See? It can happen to anyone:
Updated, 4:42 p.m. | The actor Tim Robbins looked dejected and annoyed around 10:30 a.m. on Election Day, as he was sitting in a folding chair at the McBurney YMCA at 125 West 14th Street, one of the more than 1,300 polling places throughout New York City.
Mr. Robbins said that he had been surprised and dismayed to learn that he was not in the voter lists that are printed and bound before the election. “The issue is that they removed my name from the voting rolls,” he said. “My name was there for the primaries.”
Mr. Robbins expressed frustration. “The poll workers here know me,” he said. “I’ve been voting here 15 years.” He said the poll worker remembered seeing his name on the list during the primary.
Mr. Robbins, 50, is a New York City native and has voted at the same polling place since 1997. He and his longtime partner, the actress Susan Sarandon, have long been active in liberal causes and have urged voters to fight against disenfranchisement.
What happened to Mr. Robbins was similar to a scenario he described on an appearance on the HBO talk show, “Real Time with Bill Maher,” on Oct. 24.
On that program, Mr. Robbins urged people to insist on their right to vote:
Refuse provisional ballots. They’re throwing those out. They can throw those out. If that’s your last resort, take it, but fight in the polling place to vote. It’s your right as an American. You have every right to vote if you’re registered. And if you’re not on the rolls and something went wrong, document it. Video cameras at polls are going to be an effective way to fight this election day.
On Tuesday morning, Mr. Robbins appeared to be acting out his own advice.
At one point, a poll worker who tried to get the insistent Mr. Robbins to move mentioned calling over a police officer, and the actor responded, “Is this some kind of intimidation? I’m taking this as intimidation.” He added that he was prepared to be arrested, if necessary.
It did not get to that. Mr. Robbins was offered the chance to fill out an affidavit ballot. He filled it out, but did not submit it, and instead insisting on speaking to an official from the city’s Board of Elections, who informed him that he could go to the board’s Manhattan office, at 200 Varick Street, near West Houston Street. There, board officials verified that Mr. Robbins was indeed a properly registered voter, in the board’s database.
Paul G. Feinman, a Civil Court judge who was standing by to hear challenges from voters denied access to the polls, ruled that the board had to allow Mr. Robbins to vote. As of 1 p.m., Mr. Robbins was making his way back to the McBurney YMCA to cast his ballot.
Mr. Robbins said he “never in a million years” imagined that he would be asked to fill out an affidavit ballot. He does not trust provisional ballots, he said, because of research by Mark Crispin Miller and other scholars who have showed that such ballots are sometimes lost or discarded.
“Do the math on this one,” Mr. Robbins said, adding that a poll worker had told him 40 voters at the same polling site had had the same problem — with no apparent explanation. “It bears looking into that this might be a random elimination” of voters from the rolls, he said.
Indeed, voter registration records confirm that Mr. Robbins, a Democrat, has been a longtime registered voter in good standing, having voted in the November elections in 2004 and 2006. (He did not vote in this year’s presidential primary.)
“I have the time and luxury to do this,” he said of his four-hour ordeal to vote. “If this is a systemic thing, what does that mean for the country?”
Mr. Robbins said he did not suspect anything “nefarious” in his case, noting that his partner, Ms. Sarandon, who is also politically active, did not encounter any voting problems.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Valeria Vazquez Rivera, a spokeswoman for the city’s Board of Elections, said that Mr. Robbins actually had two registrations on file — one under the name Tim Robbins and the other under the name Timothy Robbins — with two different addresses, one of them outdated. The duplicate record appeared to have been the cause of the mix-up involving Mr. Robbins.
Apart from mix-ups like the one Mr. Robbins encountered, city election official have acknowledged that many voters — up to 30,000 in New York State, by some estimates — had been removed from the voter rolls. Officials at the city’s Board of Elections said the names were removed only after the voters failed to verify their residence. Mr. Robbins did not appear to have been one of the affected voters.
Mr. Robbins was hardly the only voter to go to the Board of Elections office at 200 Varick Street to assert their right to vote.
The office opened at 7 a.m., and people began arriving right away. Many of them were headed for a room on the 10th floor, where two judges and three referees — along with clerks and court stenographers — were prepared to hear people requesting court orders allowing them to vote.
Dozens of people showed up over the first few hours. Some had problems with flawed registrations. Some insisted that they had registered properly but were told at a polling place that their name was not on the voting rolls. Officials said that many of the people on the 10th floor were there because they had signed up to vote with the organization Rock the Vote, but their registration had somehow gone astray.
Among them was Christopher Ross, 29, from the Lower East Side. He said he had been told earlier that morning that his name didn’t appear on the voting list, and decided to ask for a court order
instead of using a provisional ballot, which he called “very unreliable.”
After a brief wait, Mr. Ross sat at a long table facing a referee and a clerk. He was sworn in and stated his name. After showing documentation that he had indeed registered with Rock the Vote before the states dead line, he was given a signed and stamped letter authorizing him to return to the Lower East Side and cast his ballot.
Some people, like Jeff Blum, 26, from the East Village, said that they had sought a court order because this election was particularly significant. “I’d like to be a part of this,” he said. “Fifty years down the line it’d be pretty awesome to say I voted for the first black president.”
And then there was Krystal Kaplan, 28, who entered a voting booth in Washington Heights, pulled a lever to the left to rest the machine, then pulled it to the right to register her vote — only to realize she hadn’t voted. “It’s so embarrassing,” adding by way of explanation that the mishap had taken place at 6:30 a.m., before she had a chance to sip any coffee.
So, she chose to travel downtown and back so she could have another try. At this time she said, she would get it right. “My vote count,” she said. “My vote could be the vote that makes the difference.”
Colin Moynihan and Mekado Murphy contributed reporting.