When Rebekah Burgess Abromovich got in line to vote at the North Henry Street polling center in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning, only two electronic voting scanners were working. After an hour of voting, the working machines were down to one. When she finally submitted her ballot more than three hours after arriving, volunteers had begun handing out emergency ballot boxes, which few understood how to use. “I was lucky because I was given the day off to vote,” she said. But other people were bailing. “I was standing next to a teacher who waited for two and a half hours, and then had to leave to teach a class. She said she had to come back.” In polling places in New York City’s five boroughs, similar stories of out-of-commission voting machines echoed: At different points on Tuesday, only one scanner worked at Harry S. Truman High School in the Bronx, Erasmus High School in Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Public Library polling station, according to NBC New York. At PS 22 in Prospect Heights, all four scanners broke for much of the morning, before getting fixed at 10 am. Elsewhere, ballot sleeves were missing. Lines stretched blocks and hours long.
Part of the problem was the rain, claimed New York’s Board of Elections executive director Michael Ryan. “When you have a higher turnout and you have more paper passing through the system, you’re going to have some issues,” he said on Tuesday. “What has just been suggested to me here, and seems to make sense, is the weather, and people are having wet clothing and perhaps ballots getting wet is contributing to that.” Turnout was higher than expected. Volunteers were overzealous, cramming papers and jamming machines.
But the voting problem in New York City is more systemic, others countered—so negligible that City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called for Ryan’s immediate resignation.“Every election is like Groundhog Day: long lines, polling site issues, huge problems,” Johnson tweeted. “Now we’re blaming the weather? It’s unacceptable & unfair to voters.” Voter turnout has been climbing for several cycles, Johnson said. So why wasn’t the city prepared?
It wasn’t only New York. Over the course of a chaotic election day, in cities across the country, voters encountered difficulties. A coalition of voting-rights organizations said they’d received more than 10,000 calls about voting problems by 11:30 a.m., higher already than in any previous election. An election tracking map powered by Google Trends showed the U.S. peppered coast to coast in colored orbs whose intensity represented increased searches for “long wait times” and “voting machine problems.” In Wake County, North Carolina, officials said ballot machines stopped working because the air was “too humid.” In Arlington, Texas, the polling place ran out of paper ballots.