As struggles with increasing partisanship rise, one poll worker is fired Tuesday over ‘baby killer’ comment

555 Kappock St 3
Election law regulations are posted outside this Bronx polling location at 555 Kappock St. in Riverdale on Tuesday.
Photo Adrian Childress

While every street corner, establishment window and bus stop during election season is filled with political ads and “vote for me” reminders, voters expect their polling place and the 100 feet around it to be devoid of partisan politics. But at several Bronx polling locations, voters told the Bronx Times that city-appointed poll workers either tried to influence their vote for a particular candidate or created a hostile and partisan environment.

In one instance, poll worker John E. McCarthy — who was stationed at PS 94 Kings College School in Norwood — is alleged to have called Progressive Senator Gustavo Rivera a “baby killer” around 9:30 a.m., two voters at the precinct confirmed with the Bronx Times. David Guirgis, a spokesperson for Rivera’s campaign, told the Times that they filed a complaint with the New York City Board of Elections (BOE), which resulted in McCarthy’s firing.

Rivera is locked in a heated Tuesday primary with Democratic Party-backed candidate Miguelina Camilo for the 33rd District’s Senate seat.

New York State Election Law forbids electioneering in and around poll sites. No one, especially poll workers, are allowed to influence voters to vote in a certain way or display any type of political banner, button, poster or placard in or within 100 feet of the poll site, according to the law.

“It is blatantly against the law to use your position as a poll worker to tell voters who to vote for,” said Guirgis.

A second incident allegedly happened two hours after polls opened at 6 a.m. this morning, when Leslie Maxine Pardo — who voted at the PS 105 Sen. Abraham Bernstein voting site near the Botanical Gardens — said she was given hostile treatment by the poll site’s director when it was known she had canvassed for Rivera.

“I would’ve loved to be a poll worker, but because I knew how passionate I was about Rivera, I knew I couldn’t be impartial and have that affect voters,” said Pardo. “But to receive the energy I received by a city poll worker, whose job it is to ensure free and open elections, (it) felt unwelcoming and not an open place to vote.”

While the Aug. 23 primary isn’t expected to shatter voting records — in fact, it’s projected to be considerably lower than the turnout for the June 28 primary — it has brought a sense of fervency to the polls. But Bronx voters said Tuesday also came with a lot of headaches, including misinformation on voting equipment from poll workers at some locations, and at others, general condescension and lack of cooperation.

“I hadn’t voted in like six years, and so I told the poll worker that and she just started berating me about how I’m part of the problem,” said Shafir Johnson, who voted in Soundview. “Then (the poll worker) couldn’t explain to me how to work the machines, so I spent way too long there and being late for work.”

Criticism of the BOE have ranged from illegal voter list purges to wide­spread poll worker errors to long lines and inac­cess­ible poll sites for voters with disab­il­it­ies due to poor plan­ning. For Bronx voters, partisan or unprepared poll workers can lead to perception or in many cases, instances of voter disenfranchisement — where poll worker could not help native Spanish-speaking or Bengali-speaking residents.

“I don’t think the city vets some of these poll workers, or if some of these poll workers are qualified to be trusted with this job,” said a Parkchester poll worker who requested anonymity. “This is a civic duty, and our job is to make voters feel safe to vote there. But we have poll workers who are pushing agendas and trying to impact elections in their own way.”

The Bronx Times reached out to the city Board of Elections and is awaiting a response.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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