One of the most irked voters was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who proclaimed the new electronic system "a royal screw-up" and blasted the local board of elections for not being prepared.
New York is the last state to comply with a federal law designed to prevent the melee of the 2000 presidential election, when "hanging chads" and other ballot malfunctions created a tumultuous recount in Florida that gave the White House to George W. Bush. The Help America Vote Act, passed by Congress in 2002, mandated states to adopt simpler, more accountable voting systems.
For more than five decades, New Yorkers had stepped behind curtains and pulled heavy levers that recorded votes, but left no paper trail.
Tuesday's primary was the first time New Yorkers glimpsed electronic machines. Election officials have said they did the best they could -- hiring extra poll workers and conducting training seminars for the new machines while facing budget cuts and fiscal crises.
"If you just don't like the new voting machines, there's not much ... I can do about that because this is our voting system going forward," New York State Board of Elections spokesman John Conklin told AOL News today.
It didn't take long for the shouting to begin Tuesday, and it continued today. The new devices -- which electronically scan paper ballots marked by filling in ovals -- wouldn't boot up. Voters couldn't get the scanners to read their ballots -- picture feeding a dollar bill into a vending machine. Or worse, voters complained, the scanners took their ballots, displayed an "error" message and didn't give the ballots back.
"It was horrendous," Cara Judovits, 47, told The Wall Street Journal while leaving a polling site on West 97th Street in Manhattan. "There are about 35 people on line standing there in a boiling, disgusting gym, and I have to leave, so I will not be able to vote now."
Pleasantville, N.Y., resident Terry Rooney said poll workers at his precinct "had a manual out trying to read up on how to operate the machine," The Journal News of Westchester quoted him as saying. "They were completely lost. They had no clue what was going on. They didn't take down my name because they couldn't find a pen and a piece of paper."
The New York City Council and the state comptroller have promised to investigate. Even places that have used electronic voting in the past experienced some hiccups Tuesday with newly purchased equipment. For example, in Washington, D.C., a judge refused to extend voting hours after sporadic problems occurred with scanners and touch-screen machines recently bought to supplement the district's optical scan system.
Electronic machines have malfunctioned in other states during the past eight years, causing delays and complaints and lawsuits, but New Yorkers seemed especially miffed, according to Larry Norden of New York University's Brennan Center for Justice.
"I can't tell you how many people called me to complain how terrible it was," Norden told AOL News today, laughing. "New Yorkers like to complain.'
"I knew the machines wouldn't be ready," said Norden, whose nonprofit organization has sued the New York City and state election boards, claiming the new system is prone to errors.
Precinct monitors reported poll workers weren't prepared to deal with the new machines, contributing to long lines and would-be voters being turned away. "You never want to practice on the day of the game," Eric Marshall, a spokesman for Election Protection, told AOL News.
The voting advocacy group sent poll monitors across New York City on Tuesday. Unlike other states, New York does not offer so-called "early voting," which allows voters to cast ballots at voting centers days before Election Day. "The dry run was the real run," Marshall said of New York's new system, adding that his group will be working with election officials to ensure a smoother operation for the November general election.
According to Norden, part of the problem is "New York's crazy election laws" that cram so many instructions and candidate names on a single ballot it becomes hard to read -- a problem election officials tried to fix Tuesday by dispatching magnifying glasses to polling places.
"They've had plenty of time to deal with this," said Norden, who authored a Brennan Center report released today that found that 10 years after Florida's debacle, voting problems persist because local election officials often don't know about previous problems with voting systems. The report calls for a national database where machine manufacturers would be required to list problems associated with their products.