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Election Day ‘Debacle’ at YWCA Polling Station: By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday November 05, 2004

A new citizen seeking to cast her first vote and her husband screamed, yelled and threatened to call the police before they were allowed to cast their ballots at the YWCA polling station Tuesday. 

The ruckus, which occurred just after 8 p.m., capped off an election day that Precinct Coordinator William Sutton called “a debacle.” 

Margalit Lutskevich and her husband Aharon Habshoosh took their place in line outside the YWCA at approximately 7:40 p.m., 20 minutes before polls closed. They and others still waiting outside were ushered into the lobby to continue their wait. 

What they didn’t know was that the YWCA, at 2600 Bancroft Way, houses two separate polling precincts, one for the surrounding south campus neighborhood and the other for residents who li ve in a precinct just north of the UC Berkeley campus. 

While the south campus precinct was beset by complaints against poll workers and long lines caused primarily by large numbers of voters who didn’t appear on voter rolls, the north campus precinct ran smoothly. Assuming, after a quick survey of the remaining voters, that nobody in the jam-packed lobby was waiting to vote at the north campus precinct, election workers shut down voting machines promptly at 8 p.m. 

The election worker announced that the polls were closed, but didn’t specify that voting had ceased in the north campus precinct. 

When the couple learned that there were in fact two polling stations and that the north campus precinct was closed, they rushed to the precinct doors. 

“I’m going to go through this door and vote,” Habshoosh screamed at a poll worker. “My voting right is not going to be violated arbitrarily by a bureaucrat.” 

Other poll workers came to the couple’s defense. 

“I think that’s really scandalous and it’s totally undem ocratic,” said a poll worker named Dak, who said he saw the couple in the lobby at 8 p.m. “I would never think anything like that could happen in Berkeley.” 

Lois Fisher, an election worker at the north campus precinct said she hadn’t seen the couple when she surveyed voters waiting in the lobby. 

Election workers called police, who calmed tempers and brokered a compromise allowing the couple to vote via provisional ballot at the south campus precinct. 

As he left the polling station shortly after 9 p.m., Habshoosh was still angry over the ordeal. “It’s not all right,” he told Officer Michael McElroy. “We should have been able to vote on the touch screen machine.” 

The YWCA is notorious for long lines, said Councilmember Kriss Worthington who worked to se cure additional voting machines for the two precincts inside. 

But the extra machines were little help for the south campus precinct, said Poll Monitor Wanda Hasadsri, as nearly half of those who came to vote at the precinct weren’t on the voter rolls and had to fill out provisional ballots. 

Election workers needed more time to process unlisted voters and as a result, she said, voters waited in line for over two hours, while at times as few as two of the 10 voting machines were being used. 

Once inside t he precinct, Hasadsri said, voters faced unprofessional poll workers. One worker, Garfield Harris, refused to remove buttons urging support for Karen Hemphill, a candidate for the board of education, and for the Berkeley Drop-In Center, which was a controversial issue in the District 3 city council race. 

Hasadsri said that another poll worker berated students who weren’t on the voting rolls. “He told one person that he wished his foot was longer so he could kick him in the ass,” she said. 

Sutton called the behavior of the two poll workers “unacceptable” and said he would recommend that neither be allowed to work in future elections. 

Harris said he understood he was violating election law by wearing the buttons, but nevertheless decided not to remove th em. A veteran of over ten elections, Harris said Tuesday was “the worst” he had ever seen.  

“What do you expect if the count doesn’t put half of the voters on the rolls?” he said.›?