Humidity-caused paper jams, missing power cords, even foreclosure blamed for voting failures

Across America, some citizens are waiting patiently an hour or more to vote.  Their voting machines aren’t working nearly as hard for them.  America’s fragile voting infrastructure is showing its warts yet again this election day.  In North Carolina, state officials announced that high humidity was causing some ballot scanners to jam.  Voters were assured their ballots would be set aside and counted later.  New York city scanners were having trouble, too, though officials there speculated that causes ranged from a larger ballot, to thicker paper, to that dreaded humidity. In South Carolina, miscalibrated touchscreen machines needed to be continually reset after voters complained their votes were being applied to the wrong candidates. In Detroit, voters who showed up at a polling place at Martin Luther King Jr. High School found that their voting machine wasn’t ready for them. Instead, it was locked in a closet, and no one had the key. The problem wasn’t solved until arrive until 90 minutes after polls opened. 

The day’s craziest story belongs to Arizona, near Chandler, where a polling place had been foreclosed on the night before, so poll workers couldn’t open it, according to the local CBS affiliate.   Local election officials confirmed there were “building access issues.”And Here’s another local media report.

And in highly contested Georgia, there have been numerous reports of troubles in fast-growing Atlanta suburbs, including one “malfunction” that arose because voting machines were missing their power cords.

“The State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement has received reports that ballots in some precincts in Wake County and other areas cannot be fed through tabulators,” North Carolina officials said in a press release. “Initial reports from county elections offices indicate this issue is caused by high humidity levels. When ballots cannot be read by tabulators, they are stored securely in “emergency bins” and will be tabulated as soon as possible.”

Greg Flynn, vice-chair of the Wake County Board of Elections, assured voters that their votes would be counted.

“On a rainy day like today humidity increases the likelihood of paper ballots jamming in tabulators. DO NOT BE AFRAID Unread ballots are placed in a slot for storage in an ’emergency bin’ to be counted later after the polls close. All ballots are accounted for,” he said. “These machines are old. We hope to replace them all next year. A new model tabulator was tested during early voting at the BOE site. It ran smoothly with none of the problems experienced at other sites.”

North Carolina election lawyer Gerry Cohen said he had received numerous Tweets and emails about the problem.

“About 75 of our 100 counties use opti-scan paper ballots that are hand marked and fed by the voter into a tabulator,” he said. “There is an emergency slot in the back of the machine to drop the ballot in and under supervision they will be fed into the tabulator later.”

The Raleigh News & Observer reported that confusion around the paper jams left at least one voter worried that some ballots might not be properly counted, however.

Cary voter Nancy Harrell, who lives in Precinct 04-12 in Wake County, has been voting at Crossroads Ford Service Center for 20 years. Tuesday morning, she was there to vote between 8:30 and 9 a.m. and said she saw more than 15 voters struggling to get the machine to accept their ballots.

When it was her turn, the machine did not accept her ballot, so she said she kept trying. Harrell said that poll workers chased down some voters who left before their ballots were successfully entered in the machines. After several tries, her ballot went in.

“I didn’t see an ‘emergency bin’ — no one mentioned an emergency bin,” Harrell said. “So we just stood in line until they were accepted by the Scantron machine.

“I tried to put it in and they tried to tell me exactly how to do it, but if you’ve voted before you’ve done it many times. I put it in, it wouldn’t accept it, it beeped and I tried again,” she said.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, there was plenty of frustration with long lines at four polling places in Gwinnett County. In Snellville, the Secretary of State’s office has already announced polling places would stay open an extra 25 minutes because of the snafu, which has been blamed on failure of machines that generate ballots. reporter Kira Lerner said some people waited more than four hours to vote there. The issues were fixed by noon, but long lines persisted.

And in Fulton County, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that long lines at one location could be blamed on a lack of power cords which prevented four machines from operating.  Voters were offered the chance to fill in a back-up paper ballot, but many stayed in line instead.  At another location, only three voting machines were available when voter registration data suggested eight were needed; five more were sent to the location and election officials apologized for the error, calling it a “mix-up.”

In New York city, there was plenty of frustration. ProPublica has a great chart of voting machine malfunction reports.   Carl Hamad-Lipscombe Tweeted that he had to abandon efforts to vote in the Bronx because of the delay.

“All but 2 machines are broken. Over 100 waiting on line already. Not what we’d expect in NYC. Hopefully I get to vote later, couldn’t wait another hour,” he wrote.


In South Carolina, The State newspaper reported serious touch screen calibration problems.

Elections officials explained that the voting machines had to be recalibrated several times a day, but higher turnout Tuesday meant they needed to be reset earlier than usual, according to WLTX.

Suleman said he did not know how widespread the problems are with calibration, but his staff has technicians in the field and “they’ve been recalibrating pretty much all morning,” according to The State.

One voter also told the paper that when he tried to type in a write-in candidate, the machine registered the wrong letters.


This is a developing story. See voting problems in your area? Please Tweet to me at @RedTapeChron or email me at bob at





About Bob Sullivan 1334 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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