Magazine article The New Yorker

Getting out the Vote

Magazine article The New Yorker

Getting out the Vote

Article excerpt

The M train terminates in Middle Village, a Queens neighborhood that is twenty-five-per-cent cemetery. Approximately ten thousand Italian-Americans live in Middle Village; a few thousand more, from Geraldine Ferraro to John Gotti, rest there eternally. Between All Faiths Cemetery and Mount Olivet Cemetery is the Metro Mall, home to a Big Kmart, a Nathan's that opens at 8 A.M., and something called Funtopia.

On one side of the mall's rooftop parking lot, a few hundred city vehicles--yellow vans marked Meter Maintenance, white buses from the Department of Correction--cluster near a silo-shaped concrete structure. Its glass door opens to reveal a security checkpoint, which, once cleared, leads a visitor down in an elevator, through a hallway, and into a three-hundred-thousand-square-foot warehouse. This is New York City's central supply shed, filled with about twenty-two hundred types of commodities, including every light bulb that will end up in a homeless shelter, every pillowcase destined for a city jail, and 5,157 intElect DS200 voting machines.

In September of last year, all of New York City's 1,358 poll sites traded in their mechanical voting machines for electronic ones. The intElect machines were manufactured by a Nebraska company called E.S. & S. When the machines arrived, they were accompanied by a team from Omaha, who taught local poll workers how to use the new technology.

A couple of Tuesdays ago, Election Day came around again, and E.S. & S. had sent more technicians to make sure things were running smoothly. An ad-hoc call center, staffed with city technicians, was set up in the warehouse. The experts from Omaha sat at a folding table, playing gin rummy. A distress call: a screen was frozen in LeFrak City. "I don't understand why they don't just reboot it themselves," the dispatcher said, after hanging up the phone. "The machines are fine," a city technician said. "It's the people using 'em that are fucked up."

For the previous forty-eight years, New Yorkers had pulled the creaky levers of Shoup voting machines, which were patented in 1936, weighed eight hundred pounds each, and registered the sanctity of every vote with an authoritative clunk. Poll workers recorded the machines' votes by hand, then sent their paper tallies to a police precinct, where they were entered manually into a computer. The Shoup machines offered more security against voter fraud than the old system--paper ballots stuffed into wooden boxes. …

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