Alba Guerrero was dumbfounded. She’d arrived at her polling place in Ozone Park, Queens, only to be told that she had been registered as a Republican since 2004.
That was news to her. She remembers registering to vote for the first time as a Democrat so she could vote for Barack Obama in the general election in 2008. When she recently moved from Manhattan to Ozone Park, in Queens, she re-registered at the DMV, she says, and even checked online on March 9 to be sure she was registered at her new address.
But when she showed up to vote for Bernie Sanders at PS63 on Tuesday, she says she was told she couldn’t. New York is a closed primary, where only registered Democrats can vote in the Democratic Primary—and voters had to be registered by last October. She was told—very politely, she wants to make clear—by poll workers to take it up with a judge. She was given a court order in nearby Forest Hills.
Guerrero drove to the Queens County Board of Elections and pleaded her case, but Judge Ira Margulis initially turned her away.
“The judge tells me, ‘No, that’s it—2004.’ He shows me, I’m registered as a Republican. He says there’s nothing we can do,” she said.
But on her way out she saw a Board of Elections worker holding something with her name on it. It was her 2004 voter registration, replete, she remembers, with her name, her social security number, her birthday—and someone else’s signature.
“I said, ‘Excuse me, that’s not my signature,’” she said. “It’s not my handwriting. It showed completely different signatures.”
Sure enough, the signatures are strikingly different. Next to a box checked “Republican,” her 2004 signature is written in clear, deliberate, legible cursive and includes her middle name. Her more recent signature is a loopy, illegible scrawl. She insists she’s never changed it in her life, and says she can produce old tax forms to prove it.
So Guerrero went back to to Judge Margulis and showed him the discrepancy.
“He allowed me to change for that day,“ she said.
Guerrero’s voting nightmare had a happy ending. She says the people working the polling stations were incredibly helpful, and she was able to drive back and forth with her car and a lot of sticktoitiveness. But voting in New York’s primaries on Tuesday posed many unsolvable problems for would-be voters—from polling places that opened late to broken voting machines.
“We are deeply disturbed by what we’re hearing from polling places across the state. From long lines and dramatic understaffing to longtime voters being forced to cast affidavit ballots and thousands of registered New Yorkers being dropped from the rolls, what’s happening today is a disgrace,” Bernie Sanders campaign spokesperson Karthik Ganapathy told The Daily Beast.
“We need to be making it easier for people to vote, not inventing arbitrary obstacles—and today’s shameful demonstration must underline the urgent importance of fixing voting laws across the country.”
The many messes drew rare national attention to the sad sate of voting in New York City, where broken machines, erroneous counts and worse are commonplace experiences.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who tweeted at 11:50 a.m., “There’s nothing more punk rock than voting. #GetOutAndVote”, had to change his tune by the end of the day. WNYC reported this morning that 126,000 Brooklyn Democrats had been removed from the voting rolls since last fall.
“It has been reported to us from voters and voting rights monitors that the voting lists in Brooklyn contain numerous errors, including the purging of entire buildings and blocks of voters from the voting lists,” he said in a statement released after 5 p.m. on Election Day. “I am calling on the Board of Election to reverse that purge and update the lists again using Central, not Brooklyn borough, Board of Election staff.”
Bernie Sanders supporters took to social media sites like Twitter and Reddit to decry what they believed to be rampant irregularities at polling places. On the largest subreddit dedicated to his campaign, users compiled a “Voting irregularities and issues megathread” that boasts over 1,700 posts and hotline numbers for voters who believe they have been disenfranchised.
A spokesperson for New York Attorney Eric Schneiderman told the New York Daily News that his office received “by far the largest volume of complaints we have received for an election since Attorney General Schneiderman took office in 2011.”
Then there are the extraordinary examples, like Guererro’s and Ben Gershman’s.
Gershman met Guerrero and took a cellphone video of her competing signatures at the Queens County BOE. He had arrived there to fight for his right to vote, also for Bernie Sanders.
He had checked his status two weeks before the registration deadline online to see if he was, in fact, registered to vote in the primary in Queens. He had registered at the DMV when he moved to Queens six months ago, but there was a hangup: There was a man in the Bronx with the same name and a shared middle initial, and he wasn’t registered to vote as a Democrat.
So Gershman repeatedly emailed the Board of Elections in the last few days to sort it out (he forwarded those emails to The Daily Beast to verify his story), and received assurances that he would be able to vote from various BOE workers.
Still, Gershman arrived at his polling place at 7:45 a.m. today to find that he could not vote and that he, too, would have to drive to Forest Hills to appeal for his right to vote.
By the end of it, Gershman didn’t get to work until noon, but—three car rides later—he did get to vote for his candidate.
“I spent three hours this morning trying to vote,” he said. “I’m at a loss for words. I don’t understand that in the 21st century you have to stand in front of a judge to get to vote. It was laughable.”
Gershman was peeved by what happened to him, but he wonders what would’ve happened if he didn’t have a car, or the ability to miss a morning of work to fight for his ballot. And he’s also confounded by what happened to Guerrero’s voter registration form, which he shared on YouTube and calls “pretty clear fraud.”
Guerrero calls the whole incident “creepy.” She has “no idea” who might want to forge her signature on a voter registration form.
“It’s just disheartening. We’re supposed to be the number one country in the world, but things like this you’d imagine would happen in a second- or third-world country,” she said. “What happened to me, basically, was fraud.”
Repeated calls to the New York City Board of Elections went unanswered at press time.