ALBANY — Election Day problems on Tuesday included some reports related to New York’s first year of early voting and another that drew criticism over a poll worker who wore a “Make America Great Again” shirt in Suffolk County, according to state and local officials on Wednesday.
On Long Island and statewide including New York City, some poll workers asked voters to show identification, although under state law voters aren’t required to routinely show any identification in order to vote.
“The reasons we have heard for asking for these is to scan in the new e-poll books,” said Laura Ladd Bierman, executive director of the state League of Women Voters. One of the reports was from a Patchogue polling place.
The electronic tablets connected to the internet are new this year under the early voting law that allowed voters to cast ballots up to nine days before Election Day. The tablets are designed to make sure voters don’t vote more than once.
“The new e-poll books have the technology to scan state IDs to look up voters faster than looking someone up by their name,” Bierman said. “Even though they have the technology, poll workers are not supposed to be asking voters for IDs to use it. We think training on the e-poll books needs to be expanded for 2020.”
“There was a little bit of growing pains for poll inspectors who had never experienced that technology before,” said Nicholas LaLota, Suffolk County’s Republican elections commissioner. “It took a couple of hours and tutelage by other workers who had been doing early voting to get up to speed. But ultimately it was pretty seamless.”
In Brooklyn, some voters were asked to show the postcards sent by the New York City Board of Elections verifying that they were registered to vote, but if they didn’t have them, the voters were still allowed to cast ballots, according to the state League of Women Voters.
Under state election law, a voter needs only to say their name and address. The poll worker then checks the registration list. A voter can only be asked for identification if the voter failed to provide some data when previously registering to vote.
In Huntington Station and in West Babylon, at least two voters said they were told they’d voted early when they said they hadn’t, according to elections officials. The voters should have been given an affidavit ballot to complete at the polling place which could be verified after Election Day, said LaLota.
The Suffolk County Board of Elections received dozens of reports of problems at the polls, including machines and scanners getting jammed.
In addition, some polling places upstate reported problems in connecting their electronic tablets to a secure internet service, although provisions were made so that voters were able to cast ballots, according to the state Attorney General’s Office, which staffed a hotline for reports of voting problems.
One of the issues made a splash in social media. Some voters complained that a poll worker in Remsenburg wore a blue shirt with the slogan “Make America Great Again” emblazoned on the front. State law prohibits “electioneering” within 100 feet of a polling place, but the shirt didn’t mention a candidate or the slogan’s promoter, Republican President Donald Trump.
“I did get some calls on that and I got some emails about that as well,” LaLota said. He said the slogan didn’t seem to violate the law against electioneering for a candidate.
“I would say that whatever the slogan is, whether it’s left or right, that people show a little more tolerance,” LaLota said. “There is no rule to enforce to make this 77-year-old gentleman remove his shirt.”
Anita Katz, Democratic elections commissioner in Suffolk County, acknowledges wearing the slogan wasn’t illegal, but she said it made many voters uncomfortable.
“It’s not a professional environment,” she said. “I got many, many phone calls. It made people feel uncomfortable. I feel our job at the Board of Elections is to make it as easy as it can be for voters and make it a welcoming atmosphere. He knew it was making people uncomfortable.”