A sprinkler system went off inside a West Town polling place Tuesday afternoon, flooding voting machines and equipment and forcing officials to close down the site.
The Chicago Board of Elections announced that the polling place at James Otis Elementary, 525 N. Armour St., was flooded about 3:45 p.m., and directed voters in the 37th precinct of the 1st Ward to vote at the Goldblatt’s Building, 1615 W. Chicago Ave.
Notice to voters in Prec 37, Ward 1:— ChicagoElection (@ChicagoElection) November 3, 2020
Thru 7 p.m., vote at Goldblatt's Bldg, 1615 W Chicago Av
Sprinkler System flooded precinct polling space at Otis School.
The Board is working to recover the ballots.
PIPE BURST AT POLLING LOCATION— Megan Hickey (@MeganHickeyTV) November 3, 2020
Video inside James Otis School on city’s west side.
Poll worker told me they don’t know status of the ballots right now. Tried to push them to a safe spot. @cbschicago pic.twitter.com/zmwv5Q37SM
A video posted to social media showed the sprinkler system raining water all over a room inside the school as alarms blared.
A poll worker who asked not to be named said a pipe appeared to burst, sending hot steam into the polling place, which triggered the sprinkler system.
“It was really quiet before it happened and I honestly thought it was a gunshot given how tensions are so high,” the poll worker said. “Luckily there were no voters in the polling area, just volunteers. We all then ran out as soon as possible.”
While the poll worker said it appeared some ballots might have been damaged, officials said it is unlikely any were spoiled. Any paper ballots would have been fed into a scanner as soon as they were cast, but either way all records from inside would be preserved.
“We’ll make every effort to make sure that we secure and recover every single ballot,” board spokesman Jim Allen said at a news conference. “We don’t think there were damaged voted ballots.”
Allen said “even if some water did get into the scanner, it might be the top few of those ballots in the ballot box.”
He said officials would gather the records using “tamper evident seals to seal up all those ballots and get them out of there and make sure we preserve all the records from the polling place.”
What’s more, there is an added safeguard. The newest scanners “capture the image of each ballot as it’s being cast by the voter, which allows us to compare that to the paper ballots in the event any water reached the ballots and either caused them to warp or affected the voter’s marks,” Allen said in an email.