Election Day Far Side
For Judges Standing By, a Quiet Election Day
By Corey Kilgannon
There were plenty of people in the Manhattan training office of the New York City Board of Elections. There was lots of chatting and reading of newspapers and eating of chips and playing of Scrabble. But there were hardly any voters, which the temporary outpost is set up for.
Roughly two dozen people were working here in various capacities, including two police officers, one court officer, two State Supreme Court justices and court stenographers. Most of the remaining people worked for the Board of Elections. Each borough in the city has such a setup, for voters who are told at the polling place that they may not vote. If they insist they have been unfairly denied — usually because of some mix-up in their address, or simply being left off the voting rolls — they come here and ask a judge to review their status so they may vote.
A small paper flier on the door declared the room temporarily a Supreme Court of the State of New York. And a document affixed next to it was Administrative Court Order 98, an official order by Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Fern A. Fisher, for the New York City courts, declaring that the room was set up this day “to hear and determine all cases arising under the Election Law relating to eligibility for voting.”
By 4 p.m., only two people had come. The first had an address mix-up, and the second had come to get an emergency ballot for an ill woman who was unable to get to the polling place and who had missed the deadline for a regular absentee ballot. “She’s deathly ill with what we believe is a very bad flu, and she’s on her back as we speak,” said Edward M. Brady, an organizer for the Independence Party. Mr. Brady held in his hand an absentee ballot application, which listed several categories for applicants, including voters in prison, who must affirm that they “expect in good faith to remain” prisoners on Election Day.
Mr. Brady said was seeking an absentee ballot for one Pamela Jenkins, a member of the Independence Party. He was sworn in by a State Supreme Court special referee who heard his case and then made a recommendation to the two judges sitting next to him: Justice Doris Ling-Cohan and Acting Justice Matthew Cooper, both State Supreme Court justices who hear civil cases. They promptly signed an order to give the man a ballot for the woman, and he rushed out. Then it was back to passing the time.
Justice Cooper said the judges volunteer to work on Election Day, which is a court holiday. Sometimes it is exciting, he said. Last year during the presidential election, for example, “maybe a couple hundred people” showed up seeking a court order to solve their voting problems. Most people were able to vote, he said. Then there was the man last year, a California resident who was in New York City for a few hours on a stopover while flying and wanted to vote in New York. He was unsuccessful.
Before leaving, Mr. Brady said he thought Ms. Jenkins would vote for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has the Independence Party line. “If this woman wants to vote, I’m going to do my damnedest to make sure her vote counts,” he said.