[Image via Watauga Democrat]
In a recent post, I covered the battle in Watauga County, NC to establish an early voting site on the campus of Appalachian State University in Boone – a battle that ultimately resulted in the state board of elections ordering the county to permit on-campus voting at ASU.
That polling place opened last week and was almost immediately completely overwhelmed. A Facebook video from the first day showed nearly 200 people in line and there were reports on two-hour waits or longer. Initial suggestions were that the polling place did not have enough voting machines, but a quick look at the video indicated that the problem seemed to be at check-in. Turns out that about 1 in 5 ASU students were taking advantage of the “one-stop” opportunity to register at the polls – which necessarily takes longer – but all voters were standing in the same line. The Watauga Democrat has more:
Photos taken at the student union revealed a long line of people waiting to vote. Matt Snyder, director of the Watauga County Board of Elections, said that the ASU polling location was slowed by the volume of voters.
“We had a large number of people,” Snyder said. “We were voting two people a minute; every 30 seconds someone was voting.”
Snyder said that checking IDs did lead to a longer check-in process for voters, but that around 20 percent of the voters at the ASU poll were same-day registrants, which also led to the lengthy lines.
Pam Williamson, director of primary operations for the Watauga County Democratic Party, said that lines were held up by confusion and lack of hardware.
“What happened yesterday was that there were plenty of machines able to process a ballot, but only ‘x’ number of machines that were able to process voters in,” Williamson said.
According to Williamson, voters who were already registered had to wait in the same line with voters wishing to do same-day registration, a much longer process than simply casting a ballot.
In a response to several Twitter questions about the wait at App State, Josh Lawson, general counsel for the State Board of Elections, tweeted, “Wait is down to 40min. Lots of same-day registrations. May be primary cause.”
Stella Anderson, the lone Democrat on the Watauga Board of Elections, was on location at the ASU site Thursday and said that several of the issues that caused delay March 3 have been resolved, including issues that caused students to not be able to prove local residency.
“Yesterday a number of things were resolved that made today smoother. We got a list of students that currently live in dorms, and we can use that as proof of residence. We got clarification from the State Board of Elections that pulling up a utility bill on a phone does count as proper proof of residence, and the board of elections has moved in a couple more computers and staff,” Anderson said.
This story is a classic case of the need to think ahead on polling site planning. Talking to other election officials across the country whose states allow same-day or Election Day registration, one of their greatest priorities going forward is to encourage eligible voters to register BEFORE they come to the polls in order to minimize delays at check-in. Moreover, requiring “pre-registered” voters to stand in line with same-day registrants simply slows down the whole line. The good news is that the problem has been resolved; while student turnout is still high at ASU, changes to the process (including separating SDR registrants into a separate line) seems to have helped.
Presidential years always generate high turnout; knowing how predict – and manage – that turnout is a vital election administrations skill. Kudos to ASU for getting it right … and here’s hoping everyone else who could find themselves in a similar situation is paying attention – and takes the hint.
Stay tuned …