're standing there in the open." But she said she had plenty of privacy to cast her vote, even without a sleeve.
Kim Kleppel, 75, and her husband, Noel, went to vote at Lawrence Middle School around 1 p.m. and had concerns regarding privacy. She said they were given legal folders and not privacy sleeves and that "you could not put your ballot into the scanner without removing it from the privacy sleeve.
"Obviously, this is not a secret ballot," she said.
"I made a big fuss."
Not all voters had concerns about privacy.
At Birchwood Intermediate School in Melville, Claire Hartley said she saw a folder sitting on a table inside a booth, but she was not given one by a poll staffer, nor was she instructed on how to use it.
Hartley, 50, of South Huntington, said she wasn't concerned about anyone seeing her ballot and did not use the sleeve.
Ellen Brafman said she did not get a privacy sleeve and she, too, did not care about her ballot's secrecy. "I was fine," said Brafman, 53, a sales rep from South Huntington. "I didn't think it was difficult."
No one told her about a privacy screen, but she saw no need for one. "You just turn it [the ballot] upside down," she said.
The marking desks were set up with the open back facing a wall, making it difficult for anyone to walk behind a voter marking a ballot.
George and Florence Schoenberg of Baiting Hollow said they saw no need for a privacy screen.
"I didn't look for one," she said, adding that the desks that voters used to fill in the ballots were "pretty well concealed."
On the suggestion of the poll worker aiding her, Karen Calandra simply flipped her ballot over to hide her vote, she said.
"The gentleman told me to flip it over because he wasn't interested in who I voted for," said Calandra, 42, of Huntington Station. While she wasn't concerned about the privacy sleeve, she was worried about challenges to the election outcomes based on ballot problems. "I keep thinking of Al Gore, so I hope there won't be any issues attached to this," she said.
Calandra also noted she wasn't allowed to feed her ballot into the scanner by herself - a poll worker did it for her.
Nassau County Democratic election Commissioner William Biamonte had a message for first-timers: "Be patient, don't be intimidated, ask questions."
Biamonte said Tuesday morning there were about two dozen mechanical issues and technicians were sent to swap out about five to six machines.
One problem was ballot jams, in which the metal bars that guide the paper into the ballot box had to be readjusted.
"Suffolk County Board of Elections inspector Peter Thaw said there had been a lot of grumbling, but people were getting used to the paper ballots. He said voters could redo their ballots three times if they made a mistake - the most common one being picking two choices for one race.
"You over-voted," Thaw told a voter at Rocky Point High School as they stood at the ballot reader together. "You can cast this ballot, or you can do it again."
"I have to fill in all those circles again?" the man said.
"Or you can turn in this one, but the ones you over-voted for won't count," Thaw said. "I'm not telling you to do that, but it's one option."
The new technology - which scans and reads a ballot voters mark by hand - made its New York debut on primary day, Sept. 14. The switch made the state the last to comply with a 2002 federal law that revamped voting protocols after the Florida recount fiasco a decade ago.
Election officials have been preparing for the test and want to avoid the glitches of primary day, when some scanners didn't work and results were slow in Nassau.
Judie Gorenstein, voter service chairwoman of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, said that during the primary, voters, especially older ones, found the small type on the crowded ballot difficult. Tuesday, magnifying aids were available at polling places, officials said.
Gorenstein said feeding paper ballots into scanners has one great advantage over the old lever machines.
"New Yorkers can be sure that if there has to be a recount," Gorenstein said, "their actual votes can be counted."
With Mitchell Freedman and TC McCarthy