Computer glitches and long lines at polling places around the country did not stop millions of Americans from voting in Tuesday’s midterm elections, which saw a surge of turnout in a contest noted for its cost, intensity and concern for the integrity of the overall democratic process.
Tuesday’s vote was the first major national election since U.S. intelligence agencies concluded Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential contest, with the country on high alert as surveys showing election security on the minds of almost 9 of 10 voters.
While the heated contest was seen as a referendum on President Trump with ballots cast for all 435 members of the House of Representatives, 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate, and 36 out of 50 state governors — overall election security appeared strong and stable.
At midday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — which found Russian government-linked agents attempted to hack 21 states during the 2016 contest — announced it had “nothing significant to report” regarding coordinated activities to attack voting infrastructure, nor any evidence of cyberattacks.
Tuesday’s election “is the most secure election in the modern era,” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at a press conference.
The department also observed less online foreign propaganda than in the lead-up to the last vote, as social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter announcing they’d recently removed scores of accounts due to suspicious behavior.
Despite much of the East Coast being pummeled by rain, turnout was projected to far surpass the 2014 midterm election numbers, as voters from Maine to California formed long lines at polling stations.
“We are experiencing record engagement and seeing historic early turnout,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. In metropolitan Atlanta the average voting wait time was three hours with reports of lines exceeding 1,000 people.
Meanwhile, a small number of voters in New York City were unable to cast their ballot because machines were down in nearly every borough. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio urged patience and called for election reform.
“To everyone waiting in line to vote because of a broken scanner or other problems, your voice matters,” Mr. de Blasio tweeted. “Please stay in line. And let’s once and for all get true Board of Elections reforms like early voting so this never happens again. NYC deserves so much better.”
A voter hotline operated by an Election Protection coalition made up of more than 100 groups, including Common Cause, received nearly 10,000 complaints across the country by noon and an additional 500 complaints by text.
Although rights advocates had warned of intimidation tactics over voter registration, most of Tuesday’s hiccups appeared to be relatively minor and largely linked to outdated machines and technical glitches.
“The technology is so old in many cases, so we are seeing breakdowns,” Ms. Hobert Flynn said on a conference call with reporters, adding that Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Illinois were among the states hindered by archaic machines.
In Georgia, where the governor’s race was tight, state investigators had to check out reported problems with digital poll booths, according to state spokeswoman Candice Broce. Some voters received provisional ballots instead of regular voting machines.
Some difficulties were more unusual. In Chandler, Arizona, voters found one polling place in a strip mall shuttered after its owner foreclosed the property on Monday. Election officials in Gwinnett County, Georgia, didn’t supply enough power cords causing voting machines to shut down while in suburban New York City, voting machines were delivered to the wrong district.
And in North Carolina, officials said high humidity prevented ballots in some precincts from being able to be fed through tabulators in some precincts in Wake and Forsyth counties, The Associated Press reported. Officials said such ballots are stored securely in emergency bins and would be tabulated as soon as possible.
There was also the threat of violence, as Christopher Thomas Queen, 48, was arrested in Washington, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, after allegedly threatening to shoot workers at a polling place.
Mr. Queen reportedly became irate when he was told he wasn’t registered to vote and allegedly told poll workers that he was going to get a gun, come back and shoot them.