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Long lines at polling places prompt complaints

The primary may be over, but the long lines of voters found at some of the city polling stations Tuesday are still a sore spot.

The Erie County Board of Elections fielded complaints that the city's 325 voting districts were consolidated for the primary, causing long lines in at least three locations in the city's University and Masten districts.

"The biggest problem I saw was at the Westminster Community School," said University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell, who counted about 100 voters in line Tuesday night. "There were people with walkers, people with canes. I was begging people not to leave and go home."

Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis E. Ward said Wednesday that the Board of Elections pared down the city's 325 districts to about 120 for Tuesday's primary.

While that is not allowed in general elections, it is routinely done during primaries and special elections to save a lot of money, Ward said.

"A 33 percent turnout is high for a primary, but for a general election, it's extraordinaryly low," Ward said.

Ward acknowledged that there might have been a few sites with long lines and that the crunch came during the after-work hours.

"If you go then, there's going to be a line. That's just the way it is," he said. "That's not enough for me to put three extra machines there for 15 hours."

Mayor Byron W. Brown, who ensured his second term with a landslide victory over South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, didn't take any chances of possibly missing out on any of those votes.

Acting on behalf of Brown, G. Steven Pigeon -- a former Erie County Democratic chairman and now counsel to State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada -- notified the Board of Elections on Tuesday that a number of voters in line had been told to go home, because they would not be able to cast their ballot by 9 p.m.

He took the step of getting a written order from State Supreme Court Justice John M. Curran -- on duty for the primary should legal questions arise -- directing the Board of Elections to allow those in line at 9 p.m. to vote regardless of what time they actually cast their ballots.

That's customary procedure, Ward said.

"We would have allowed that, anyway," Ward said. "He didn't have to ask for it, but everyone gets nervous and jittery on Election Day."

But that caused Carl P. Paladino, a prominent downtown developer and Kearns supporter, to continue his war of words with Brown. He reiterated accusations he leveled Tuesday that Brown backers had supplied free groceries to voters on their way to the polls.

He said that Brown supporters also locked out an inspector in one East Side polling place and that he is considering filing a formal complaint once he completes his investigation.

"If not to affect the election, then to take criminal action against the individuals involved in voter fraud," Paladino said. "It's got to stop. They've been doing this for years.

"This election did not end yesterday. My pursuit of these people on the second floor of City Hall is not over."

Brown's campaign, meanwhile, said that it will not "dignify baseless, false and malicious accusations."

News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy contributed to this report.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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