Tonawanda News

November 9, 2012

READER LETTER: Niagara election board failed voters

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I am one of those people who pesters everyone they know in the weeks leading up to the election. “Are you registered to vote? Do you know where your polling place is?” I registered to vote the first month I was eligible to do so, and encouraged everyone I know to do the same.

With this commitment to civic responsibility, I was more surprised than anyone to find myself standing in line at the Niagara County Board of Elections (BoE) at the eleventh hour on Election Day, trying to get a court order so that I could once again participate in the political process.

Last month I moved from New York City to Niagara County, and found that the voting address change I submitted at the DMV wouldn’t be valid for the general election. I called the BoE to find out what I needed to do, and thus began two weeks of frustration.

The judge signing the court orders was only available during working hours, so I needed to schedule around my lunch hour. I was told I could see the judge at 1 p.m. in the BoE office, and arrived to be told he’d actually be in the courthouse at 2. The staff told me my only other option was to come between 4 and 4:15 p.m. on Election Day. I diligently arrived at 3:45 p.m. where I was greeted with a melee; there was mass confusion and a mob of people all told to show up at the same time.

The BoE staff belligerently insisted to any who inquired that the judge was seeing people “first come, first serve” which everyone could see was patently untrue. Polite inquiries were met with snotty responses, and one staff member went so far as to tell a group, myself included, that we were there by choice and if we didn’t want to wait in line (upwards of three hours for some) we didn’t have to vote.

The BoE has the entire year to prepare for the madness of Election Day. It is unfathomable that they were so unprepared for the challenges it presents. I understand that it is difficult and stressful, and was more than willing to wait patiently and cheerfully for my turn to see the judge. Despite the inconvenience, I even enjoyed meeting fellow voters who cared enough to stand in line for hours, establishing camaraderie with other citizens invested in participating in the political process.

What eroded my patience and killed my cheerfulness was not the wait, or the inconvenience, but rather the misinformation and conduct of the staff. Had we been treated like human beings instead of willful children, had friendliness replaced rudeness, and had explanations replaced lies, the entire process would not have been nearly as frustrating or disheartening.

Before the next election day, the Niagara County Board of Elections should at a minimum implement an organizational structure to handle the large volume of potential voters on election day and the preceding weeks; so many of the delays could have been eliminated with scheduled appointment times or even staggered groups. Some sort of customer service training should also be required. Do we really want to live in a world where we are treated with more friendliness and competence by cashiers at McDonald’s than the faces of our government?

In the end, after nearly three hours of waiting I was able to get my court order and join my fellow citizens in casting my ballot for president. I’m proud that I voted, despite the obstacles, but I am concerned that if someone as committed as I wound up so frustrated, how many people gave up and chose not to vote rather than jump through hoops and deal with rude incompetence? Next time around, let’s make it easier and friendlier for everyone to cast their vote.

Danielle Nuchereno is a North Tonawanda resident.