Election Day Madness

Chaos at the Polls

From New York to Florida to Ohio, polling places were rife with broken machines, erroneous voter rolls, and misinformed poll workers. Eliza Shapiro reports.

Kathy Kmonicek / AP Photo

Election Day 2012 may be remembered for a long night of vote tallying, a serious upset, or a victory speech for the history books.

But that all comes later.

Twitter and Facebook overflowed Tuesday, not with messages of support for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney but with dispatches about the widespread insanity that plagued polling states around the country.

Reports of three-hour waits, dysfunctional machines, and incompetent poll workers began to pour in as soon as polls opened on the East Coast around 6 a.m. And they didn’t stop.

In New York City, hour-long lines stretched out into the cold streets. At many polling places, chaos reigned as voters unable to vote in their usual precinct due to destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy last week were bused to alternate spots.

Confusion prevailed across the five boroughs after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an emergency order Monday allowing New Yorkers affected by Sandy to cast an affidavit ballot at any polling place. Eyewitnesses report that voters who were told they couldn’t vote in certain precincts yelled at poll workers, “Cuomo said we could!”

A robbery was reported at a polling station at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. An eyewitness said she heard a commotion in the packed cathedral as she cast her vote. On her way out, she heard a middle-aged man telling a police officer, “I was waiting in line, I had it, and now it’s gone.”

In a public-school cafeteria in Manhattan, voters waited an hour to fill out their ballots, only to find a slew of broken scanning machines. One woman’s ballot was rejected by the scanner four times; as she tried to enter her ballot again, a message popped up telling her she’d over-voted and had to contact a poll worker.

“This is the Upper West Side of Manhattan,” said one man waiting in line. “I can’t imagine what the rest of the country looks like.”

It didn’t look good, according to reports from coast to coast. And as Election Day wore on, the problems only got worse.

Reports of broken and frozen voting machines proliferated on Twitter, and responders to The Daily Beast’s Having Trouble Voting app from Nebraska to Delaware said poll workers insisted on checking their IDs, despite photo identification laws having been struck down months ago.

In Pennsylvania, which was was called for Obama, there were reports of “massive confusion” about the state's controversial voter ID law, which has been halted. Zack Stalberg, the president of an Philadelphia elections-watchdog group, told Reuters that his group had received “hundreds” of phone calls from perplexed voters who had been asked to show their IDs.

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In crucial swing states Florida and Ohio, voters remained in line even after the polls closed at night, meaning it would take even longer to tally every last vote. In Miami, some voters waited in lines for upward of three hours to cast their ballot. Tens of thousands of students in Florida reported that they were made to cast provisional ballots because their home addresses—rather than their college addresses—were printed on their registration forms.

Nicholas Duchesne of Riverdale Park, Md., said a fellow voter told him that her screen was malfunctioning, selecting Romney when she intended to vote for Obama.

Renita Vega of Fayetteville, N.C., said she saw police checking driver’s licenses before voters even entered the polling place.

Robert McDonald showed up at his precinct in Lowellville, Ohio, on Tuesday morning to find that his name wasn’t on the voter rolls. “I called the Board of Elections, and they told me I wasn’t registered to vote,” McDonald said. “But I registered three years ago. The poll worker asked the Board of Elections if I should fill out a provisional ballot. They said, ‘Don’t bother, it won’t count.’” McDonald left the precinct without casting his ballot

At a polling place in Tallahassee, Fla., an Obama poster reading “Change the Atmosphere” was reported to the local authorities.

In Johnstown, Pa., Jason Deaver and his fiancée arrived at their polling station wearing Veterans for Obama T-shirts. Deaver’s fiancée wore an Obama pin on her jacket. A poll worker stopped them and asked if they were allowed to wear Obama gear. “We said, ‘Well, yes, we’re voters, we’re going to wear this,’” Deaver said.

Deaver and his fiancée were asked for their photo IDs, but Deaver reminded the poll worker that Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law had been halted. “The poll worker told us we had to show our IDs because I’m a first-time voter and it’s my fiancée’s first time voting in this county. So she had to go back home and get her ID,” he said. “When I got home I found out that even if you’re a first-time voter, all you have to show is your voter registration card. The unprofessionalism was just ridiculous.”

In Havertown, Pa., Colleen Mullarkey spent her lunch break rushing to two polling places, trying to cast her ballot. “I voted in the last two elections,” she said, “but I showed up today and they told me I’m not eligible to vote. They confirmed that my old voter registration was canceled but my new registration was never processed. They never gave me a reason why. I was told it’s not even worth filling out a provisional ballot since it won’t count.” In the end, Mullarkey was not able to cast her vote. “Everyone said they were really sorry, but it’s disappointing.”

Elsewhere in the crucial battleground state of Pennsylvania, a voting machine was taken out of service after a YouTube video showed the electronic machine switching a vote for Obama into a vote for Romney.

In North Carolina, which was leaning toward Romney but still considered a toss-up as of Tuesday, Deborah Brown showed up at her precinct in Charlotte at 6 a.m. to vote. “I’ve voted in the same precinct for 20 years,” she said, “but I got up there to cast my ballot and they said, ‘We can’t find you.’ I said, ‘That’s funny, I’ve have the same address for two decades, here’s my voter card.’” Brown was directed to a different precinct. “I stood in line this morning at 6 and now I have to drive across town this afternoon.”

“But you better believe I’m going to vote,” she said.