Turnout Up, Creates Long Lines at Polls
Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 02:11
Many students voting in the District of Columbia and northern Virginia last Tuesday encountered long lines and delays at polling places, which in Georgetown were partly because of a surge in student voter turnout.
Arianne Kaldewey (SFS ’15) and Kelly Pierce (MSB ’15) both spent almost three hours at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, the polling place for Georgetown University and the surrounding area.
“People were definitely frustrated because there was not only general disorganization but also a lack of communication regarding the hold-up,” Pierce said. “As a student with a schedule, I know that the unforeseen time commitment was … frustrating for many.”
For some students, the delays ultimately prevented them from voting at all.
Natasha Khan (COL ’16) said she did not end up voting as a result of the wait times at the polling center. Khan had wanted to register at Duke Ellington but decided against it after seeing the line at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“I only spent five minutes in line at Duke Ellington,” she said. “Because I realized from the length of the line that it would probably take another few hours before I could vote and I didn’t want to take that long … I decided to leave.”
According to Agnes Moss, the public information officer for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, the problems at polling centers in the District were likely a result of high voter turnout.
Although the board is still in the process of collecting and analyzing Tuesday’s data, Moss said that a rise in the number of absentee ballots from 2010 to 2012 could indicate that voter turnout in the District was higher than it was two years ago, when early voting was first introduced.
“There were 22,000 people who cast their ballots during the early voting period for the mid-term elections [in 2010]. This year, there were over 58,000. That shows you the trend of what [overall turnout] could be once we’re finished counting the ballots,” Moss said.
Moss was adamant that a lack of voting machines or unpreparedness on the part of poll workers did not cause Tuesday’s widespread delays.
“We came to the conclusion that that number of machines would be sufficient based our historical data from 2008,” Moss said.
Peter Prindiville (SFS ’14), who was elected the commissioner for single-member district 2E 08 of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E Tuesday, said that he believes high turnout by same-day-registration voters accounted for delays but stressed that the Board of Elections and Ethics should have been better prepared.
“There were two factors,” he said. “One, the precinct seemed a little unorganized. … The other issue, specifically for Georgetown students, was there was abnormally high turnout, specifically in my single-member district, so the Board of Elections [and Ethics] ran out of ballots for that district twice.”
Craig Cassey (COL ’15), who was elected commissioner for SMD 2E 04, said that students had to wait while ballots were reprinted, which contributed to delays.
Moss attributed the disarray that Pierce and other Georgetown students witnessed at polling places like Duke Ellington to the fact that there were a few poll workers who did not show up for duty.
Moss added that, according to policy, everyone in the District who was in line by 8 p.m. was allowed to vote.
“Precinct captains were instructed, and they knew very well that anyone who made it to the line by then could cast their ballot,” Moss said.
According to Moss, there are a number of other factors besides high turnout that the Board of Elections and Ethics will take into account when analyzing Tuesday’s data, including the inefficiencies that specialized ANC ballots may have caused.
“There were over 661 ballots in the city due to ANC races,” Moss said. “What that means is that when you go up to the check-in clerk, you have to give him or her your ANC district, and there were over 90 ANC races throughout D.C. You had to get a special ballot for each and every one of those, so that probably came into play.”
Nonetheless, Georgetown students urged that the District take into account the growing volume of students who want to participate in local elections.
“I think there was a miscalculation of how many Georgetown students were not able to fill out absentee ballots for their home state and would want to register to vote in D.C.,” Kaldewey said.
Cassey said that while students should be encouraged to register before the delay of the election to minimize wait times, he emphasized that it is still important to cater to same-day voters.
“There will always be a population we should empower with the chance to vote … through same-day registration,” he said.
Prindiville added that he has already raised concerns about issues regarding same-day registrants with the ANC and plans to launch a discussion with the Board of Elections and Ethics soon.
According to Moss, the board has just begun the process of evaluating Tuesday’s data and identifying the issues that caused the delays.
“We’re now reviewing what were all the factors that came into play and how we can take them into consideration moving forward,” she said. “All decisions [and] all preparations are based on historical data. Everything has to be justified by data so we can use our resources in the best way possible.”