The NCSL Blog


By Matthew Catron

Elections are at the core of American democracy, but even after 200 years we still haven’t worked out all the kinks.

People vote in the California primary election on June 5, 2018, at West Valley Branch Library in San Jose. (Maritza Cruz/ Bay Area News Group) And Tuesday’s so-called “Super Tuesday” primaries in eight states were no exception.

At least half of the states conducting primaries, experienced some election administration problems, enough to make the news.

Some California voters had trouble voting: 118,000 voters in 1,530 different precincts were left off the lists in Los Angeles County because of a printing error. Voters in San Mateo County ran into problems when, according to the county’s assistant chief election officer Jim Irrizary, a software glitch between local and state systems shut down the electronic mechanism used to look up voter information. And, some voters in Amador County were delayed when at least five polling locations ran out of ballots as early as 3 p.m.

And it wasn't only California. Other states also experienced considerable administrative difficulties. Iowa had record voter turnout. However, the results were delayed because two counties accidentally reported the 2016 election results.

Voters in Story County, Iowa, were delayed when a computer error forced voters with lasts names starting with “A” and “M” to fill out their voter information separately along with their ballot.

South Dakota voters also experienced technical difficulties in eight different counties. According to reports, the e-poll books would not maintain their network connection. A few counties quickly addressed the problem, but two other counties had to extend voting almost two hours past the intended closing time.

Voters in Hoboken, N.J., also ran into some election irregularities. Among other problems, one polling location opened three hours late due to a machine malfunction.

That all negative, but the good news is that backup plans dealt with all these problems. Voters experiencing difficulties in all four states were given the opportunity to cast provisional ballots, and polling places in South Dakota and California remained open after hours to account for administrative glitches.

Furthermore, states are constantly adopting new election administration measures to improve the voting experience.

For example, Alabama introduced e-poll books during the primary. According to reports, the new system was a success with very few problems that could not be addressed over the phone. Iowa also introduced a new body of voter ID rules statewide. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate was quick to report that the new system was seamlessly introduced.

Election administration is not a perfect science. There are still mishaps with planned contingencies and states experimenting with new techniques in each election cycle. Find more information on election administration.

Matthew Catron is a legal intern with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.