With a record turnout for a midterm election, voters faced long lines and wait times at poll sites throughout the five boroughs. At some locations, several optical scanners were broken, leaving voters to wait two or three hours before casting their ballots.
According to reports, Board of Elections executive director Michael Ryan pointed to not only high turnout, but also the two-page ballot and the rainy weather as reasons for the chaos.
Officials were unhappy with the response. Some, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, called for Ryan’s resignation.
The following day, Borough President Eric Adams stood in front of the Board of Elections in Downtown Brooklyn and demanded an “immediate investigatory hearing” to determine who is responsible for the failure.
“This is not Afghanistan, this is America,” Adams said. “We saw the American Dream turned into a nightmare.”
By the borough president’s count, 49 poll sites in Brooklyn had serious problems. At a location he visited, three out of five machines were broken. By the time he left, another had malfunctioned, leaving only one to scan the ballots.
“This is an embarrassment of the electoral process,” he said. “It is clearly an indictment on the leadership of the Board of Elections.”
Adams, however, did not call for Ryan’s ouster. Instead, he said he wants a commitment to structural reform, expansion of poll workers and training, early voting, and better use of technology in the voting booth.
“Resignation without reform is bringing another person to a dysfunctional system,” he said. “The goal now is to find out what is going.”
Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein toured voting sites in her Brooklyn district, and found similar problems. She said the situation reminded her of the 2000 presidential election “disaster,” when a recount was needed in Florida because of the “Hanging Chad” debacle.
Weinstein called for early voting in New York, which 34 other states have adopted. She also wants one primary, rather than several primary elections that confuse voters.
“It will ease the burden on Election Day and it will increase turnout.” she said about early voting. “More New Yorkers will be able to have their say.”
Assemblyman Robert Carroll said that when he walked into his polling place, PS 130 in Windsor Terrace, he saw hundreds of people in the school cafeteria. Though he was excited by the turnout, it turned out they were all waiting to have their ballots scanned.
“Every single scanning booth was out of order,” he said. “I waited almost two hours to cast my ballot.”
Carroll said reforms shouldn’t just stop with early voting. He wants to also make sure people on parole and former felons can vote as well.
“We have the technology, we have the resources, we have the means,” he said. “Now we need to have the political will.
“There needs to be a wholesale change of our Election Day processes, and that doesn’t start with the resignation of Mike Ryan,” Carroll added. “That starts with the legislature actually putting in good laws.”
Last Wednesday, Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, a member of the Assembly Election Law Committee, released a statement that he will introduce legislation to enable early voting, the digitization of all voter records and “easily readable ballots that are only one page.”
With the State Senate flipping to the Democrats, the north Brooklyn pol said New York will have a legislature that will correct the issue.
“There were far too many problems yesterday with wet and rejected ballots, machine malfunctions and unnecessary long lines,” he said. “We need to immediately reform and improve our election system so that voter participation remains at this level and grows even higher.”
At an unrelated press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio was asked if he thinks Ryan should resign. The mayor responded that though he has made some improvements, the BOE executive director needs to “make very clear” that he’s willing to make major changes.
De Blasio noted that his administration offered the BOE $20 million last year to make reforms, but Ryan turned it down.
“He has to be ready to take on a role that is more professional, more aggressive if we can get the state legislation passed,” he said. “If he has any hesitation about doing those things, he should leave. If he’s ready to do those things, I will give him a chance.”
As for early voting and other election reforms, de Blasio said everyone in Albany should be held accountable to make those changes. He said it only takes a simple majority of the Assembly and the State Senate, followed by the governor’s signature, to get it done.
“They should get it done by April 1,” de Blasio said.