Ballot box blues

Cheryl HelferIt’s September 14th, primary day in New York. As I have done every year since I registered to vote, I arrived, bright and early at the high school around the corner from my house, my designated polling place. This year, however, was going to be different. The 80-year-old lever machines with which I had long since become comfortable and familiar had been replaced by 2010, state of the art, computerized machines. Have I told you how much I don’t like change? What was wrong with the old machines, anyway. I had long since compensated for the fact that I was too short to read the top line by looking at the paper ballot spread out on the sign in table before I went into the booth. I liked the way the machine made sure I didn’t vote for more than the number of candidates designated in any one category. And I particularly liked that I could bring my children into the booth with me so that they could “help” me vote, thus familiarizing them with the process and passing on the value of this right to participate in the selection of those who serve found in so few places outside this country.

But, change is good, or so I am told. Forewarned by the news the night before that the print was small and not wanting to depend upon the magnifying strips that were supposed to be provided in all the privacy booths, I took my reading glasses and walked into the high school ready to cast my vote.

I was immediately greeted by the familiar halls of the building from which all three of my children graduated. The same faces who have graciously manned their posts at each of the tables designating the various election districts, smiled at me as I walked in. I signed into the book on the line across from my printed name. So far, so good. But that’s where it ended. Instead of one, I received two pieces of beautifully colored paper, both with my E.D. printed, neither of which I had any idea of what to do. I was then handed a long sheet of paper (the ballot), and another shorter cardboard sleeve with instructions imprinted in nice, fairly large, bold letters and directed to what is called a privacy booth within which I was to vote. As promised by the newscaster, the print on my ballot was small. I was grateful I had brought my glasses without which I would have required someone to read the ballot to me. (No magnifying strips in my booth). A pen is attached to the booth by a ribbon similar to that which you used to find in the bank with which you are to color in the circles next to the candidate for whom you are voting. (LSATphobes – take a valium before you go.).

Circles filled in I emerged from the booth, ballot and glasses in one hand, cardboard sleeve in the other. I was, once again greeted by the poll attendant who instructed me to insert the ballot into the cardboard sleeve (thus protecting the privacy of my vote) and escorted me across the room to the computer (finally, the state of the art machine) into which I was to feed my ballot. Lining it up with the machine and ensuring that enough of the ballot was protruding from the sleeve in order for the computer to catch it required the use of two hands. Fortunately the attendant was there, guarding my privacy and the process. I handed her my glasses and proceeded to carefully adjust the ballot and the sleeve until the computer finally sucked it in. Success! And, it only took 10 minutes! I thanked the men and women, took my glasses and left for court.

This is state of the art? I thought we were saving trees and no longer using paper where we didn’t have to. We aren’t even buying books any more. A cardboard sleeve is privacy? Whatever the problem was with the old machines, well we voters didn’t know. We just walked in, pulled the levers and walked out. Maybe I’m just old fashioned.

If you didn’t have the pleasure of voting in the primary, when you go in November, here are a few suggestions. Germaphobes beware. By the time it’s your turn, how many people will have handled that pen? Make sure you bring wipes or rubber gloves. For those of us who can no longer see without them, don’t forget those reading glasses. And, by all means, bring a chair, a snack and a book. You could be there a really long time.

Cheryl Helfer is a partner in the law offices of Helfer & Helfer LLP where she practices primarily in the areas of matrimonial and family law. She is a member of the NY Family Law American Inn of Court, President of the Nassau County Women’s Bar Association, a member of the Nassau County Bar Association – Matrimonial and Family Law committees, a member of the NY Association of Collaborative Professionals and a member of the International Association of Collaborative Professionals.