Jammed Machines and Long Lines Frustrate Voters in New York City

A two-page ballot appears to have caused havoc for scanning machines at polling places across New York City, as scores of broken scanners brought voting to a standstill at many locations on Tuesday.

Imagine that feeling of an office copier jammed with paper just as you’re trying to fetch an important document. Now multiply that feeling by 100. That’s about how people felt as they waited in lines that circled around school gyms and around the block at their local polling places. Voters waited helplessly as the scanners stood idle.

By 10 a.m., all four scanners at Public School 130 in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, had broken down, freezing the line of voters who stood shoulder-to-shoulder as the line grew out the door. The police was called in to help. One officer opened emergency ballot boxes beneath each scanner. Voters were told to tuck their ballots, which would be counted later, through slits in the boxes.

Update: all of the scanners are now back up and running after some voters waited two hours to cast ballots. While they waited for scanners to return they filed emergency ballots, but that box filled up.

When the scanners were finally fixed, there were cheers in the cafeteria

Voters reported that scanners were down at Public School 165 on the Upper West Side, Queens Library at Peninsula in Rockaway Beach and Church of the Holy Trinity on the Upper East Side, among other places.

“I’ve voted in every election since I turned 19 in 2003, and never have I had such a hard time voting,” Elizabeth Goetz of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, wrote in an email. “No signage, super long lines, chaos, not enough ballot sleeves or privacy booths, and worst of all, four out of four scanning machines were down at P.S. 22.”

Some voters reported that it took them more than two hours to cast a vote. At Public School 316 in Crown Heights, a poll worker was telling voters to come back later because the line was too long.

The problems caused by the issue with the scanners seemed to stem in part from a lack of communication. Many voters said that no election worker told them that the ballot was two pages long, and that the two pages needed to be separated and fed into the machine one at a time. Feeding in both pages at once could cause scanners to jam.

Some voters said that pages tore apart imperfectly, which left jagged edges, also jamming machines.

Corey Johnson, the speaker of the City Council, wrote on Twitter that at his polling place in the West Village, the line of people who had been given ballots was so long it went out the door and into the rain, which caused ballots to get wet and then jam the scanning machines.

The Board of Elections has previously had problems with scanners, which were introduced in 2010 to replace old-fashioned crank lever voting machines. In 2012, the problems were so bad that the board went back to the old-school machines the following year.

A spokeswoman for the board, Valerie Vazquez, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Michael Wilson contributed reporting.

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