The print on ballots in next week's New York primaries is so small the New York City Board of Elections will have magnifying glasses at polling places.
It's just one of the concerns being raised regarding the state's new voting system just days before the election next Tuesday. "Over voting" and understaffing are others.
The new voting system — the result of changes demanded after the contentious recount of the 2000 presidential election and its hanging chads — finally makes its statewide debut. Instead of going behind a curtain to push mechanical levers, the new statewide system will generally require manually filling in circles on a paper ballot and submitting the ballot to a computerized scanner that reads and counts the votes.
"There's a potential for massive voter disenfranchisement. And we're a week out," said Richard Brodsky, one of five Democrats seeking the party nomination for attorney general.
Brodsky has asked the Justice Department to observe voting and election officials to add staff to help voters.
"There needs to be an emergency response to this," he said.
The problems would likely grow with the Nov. 2 general election with far more candidates on the ballots, he said.
Besides inadequate voter education, polling personnel and translators, Brodsky said the "over-vote" issue remains, in which someone could mistakenly fill in circles for two candidates in one race. The machine would then flash a message for voters to push a red button to have the ballot returned or a green button so the vote in that race would not be counted.
The new computerized machines can only accept an 11-by-17-inch ballot, while the lever machine ballot could be as large as 36-by-20 inches, Brodsky said. As a result, New York City has decided to supply every polling place with magnifying glasses, said the Westchester Democrat, adding that the small type especially jeopardizes the voting ability of people with visual problems.
Voters will also have the option of using a ballot-marking device, intended to help the disabled and others. Essentially a computer touch screen, like a cash machine, it will display candidates one race at a time and the voter can bump up the print size, according to the Center for Independence of the Disabled.
"We would like all the poll workers to say you can either mark it by hand or use this ballot-marking device," said Rima McCoy, the center's voting rights coordinator.
New York has been years behind federal deadlines to conform with the Help America Vote Act and was supposed to replace all pull-lever machines by the fall of 2009.
The state board's Election Operations Unit reported that testing new machines in pilot projects in last year's primary and general elections, with 47 of the state's 62 counties involved to varying degrees, was "a resounding success ... which overwhelmingly confirmed that these scanners accurately record and report the ballot selections made by voters."
Board spokesman John Conklin said ballot type size will differ from county to county, depending on the number of candidates, and more likely affect New York City, which has a different format and additional instructions on its ballots. He said with 17,000 new voting machines statewide, the board is making significant efforts to educate voters not to vote twice in any race.
In April, the Brennan Center for Justice contacted the U.S. Justice Department about the way machines handle over-voting, saying 40,000 to 50,000 New Yorkers could be disenfranchised in this year's gubernatorial race. The center cited Florida's 2008 experience and noted machines can be simply modified to kick back ballots with a double vote in any race so they can be corrected. The election boards and Justice Department rejected that request to make the change, and the Brennan Center filed suit in federal court.
The center's senior counsel, Lawrence Norden, also agreed that the paper ballot type is too small and that experience shows most voters won't use the touch screen, adding that the problem results partly from requirements for party symbols, unnecessary language and a single ballot page.
"There's no question it's going to be a problem," he said.
Other Democratic candidates for attorney general are former state Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo, attorney Sean Coffey, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and state Sen. Eric Schneiderman. Coffey said the other voting issue is unfairly shorter poll hours in upstate New York.