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Oops, We Forgot to Plug In the Voting Machine

A few problems are emerging early on Election Day, but one expert said voters “should exhaust all remedies before agreeing to leave.”

Voters fill out their ballots in Leesburg, Virginia, on Tuesday morning. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Polls have barely opened on the East Coast, and voting machines — and people — are already causing a few foul-ups. Experts say that the errors are normal, and that none that have emerged so far should prevent voters from casting a ballot.

“There are literally hundreds of thousands of voting machines being set up, mostly by volunteer poll workers, and sometimes there are problems,” said David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research. “Most important thing is for the poll workers to contact their local election officials, who are most likely expecting some issues and will be ready to send help.”

In Indianapolis, voters at West Lake Elementary school arrived to find the machines — in this case, optical scanners — unplugged and only one volunteer manning the polling place. When contacted by ProPublica, elections officials in Marion County said they were unaware of the issue, but they dispatched a mechanic to the site to get the machines up and running after our call.

Russell Hollis, deputy director of the Marion County Clerk’s Office, said the poll worker saw a long line and “never turned on the machines.” The voters have been casting their ballots on typical paper ballots, and instead of scanning them have been dropping them into a secure box. Their ballots will be scanned in later, he said.

In Huntsville, Alabama, voters at one location — the Charles Stone Agricultural Center — wrote so hard that the pen perforated the two-sided ballot, causing the vote-counting machine to register the ballot as an error, according to Tommy Ragland, the Madison County probate judge.

“Voters are bearing down so hard with the pen, it’s like they’re taking their anger out on the ballot itself,” Ragland said, adding that voters can redo their ballot if they make this mistake. He also said moisture in the air is causing ballots to swell, making it even more difficult for the machine to process them. A technician has been sent to the location, and poll workers have been instructed to continue to take ballots.

For most voters, polling locations will have access to backup handmarked paper ballots, and there should be a contingency plan in place even if the scanner is down. “Voters should exhaust all remedies before agreeing to leave and come back later,” Becker said.

About Electionland

ProPublica’s Electionland project covers problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Our coalition of newsrooms around the country are investigating issues related to voter registration, pandemic-related changes to voting, the shift to vote-by-mail, cybersecurity, voter education, misinformation, and more.

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