The outrage caused by widespread voting machine breakdowns throughout New York City on midterm election day is largely falling on the shoulders of Board of Elections Director Michael Ryan.
At Greenpoint’s polling sites wait-times exceeded two hours throughout the day, as ballot scanners overheated, jammed and simply stopped working. Greenpoint was not alone, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams counted 49 poll sites facing similar dilemmas.
Voter turnout increased 88 percent in NYC this year for the midterm elections compared with the 2014 midterms, but decreased by nearly one million voters compared with the 2016 presidential elections, according to Gothamist.
BOE director Ryan said that 56 ballot scanners were taken out of service on Tuesday between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., the 15-hour window which saw 1.9 million NYC voters — each with two double-sided ballots — overwhelm the eight-year-old scanners that were expected to be used for 10 years. 6,000 calls were made to 311 pertaining to election day woes.
“We had almost four million pieces of paper pass through those scanners on Election Day,” Ryan said to the NY Times. “This was volume of an unprecedented proportion.”
Ryan also placed blame on the rain for soaking paper ballots causing jams in the scanners.
Why so many problems voting in NYC today? Here are some explanations, from the executive director of the @BOENYC. Wet ballots. The first two page ballot (so double the chance for each voter to jam). High turnout. pic.twitter.com/62QdjsbB2A
— Lindsey Christ (@LindseyChrist) November 6, 2018
On Tuesday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams visited chaotic poll sites in Fort Greene, Bay Ridge and Bedford-Stuyvesant, and demanded sweeping election process reforms in a press conference outside of the Brooklyn BOE offices on Wednesday:
“The humiliation, the embarrassment, the insult that voters went through yesterday throughout this city as I went from location-to-location and heard the complaints. Walking into a location with five machines, three of them being down, and by the time I walk out another one goes down, and only one machine is operating.
Paper jams, ballots unable to be accounted, the letters being small, lack of clarity. This is just a fiasco of an election system, it’s an embarrassment of the electoral process in this city. And it’s not an indictment on every employee who’s in the Board of Elections, but its clearly an indictment on the leadership at the Board of Elections. Failure of vision to fully see how do we move this system forward so we can all participate in the process.”
Adams laid out a five-part plan calling for city and state-level investigations on the current election processes, an adoption of early voting as it is permitted in 37 states and training programs for poll workers to learn ballot scanner maintenance.
In an op-ed for the NY Post, Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson placed blame on Albany, where progressive reform has been stymied by Republican control over the past decade:
“For years, these laws have been passed in the state Assembly and blocked in the state Senate. This must be the session we break that logjam once and for all in Albany. With the Democrats now in control of the state Legislature, now is the time to act.
If New Yorkers could vote early, like they do in Texas or Florida, we wouldn’t face such a crush at the polls during the 15 hours of voting. We’re one of just 13 states that do not allow some form of early voting. The reform would lower the stakes of a rainstorm or a subway delay costing someone their right to vote.
No-excuse absentee voting would let New Yorkers cast a ballot by mail and know it was counted on election night.”
Speaker Johnson is demanding changes at the top levels of BOE, while Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have not joined the call.
The Atlantic earlier this year called the voting system in New York the worst in the U.S. citing the facts that “Only 57 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election, ranking the Empire State 41st in the nation for turnout. In the last midterm election, turnout statewide hit an abysmal 34 percent, almost the lowest in the country. In New York City, just 12 percent of eligible voters showed up for the 2017 mayoral primary.”
To fix its voting infrastructure problems, New York could adopt early voting, expand the voting window from its current single day and allow for same day registration. New ballot scanners might help too.
NYS Assemblyman Joe Lentol released a letter stating his plans to introduce election reform legislation.