County officials in Maryland miscalculated how many ballots they would need on Election Day — and quickly ran out in more than a dozen precincts. In New York City, voters were given a two-sheet ballot that jammed machines and caused delays and long lines. And in Georgia, some voters failed to provide details like a birth year, leading officials to reject hundreds of absentee ballots for “insufficient oath information” before federal judges intervened. Nearly two decades after voting problems in a handful of Florida counties paralyzed the nation, America’s election grid this month remained a crazy patchwork of inconveniences, confusion and errors, both human-made and mechanical. The lumbering system, combined with claims of voter suppression and skewed maps from redistricting, once again tested confidence in the integrity of the vote. As in 2000, no evidence emerged of widespread fraud or political interference. But just finding enough qualified poll workers to make Election Day happen was once again a challenge, as voters navigated more than 100,000 polling places, staffed by 900,000 mostly volunteer workers and administered by some 10,000 local jurisdictions. (After the 2016 election, nearly two-thirds of local elections officials nationwide reported difficulties in recruiting workers.)
The unevenness of the system across the country — in 22 states, elections at the local level were overseen by just one person — made it a political process open to accusations of manipulation.
In some states, including New Jersey, South Carolina and Louisiana, officials depended on electronic voting machines that have no paper backups in case of a contested outcome. In Georgia, 16-year-old machines led to the improbable scene of Brian Kemp — the secretary of state overseeing elections and the Republican candidate for governor — being briefly thwarted in his attempt to cast a ballot for himself. The computer system, running on Windows 2000 software, returned an error.
Broader worries about the handling of provisional ballots in Georgia and the security of a computer system led a federal judge to delay certification of the state’s results. On Friday, the Democrat Stacey Abrams ended her bid for governor in the race against Mr. Kemp, while denouncing what she called “systemic disenfranchisement, disinvestment and incompetence.”