Voters decry election day problems

While lawyers for both Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George Bush continued to dispute the Florida vote count, local voters testified before a panel of elected officials and lawyers last night at Roxbury Community College to discuss alleged inconsistencies and “injustices” they experienced on Election Day.

Voters turned out at the polls in record numbers this November. Some districts saw a 20-percent increase in voter registration this year and one precinct recorded that almost 70 percent of the suffrage cased ballots on Nov. 7.

“If we can [get] 69 percent with all these problems, imagine what we can do if we eliminate them,” said Sen. Dianna Wilkerson (D-Boston).

Hundreds of Boston voters claim they were turned away from the polls and discouraged from voting by poll workers, said James Coefield, treasurer of the Black Political Task Force. The problem, he said, is not new.

There “clearly has been a pattern or irregularity that runs from one election to the next and one year to the next that has not been corrected,” he said.

Many of the disgruntled voters blamed election officials.

Rep. Gloria Fox (D-Boston) claims agreed.

Hundreds of poll workers were “not willing to change [from the old election procedures] and were not willing to follow simple instructions,” Fox said.

At some polls, she said, checkers who insure no registered voter is turned away and the vote is accurate, were not allowed but permitted at others. Some elections officials allowed voters to bring paper into the booth with them, but the rule was not followed consistently.

“When they were counting … one of the [poll] workers didn’t know how to count the votes in the machine,” said poll worker Sara Ann Shaw who monitored elections at the Ellis School. An intensive training program should be implemented for all poll workers, many residents agreed.

Some of the voters told officials that they went to the polls and discovered their names were not on the register. Several speakers used this to claim a population demographic was mysteriously dropped. Many voting precincts were changed without giving voters notice and poll workers were sometimes unable to redirect voters, the speakers said.

Handicapped voters were especially disadvantaged by Election Day mistakes. According to state law each disabled citizen is allowed to vote with the assistance of one person. Disabled voters who were turned away from the wrong voting site have difficulty travelling to other locations, the crowd charged.

Although Eric Mitchell, the second vice-president of the Boston National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he drove disabled residents from voting location to location. Wheelchair access was unavailable at many sites and some of the elderly were rushed in the booth, according to Mitchell.

Elizabeth Clay told officials that her voting site had three booths and nearly 150 people in line. Election officials allowed each voter only one minute to cast his or her ballot. One minute, she said, was not enough time to weave through the myriad of local, state, national officeholders and multiple ballot Questions.

The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights claims it will listen to voter complaints and “will bring appropriate legal action if necessary.”

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