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A guide to all the Election Day voting problems

Long lines, technical problems, and voter ID laws prevented some voters from casting ballots.

by Tess Owen and Emma Ockerman
Nov 7 2018, 4:16am

Long lines, machines malfunctioning, confusion over voter ID laws — these are just some of the problems frustrated voters at polling stations across the country faced during Tuesday’s elections.

Voters in at least 10 states — including states where competitive races are underway — said they encountered technical problems at their polling stations, such as registration systems glitching and voter machines breaking down, according to Common Cause, a civil society watchdog.

Preliminary reports point to high in voter turnout across the country. Unexpected numbers of voters turning out is one easy answer, and was certainly a reason, for delays in some places, like Monroe County, Indiana, where some polling stations didn’t have enough ballots for everyone who showed up to vote.

The problems may have revealed serious weaknesses in the country’s patchwork elections infrastructure, many of which impacted minority or low-income voters. While counties foot the bill for some elections costs, states are generally responsible for allocating resources to fund voting equipment, ballots, compensation for local election officials, and dissemination of voter information.

Read: How the gutting of the Voting Rights Act led to hundreds of poll closures

Technological issues and long waits aren’t unique to this election. A study by the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan watchdog, analyzed voting problems in the 2014 midterms and found a number of problems contributing to long waiting times.

The researchers found that the distribution of poll workers and voting machines across polling stations can vary enormously, and have a huge impact on wait times. They also found that polling stations in minority communities had on average the fewest machines and poll workers. And a survey by Massachusetts Institute of Technology on racial disparities in poll station wait times during the 2016 election found that, on average, black voters waited about 16 minutes, compared to white voters waiting 10 minutes.

Long lines also have a disproportionate impact on lower-income voters; or people who can’t afford to take time off work to stand in line for several hours. Voters in several states, including Florida, Texas, and Georgia, said that some people eventually gave up waiting because they had to get to work.

Here’s a rundown of the issues voters faced.

TEXAS

The Texas Civil Rights Project filed a lawsuit on behalf of residents in Harris County, the state’s most populous county, who said their polling stations opened late and experienced technical difficulties. In response, a federal judge agreed Tuesday evening to keep nine polling locations open for an extra hour, until 8 p.m.

There were also problems of non-working machines and insufficient paper ballots reported at a polling station in Arlington, Texas, which is west of Dallas.

GEORGIA

Reports of long lines and malfunctioning machines inflamed an already tense race between gubernatorial candidates Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state, and Democratic challenger and political newcomer Stacey Abrams.

Voting machines at three polling stations in Gwinnett County, a key voting district with a large black and Democratic population near Atlanta, malfunctioned on Tuesday morning, leading to wait times of up to four hours.

Machines in Fulton County, also near Atlanta, also reportedly malfunctioned for a brief period on Tuesday morning, which led to long delays.

NORTH DAKOTA

In North Dakota, tribal leaders raced to print thousands of IDs for Native American voters leading up to Election Day. The last-minute scramble was due to a voter identification law that requires all voters to have a state or tribal ID with a residential address. It had been debated in courtrooms for about two years, but its effects were seen for the first time on Tuesday, according to ABC News. Last week, the Spirit Lake Tribe unsuccessfully sued the Secretary of State to block the measure requiring voters submit proof of address, since many Native Americans live in areas without named streets or formal addresses.

MISSOURI

Although a Cole County judge struck down portions of a state law that required voters present photo identification — and sign an affidavit if they didn’t have one — some poll workers hadn’t gotten the message. Since the voter ID requirements were essentially reversed following that weeks-old decision, voters could present things like utility bills or college IDs to cast their ballots. But early on Tuesday, some election workers insisted people present photo identification, according to KCUR.

INDIANA

Several polling places in Monroe County, Indiana, reportedly ran out of ballots, which led to long delays and lines. In response, a federal judge in Monroe County agreed to keep polls open for an extra hour. Monroe County is a key county for Democrats, and polls have shown the Democratic incumbent Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly and Republican challenger Mike Braun locked in a tie.

Separately, voters in Johnson County, which is part of the Indianapolis metro area, were not given an extension, despite the fact that computer servers used to check in voters at numerous locations faltered earlier in the day, causing delays of up to three hours

ARIZONA

Arizona experienced voting problems across the state. County Recorder Adrian Fontes said there were issues at nearly all of the state’s 500 voting sites.

At around 11:30 a.m., the entire computer system for Maricopa County, which was being used to check voters in at polling stations, went offline for about five minutes, increasing existing wait times as workers scrambled to figure out what had gone wrong. Other systems in the state also reported glitches.

When election workers arrived at a polling place in northern Chandler in Maricopa County — Arizona’s most populous county — at 5 a.m., they found that the building had been foreclosed overnight and the doors were locked. According to AZCentral, all the voting machines were hooked up and ballots were ready to go inside. Poll workers had to alert the sheriff, who had to get a court order to forcibly reopen the building for voting.

The building opened after 9 a.m., and it took another 90 minutes to get the show on the road. One of the first voters told The Arizona Republic newspaper that he waited four hours to vote.

NEW YORK

Voters reported widespread problems at polling stations in Brooklyn. By 2:30 p.m., ElectionLand, Pro Publica’s voting integrity project, had reportedly collected more than 120 reports of voting problems across the city. New York uses paper ballots, which are scanned after they’re filled in. The complaints were related to broken scanners, which resulted in hourslong waits at some polling places.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the problems at the polls were “absolutely unacceptable.”

“It’s clear the Board of Elections wasn’t prepared for one of the most important elections of our lifetimes,” De Blasio wrote on Twitter.

Executive director of the New York City Board of Elections Michael Ryan suggested voting machine problems could be a result of the humidity from heavy rainfall.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Chaos ensued earlier in the day when voters in Richland County, the second most populous in the state, reported that machines were switching their votes after they were submitted. There were other issues with machines in the county due to power cords, outlets and flashcards. County elections director Rokey Suleman suggested that the problems could be the result of the aging technology. Technical glitches were resolved in the county by the afternoon, but still resulted in long delays and lines.

Cover: Deborah Jackson takes a seat as she waits to vote in line of about 50 people at Lee Hamilton Elementary School in Ferguson on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, minutes before polls close for mid-term elections. A paper ballot shortage sparked a buildup as there were only three electronic machines at the polling place. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Gooden)