Two Reports By Good Government Groups
Find City Voters Faced Major Problems in Last Year's Presidential Election

Broken Machines, Chaotic Sites, and Poll Worker Problems Greeted City Voters

Two of the city's leading civic groups released separate reports today that detailed major problems at city poll sites during last year's Presidential Election.  The groups, Citizens Union Foundation and the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), pointed to their findings as validating what many civic organizations and voters have been saying for years about problems faced by voters on Election Day.

"Too many voters face too many problems at the polls on Election Day," said Neal Rosenstein of NYPIRG.  "We found poorly trained poll workers, broken machines and major problems across the city that threaten to continue to burden and disenfranchise voters," he added.

Major findings of the NYPIRG report included:

• Forty five percent of Poll Site Coordinators failed to correctly answer questions on new ID requirements required of many voters, and six percent of voters surveyed reported that they were unjustly asked to produce identification at the polls on November 2nd.

• A Voter Agony Index found 13% of voters surveyed experienced an 'agonizing' problem at the polls such as a broken machine or chaotic poll site.  Manhattan fared worst on the Agony Index with 19% of voters reporting a major problem.  Staten Island and Queens fared best at 7%.

"There is a troubling lack of well-trained poll workers working each Election Day, because many of them are selected and protected within the political patronage system" said Doug Israel, Public Policy Director of Citizens Union Foundation and lead author of its report. "Moving into the age of new voting machines required under HAVA, it will be all the more important to ensure that poll workers are better equipped to assist voters," said Israel.

Major findings of the Citizens Union Foundation report included:
• 23% of poll workers who responded reported broken machines at their site
• 23% reported sites with missing Poll Inspectors and 26% reported inattentive poll workers.
• 20% of respondents indicated their poll site was not completely set up as polls opened at 6:00 am.

Both organizations released sets of detailed suggestions to improve Election Day operations, many of which they say can still be implemented in time for this year's municipal elections.  The reports are available online at www.citizensunionfoundation.org and www.nypirg.org.  One page summaries of each report are included with this release.


Report From the Polls III

For the third time in four years, civic groups mounted a massive Election Day survey to gauge how voters were treated in New York City.  The survey was directed by the New York Public Interest Research Group, (NYPIRG).  Surveyors, who were assigned to 174 randomly selected Election Districts across the city had two primary tasks:

* Ask 10 voters leaving each polling site to complete a questionnaire about their voting experience; and
* Ask the Board of Elections' "Poll Site Coordinator" at their site a simple three-part question concerning voting rights and the new identification requirements required of certain first-time voters.

 We found troubling results at poll sites across the city that confirm what New Yorkers and the civic community have been saying for years ? too many voters face too many problems on Election Day.  Major report findings are highlighted below.  Recommendations can be found in the main report.

 In all, 1740 voters were surveyed about their election experiences at approximately 12% of the city's poll sites.  Additionally, at 161 of the sites, Poll Site Coordinators answered our survey questions regarding new voter ID requirements.  This sample also represents a significant fraction ? 12% ? of the city's 1,335 Poll Site Coordinators.

NYPIRG: Report From the Polls, Survey Highlights

* Our Voter Agony Index found that 13% of voters surveyed experienced an 'agonizing' problem at the polls such as a broken machine or chaotic poll site.  In our survey, Manhattan fared worst on the Agony Index with 19% of voters reporting a major problem.  Staten Island and Queens fared best at 7%.

* Forty five percent of Board of Elections' Poll Site Coordinators surveyed failed to correctly answer questions about new identification requirements required of certain voters.

* Six percent of voters surveyed were unjustly asked to produce identification at the polls on November 2nd.

* Five percent of voters surveyed relayed to surveyors that, while properly registered, they did not find their name in the poll books on November 2nd.

* Nearly half of all voters surveyed (48.6%) reported that Board of Elections workers failed to ask if they needed help in operating the voting machine, in violation of Board policy.

* While 93% of voters surveyed described their poll sites as either "calm and quiet" or "busy & orderly," 7% of voters described their polling sites as either "confusing" or "chaotic."

* Poll workers did a good job distributing paper (Affidavit) ballots to voters.  Virtually all voters surveyed were offered this option if problems arose with their registrations.


After the 2004 general election, Citizens Union Foundation (CUF) mailed surveys to all of the 1,584 poll worker applicants who we recruited to assess their experience both as applicants and then as poll workers. A summary of the responses from the 261 returned surveys shows the following:

ί Poll workers reported the following problems at their polling stations:
* broken machines (23%)
* missing inspectors (23%)
* inattentive poll workers (26%)
ί 20% of respondents indicated that their poll site was not completely set up as polls opened at 6 a.m.
ί 71% of respondents who received training describing their trainer as "qualified" or "extremely qualified."
ί 49% of respondents wrote that they were never contacted after submitting their applications and 10% of those who were contacted and trained were never assigned work on Election Day.
ί 93% of poll workers recruited through CUF’s efforts had a favorable experience and would like to be poll workers again.

In response to these findings, CUF lists the following suggested improvements and general recommendations for the Board of Elections’ (BoE) poll worker recruitment and training program:
 I. Strengthen and improve recruitment efforts by:
ί Instituting a program with the City that would provide normal pay plus a bonus to non-emergency municipal workers who volunteer as poll workers.
ί Conducting more active recruitment efforts among not-for-profit and civic organizations, city agencies and CUNY institutions to encourage a greater involvement of the more civically-minded professionals.
ί Creating a dynamic online application form, instead of the static pdf download thereby reducing the obstacles to applying to work at the polls and the time and effort needed to process hand-written requests
ί Displaying and distributing "Become a Poll Worker" posters and materials at polling locations on Election Day.
ί Increasing the compensation and providing additional financial incentives
II. The BoE and its civic partners should develop a proactive internet recruitment strategy to attract new recruits.  The BoE should encourage civic groups to undertake outreach efforts to recruit their members and volunteers via online correspondence.
III. All poll workers must be required to go through proper training programs, even if they are selected by the parties.  Also, poll workers must be contacted in a timely manner concerning their acceptance as poll workers, their expected commitments, and the times and locations for training, even if they apply several months in advance.
IV. The BoE needs to ensure that all polls are completely set up and ready to receive voters at least 20 minutes prior to the opening of the polls on election days.  Ensuring that the polling locations are open and accessible should be a priority.  The BoE should conduct further efforts to find new locations that are more hospitable to the demands of hosting a polling site.

For Immediate Release:          Contact:  Doug Israel  (CUF): (212) 227-0342
June 21, 2005                                     Neal Rosenstein (NYPIRG):   (212) 349-6460