What to do in a voting machine jam

By Jessie Shi

Grace United Methodist Church at 125 W. 114th St. is one of the polling stations. Credit: Jessie Shi/The North Polls

Four years after The Board of Elections installed a system of electronic voting machines in New York City, there were no major problems reported in the polling districts in northern Manhattan this primary day. 

Workers at the Grace United Methodist polling station dealt with two glitches, the first around 8 a.m. and the other a few hours later. In both cases, the paper ballot that voters feed into the scanning machines jammed.  Election coordinator Alexander E. Medwedew says the jams briefly delayed the voting procedures of around 25 people in total.

Because of the importance of maintaining the integrity of the vote, there are elaborate procedures for fixing a jam, even a simple one.  Here are the instructions from the Basic Poll Worker Manual for what to do when a jam happens:

  1. A bipartisan team open the door of the scanners with the police present
  2. The team check to make sure the flaps are open
  3. The coordinator calls for more seals when finished

If scanner jams remain:

  1. Scanner inspectors tell the coordinator to call the borough office
  2. Scanner inspectors direct voters to other scanners until a technician arrives

If all scanners break down:

  1. Scanner inspectors notify the coordinator immediately
  2. The coordinator calls the borough office
  3. Scanner inspectors wait for the coordinator to tell them to begin the emergency procedures
The Basic Poll Worker Manual gives detailed instructions for all the poll workers on election days. Credit: Jessie Shi/The North Polls

Emergency procedures:

  1. Direct all voters to place their ballots into emergency ballot boxes. There are usually two at each poll station.
  2. If the broken scanners are fixed, inspectors scan all emergency ballots into the scanners
  3. If the broken scanners are not fixed, the coordinator collects all emergency ballots to the Election Day tables for tally


Luckily for the voters at Grace United Methodist, both problems were resolved at the first stage and voting resumed in about five minutes.


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