Today at the Polls: Tears of Joy, Laughter, Frustration, and Crazy Ladies in Velour Catsuits

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Taken today at P.S. 316, Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Taken today at P.S. 316, Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Photo: Reader Nicole Hala

As you might expect when upwards of 8 million people all engage with bureaucracy at the same time, voting in New York today has been fraught with problems: from minor irritations ("I nearly bitchslapped a woman because of her annoying kids," reports one New York editor, who voted in Ditmas Park) to the more serious issues, such as the wasting of movie stars' time. If you haven't been to the polls yet (and the window is closing!), know that things are disorganized and a little bit hysterical — imagine if everyone had to renew their driver's licenses at the same time and the DMV was staffed with temps. But through it all, the irritation has been shot through with moments of joy as voters, stuck in long lines, bonded with their fellow citizens.

Reader Stephen, for instance, e-mailed that the two hours he spent in line with two older black folks "telling stories about their grandparents and great-grandparents" was "the best two hours [he] ever spent standing in line." John Wilson, who works in New York's video department, befriended a woman at his Harlem polling station who was clutching a framed photo collage of her great-grandmother, grandmother, great-aunts, etc.

"She was weeping openly, and telling me about how her relatives had come up from Mississippi and participated in the Freedom Riders movement, and that she had to bring the picture with her to vote," he said. Plus, she helped him skip to the front of the line with her because she knew someone at the polling station.

Which brings us back to the bureaucracy. In the end, a lot of the bonding in our fair city today took place over the inadequacy of the system. Overall, the "sweet, elderly people running the show were slow as molasses, but remarkably patient," as reader Rachel Zoe Insler, who voted in the East Village, put it. Except for when things went horribly wrong, as they did in New York contributor Sarah Bernard's district. Her epic tale, complete with a villain in a leopard-spotted velour catsuit, is after the jump.

I got to my polling location at Baruch College on 22nd Street between Lex and Third at 9:30 a.m. The long but manageable line for my particular district, 67, was not moving and had not moved since 8:05 a.m. — when the voting machine broke. We’d actually all been waiting and thinking the line was moving because a significant amount of people kept leaving in frustration and we all inched up. We finally found out it was broken because a lady wearing a leopard velour catsuit and a black fur hat eventually came out — picture Eartha Kitt but crazier — yelling to us that a repairman had been called. She is the “chairman” of this polling location, it turns out. There was talk of emergency paper ballots arriving and everyone started talking about how they feared this was exactly what was happening in all the swing states. More people left without voting.



A few minutes later, velour-catsuit lady returns. “OH OH OH! I just realized something! You can use the handicapped machine! I should have thought of that at 8:05 a.m.! Ladies and gentleman in 67 — you can vote now. The handicapped machine is very cool! It’s like a computer!”



The line started moving, but when I got closer to the district desk, after another 30 to 40 minutes, it turns out everyone in front of me hadn’t voted — they were simply in yet another line waiting for the handicapped machine, which had also broken. Again, more people left.



The only option left was filling out paper ballots, folding them up and sticking them through a slot in a sad cardboard box that looked like no one would ever remember to open it. When I finally got to the district desk, the woman behind it started to cry. “Do you see what kind of pressure I’m under?!” she was yelling to a neighboring district table. Her sidekick — an elderly red-haired grandma — had been writing down the numbers on the cards out of order and the crowd was closing in. “All we can do is pray to God we get paid.”



Finally … the original machine started working again. Now, the people who had voted on paper were coming back to say they changed their minds and wanted to wait for the machine instead, which really puts the woman at the district desk over the edge. “I haven’t eaten my breakfast yet!” she yells. “And I am pregnant!”



Suddenly, everyone is pregnant. All sorts of people come from the back of the line with excuses about why they have to move up. They’re pregnant. They had an accident and feel faint. The people who were waiting at the handicapped machine think they should start at the head of the line for the regular machine again. The people on the regular line won’t have it. So what is she going to do? “I just work here,” she shouts through her sobs. “You have to ask the boss!” And the boss, of course, is the cat lady.



I finally voted at 11:45 a.m.



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