‘Why does this happen every single time?’ Electronic ballot boxes fail in Missouri

Frustrated voters on the Missouri side of the Kansas City area found polling sites snarled and lines backed up Tuesday morning when electronic ballot-counting machines failed.

In Clay County, about a dozen of the machines were not working properly, election officials said, fouling up the voting process for hours.

Another ballot counter went down in Lee’s Summit, and another in Raymore, where Cass County voters leaving their ballots in a makeshift cardboard ballot box said they lost some confidence in system.

Those failures came on an Election Day also marked by long lines, voter registration confusion, and the persistent problem of Missouri poll workers wrongly demanding photo ID from voters, contrary to the law.

Of all the difficulties, the failing ballot boxes were among the most vexing to voters on the Missouri side of the metropolitan area.

Just before noon, the office of Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft acknowledged the problems in a message posted to Twitter.

“Several polling places are reporting problems with machines counting ballots,” the message said. “Local election officials are aware and working to fix. Your vote will be counted! Please follow poll workers’ instructions and know your vote is secure!”

Some voters replied with skepticism.

“Why does this happen every single time, can they ever fix it?” one person tweeted.

“My interactions with my poll workers this morning indicate they are untrained and lack the proper knowledge of the law,” another wrote.

In Clay County, the problems began as early as 6 a.m. at one Excelsior Springs polling site.

Clay County election officials confirmed that about a dozen of their boxes were not operating for up to three hours in the morning. Officials blamed some of the problems on poll workers not pushing the right buttons on machines that are two years old.

In Cass County, when the lone ballot machine at Raymore’s Centerview polling location stopped working, longtime voter Mark Liggat said, he couldn’t believe the alternative election officials suggested.

“They began taking ballots out of the machine and placing them into a cardboard box,” Liggat says. “Nothing more than a cardboard box with a slot on top of it.”

Liggat, who was voting with his wife and father-in-law, had been waiting in line for about an hour when he realized the line of “hundreds and hundreds of people” had begun to slow down to a crawl.

“There didn’t seem to be a backup plan. No plan B,” Liggat says.

Also worrisome, he said, was the lack of identification for election workers on site. “You didn’t know who was an election official and who was just a regular Joe Schmoe.”

Liggat said poll workers urged voters to place their ballots into the makeshift box while a new, functioning machine was installed. Some voters could not bring themselves to put their trust in this solution.

“One young lady, she must have been in her thirties, said ‘my conscience won’t let me put my ballot in that box,” Liggat said.

Liggat also declined to enter his votes into the box.

During the confusion, Liggat said, a new voting machine was wheeled into the center to replace the malfunctioning one.

“But I can see how that could have cast a shadow of doubt in people’s minds,” Liggat says. “I see how they can wonder ‘did my vote get counted?’”

The malfunctioning machine was replaced about 11:30 a.m., according to the Cass County elections office.

Officials said they did not know what caused the machine to malfunction. They also did not know how many ballots had been cast before the problem occurred.

Later Tuesday, a nonpartisan team of election workers were to manually insert the ballots from the cardboard box into a working machine. As a result of a heavy voter turnout, additional ballot boxes were delivered to other polling locations, election officials said.

Another ballot box failure, at a polling location at Lee’s Summit City Hall, gummed up the works until a line snaked out the door, said Brigitte Thompson, a 60-year-old voter.

The single machine used to collect ballots stopped functioning about 7:30 a.m.

“With that large of a crowd, they should have had a backup” machine, Thompson said. “That’s what we’re all baffled about.”

Thompson was able to vote before the machine broke down, she said, but her daughter wasn’t, after waiting in line for more than an hour.

Thompson said election workers collected the ballots in a pile. She wondered what would happen to those ballots.

“People are furious,” she said. “And this is not a town that’s going to let that go.”

Corey Dillon, Democratic director for the Jackson County Election Board, said that the ballot counter did go down at that location and had to be replaced. It was down for about 20 minutes before a different machine was brought in, and the new one was soon up and running.

While the machine was down, election judges kept track of the ballots and placed them in a bypass envelop. Either election judges will run the ballots through the machine at the end of voting tonight or that will be done at election offices, Dillon said.

This story includes information that started with a tip from ProPublica’s Electionland project, which monitors voting problems around the country.

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