Malfunctioning Voting Machines, Mass Chaos Reported in New York

A long-awaited switch from mechanized voting machines to computerized ones has befuddled and, in some cases, paralyzed New York polling places. James Barron and Elissa Gootman of the New York Times' City Room blog report a scene of bureaucratic delay, poor preparation, and rising emotions:

Some polling sites did not receive the optical scanners needed to read paper ballots and so failed at 6 a.m., the hour when voting was supposed to begin. At other polling places, optical scanners were not working properly and voters waited while workers tried to fix the machines. The frustration was so great in some cases that screaming matches erupted among workers and voters.

They relay horror stories from Manhattan:

But even at polling places where the new machines seemed to operate correctly, it was slow going. At Public School 165, on 109th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, 80 people waited in a long line, waiting to feed the ballots they had filled out into the machine. At least one frustrated voter tried to bail out and throw his ballot in a wastebasket, though an election worker told him not to -- it was against the rules.

Some voters were unhappy about having to give the completed ballot to election workers running the scanning device. "That's not a secret ballot at that point," said Paul Randour, 75, a retired lawyer who voted on East 79th Street in Manhattan. He insisted on inserting his ballot into the machine himself.

And from Brooklyn:

Joe Keohane, who voted at Public School 38 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, described a scene of "total bedlam" that broke out when the only scanning machine in use broke down. (A second machine, he said, appeared as if it had never been activated.) "It was like a refugee situation," said Mr. Keohane, 33, the executive editor at Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine of United Airlines. (Mr. Keohane wrote a book review for The New York Times in 2007.)

He wrote to City Room:

Machines down, no contingency plans, volunteers yelling at volunteers, volunteers yelling at voters, voters yelling at volunteers. I had one woman demanding I put the ballot in an envelope and give it to her, while another woman on my other side was telling me not to use the envelope. "I need to stamp it," she says, and stamped it. Then: "Oh no, that's not the right stamp."

In the end, Mr. Keohane said in an interview, he stuck his ballot -- envelopeless and bearing what was apparently the wrong stamp -- through a slot in the machine, to be scanned later. 

Read the full story at the New York Times.

Presented by

Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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