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Over 1,000 Ballot Scanners Went Unused During NYC Election Day Fiasco

A ballot is stored for scanning later at a poll site in Crown Heights on Election Day.
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A ballot is stored for scanning later at a poll site in Crown Heights on Election Day. Scott Heins / Gothamist

While thousands of New Yorkers stood in hours-long lines waiting for their chance to vote in last Tuesday's midterm election, more than 1,000 Board of Elections scanners that could have been deployed to alleviate wait times and scanner malfunctions were kept out of circulation, according to officials on the Board.

The details emerged following the first regularly scheduled meeting of the BOE since a chaotic election that saw widespread problems at poll sites in NYC. The meeting lasted less than eight minutes, but each commissioner still earned their regular pay of $300, in accordance with state law.

Manhattan Commissioner Frederick Umane spoke to reporters following the brief session Tuesday.

“We had over 300 scanners that were not deployed because we didn’t have room for them in the poll sites,” he said, speaking specifically about Manhattan. Umane said the BOE had consolidated some poll sites into buildings that were ADA accessible and run out of room to fit additional scanners.

“There’s just not enough room if you put extra [electoral districts] into a poll site, you run out of space to have scanners and privacy booths,” he said.

When asked about scanners not deployed on Election Day citywide, BOE executive director Michael Ryan declined to provide an exact number right away. He did say that the board owns more than 5,000 scanners, and according to board documents, 4,054 were deployed to 1,231 poll sites across the city, meaning there were on average around three scanners per poll site, and an additional 1,000 some-odd scanners not in use.

“Getting hung up on the hyper-technical, ‘100 scanners here, 200 scanners there’ is not the appropriate direction for this conversation,” Ryan said. “The appropriate direction for this conversation is, ‘how do we, in a spirit of professionalism and collegiality, work to make this system better together.”

Gothamist previously reported that for the midterm elections, the city Board of Elections only increased the number of scanners in use by 12 percent, compared to the 2016 presidential elections, though they’d be tasked with processing nearly twice as many sheets of paper, thanks to the city’s first two-page ballot.

The Board has yet to do a complete analysis of what caused such widespread problems on November 6th. They’re waiting for reports from the scanner manufacturer that will give them a clearer picture, Ryan said. When pressed on what went wrong, Ryan blamed a laundry list external factors from the printing company, the state requirements of how ballots have to be printed, the late notification from the mayor’s charter revision commission about ballot questions and other litigation that stalled the final ballot.

One thing he would change for future elections, however, is making sure poll workers on site are trained on how to fix routine scanner jams.

“Up until this point we’ve left it in the hands of technicians,” he said. “We now know that that piece of the puzzle has to be critically examined and we will come up with a plan to make sure that these routine ballot jams... that seem to have occured...will be remedied much more quickly than they were.”

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