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Voters hit the polls in Whitestone as election workers are short staffed

Nov. 7, 2023 By Iryna Shkurhan

By 9:30 a.m. on election day, more than 200 locals cast their ballots at P.S. 139Q Alfred J. Kennedy in Whitestone – the biggest poll site in the area. 

Many of the voters at this location turned out for the City Council District 19 race in northeast Queens. They are choosing between Republican incumbent Vickie Paladino and her opponent Tony Avella, a Democrat and former City Council member who represented the district from 2002 to 2007.

Voters are also deciding on the next district attorney, justice of the Supreme Court in the 11th Judicial District, judge of the Civil Court in Queens County and judge of the Civil Court in the 6th District. Two amendments are also on the ballot. One is a proposal to remove small city school districts from the special constitutional debt limitation and another is to remove constitutional debt limits for the construction of sewage facilities. 

Longtime poll workers say that they expect the site to get busier later in the day. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

“All I can say is we’re doing the best we can,” polling site coordinator Peter Perrino told QNS, adding that they are approximately 8-10 people understaffed. 

Polls opened at 6 a.m. to a steady stream of voters that Perrino expects to turn into a flood later in the day. In past elections, he recalled the school’s gymnasium getting so full it would likely be considered a safety hazard by fire officials. 

While a handful of the poll workers on site are first timers, the majority are seasoned veterans like Perrino, who has held several poll site positions for 20 years. 

Kathleen Carroll, a longtime Whitestone resident, has served as a poll worker since 2011. She told QNS that she enjoys serving her community and seeing familiar faces and friends in the community come through the door. 

Carroll’s role as an election inspector includes preparing the poll site, assisting voters, reporting the results and helping other workers as needed.Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

“The process is very interesting,” said Carroll, who is one of the designated Republican Inspectors. She was seated at a table next to a Democrat Inspector. The protocol, if a shortage of workers doesn’t impede it, is designed to make voters feel that the poll site is equal and balanced regardless of what political party dominates the area. 

Perrino arrived at the elementary school at 4:30 a.m. and was inside at 5 a.m. to help set up voter booths and the electronic machines. He said that in presidential election years, he wouldn’t leave the site until past midnight. 

And only a couple hours into voting, he was already working to resolve technology hiccups. One tablet, used to check if voters are properly registered, kept getting disconnected from the internet. 

“It’s always important to vote,” said Paul, a longtime Whitestone resident who cast his vote for Paladino. “It’s to state what you feel is going on this area and in this country.”

Councilwoman Paladino cast her ballot alongside her son, Thomas Paladino.Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

Language interpreters at each site are designed based on the demographics of the area. And they are the only ones who are able to help voters fill out their ballots directly, according to rules set by the Board of Elections. The site had two Korean speakers and one Spanish speaking interpreter. 

“I think when they see somebody who looks like them, it does make them feel more comfortable to be in that space,” said Sun Joo Kim, a Korean interpreter who has been working at the polls for over 18 years. “The purpose of the board of elections is to do away with any obstructions that one might encounter in the voting process. And having languages available for translation is one of the aspects of making it easier for people.”

In Queens, ballots are also available in Korean, Chinese and Bengali. But each ballot already has information in both Spanish and English. 

Councilwoman Paladino spoke to several reporters outside her former elementary school on Election Day before going inside to cast her ballot.Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

At noon, Councilwoman Paladino showed up at the elementary school, which she attended while growing up in Whitestone, to cast her ballot. She took the opportunity to bash Avella who she said “people are sick and tired of” and criticized him for not engaging with voters enough throughout the campaign.

“I know Tony [Avella] for a real long time, because I was was one of his constituents. If he walked into a room and you asked him a question, he couldn’t get away from you quick enough,” Paladino told a slew of reporters outside of P.S. 139Q. “My district here has got someone they can trust. If they ask to get something done, it gets done.”

Polls will close at 9 p.m. on Nov. 7. 

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