ElectionlineWeekly’s Super Tuesday 2020 Roundup

[Image via click2houston]

After months (years?) of anticipation, Super Tuesday 2020 is behind us – and while the political storylines are still playing out, electionline’s Mindy Moretti has a rundown of how the day went across the nation on the election administration front. Take a look:

My friends Natalie and Matt both live in Los Angeles. They are committed voters, never missing an election. Natalie even checked herself out of the hospital early after giving birth to get to the polls before they closed in 2016.

On Tuesday morning Matt stopped by one of LA County’s new vote centers and breezed through the voting process.

Several hours later with two small children in tow. Natalie went to the same vote center only to find out it would be at least a two hour wait to check-in and cast her ballot. She was offered and cast a provisional ballot.

Matt liked the new voting system and is looking forward to using it again in November. Natalie was left frustrated by the experience said she’ll probably vote-by-mail instead in November, but she will vote.

While this is just one anecdote from two voters in California it pretty much sums up Super Tuesday. In some places, voters sailed through the process and in others there were issues that left voters and elections officials frustrated.

There are a lot of stories out of Super Tuesday and we’ll drill down into some of the issues that arose in the coming weeks, but for now, here is a state-by-state snapshot of what did and didn’t happen.

You can also find all of our Super Tuesday Election Dispatches here.

Alabama
Voters in the Yellowhammer State were also impacted by a line of storms on Super Tuesday. In Bibb County a storm damaged one polling place and also knocked out power to the site. A generator was brought and voting was able to continue.

It wasn’t storms that caused problems at one Birmingham polling site it was missing ballots. When the polls opened at 7 a.m. the site only had Republican ballots on-hand. It took about 40 minutes for Democrat ballots to arrive. It was smooth sailing in Madison County on Tuesday and thankfully, unlike past rainy elections, it was relatively dry on Tuesday so the ballots didn’t swell and cause issues feeding them into scanners. In Dallas County, Probate Judge Jimmy Nunn said “I think everything went well, But there’s always room for improvement.” One thing Nunn would like to improve is having more e-poll books available at polling sites for check-in.

Arkansas
While several Arkansas counties experienced issues during early voting—including ballots with missing candidates—Super Tuesday itself was relatively smooth in the Natural State. Daniel Shults, director of the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners, said his office had received a few calls — as always happens — from people who have questions and concerns about electioneering and things like that. In Washington County, poll workers using AT&T cell phones were unable to make calls to landlines presenting concerns when they needed to reach the county elections office.

Jefferson County faced several problems with its voting equipment on Tuesday with most problems being blamed on loose connections between a tape printer and the county’s aging iVotronic machines. Jefferson County Election Commissioner Stu Stoffer noted that high school-aged election pages were particularly helpful in the polling places with technical issues.

While Jefferson County had issues with old voting machines in Union County it was new voting machines. A poll captain at one site blamed the problems on lack of information. “It was a little chaotic because actually we did not have the full instructions of everything, but it did come around,” Poll Captain Linda Fowler told the El Dorado News-Times. “They did get it to us in a good amount of time before we did start getting a line of people.”

California
Ballots are still being counted in the Golden State and may be counted for some time to come.

While the counting goes on in elections offices statewide, the Monday-morning quarterbacking continues. Like Texas, while there were issues throughout the state on Election Day, most of the headlines came from the state’s population centers and especially Los Angeles County which is largest voting jurisdiction in the country with 5.5 million registered voters, it was also launching a new voting system and vote centers.

For Angelenos voting on Tuesday, some breezed right through the process and others were caught in hours-long lines due to technical glitches.

“This was a challenging day for a lot of voters in L.A. County and I certainly apologize for that,” Dean Logan, the county’s registrar of voters told The Los Angeles Times. “That’s something that has to be better.”

At least one Los Angeles County supervisor is calling for an immediate investigation into the problems.

According to the Times and my friend Matt, voters overall seemed to like the new voting system when they actually got to use them although some reported issues with the “more” button to view additional candidates and paper jams.

Of course Los Angeles isn’t the only county in the state (there are 57 others) and it was a mixed bag of what voters faced on Tuesday.

Orange County rolled out the use of vote centers for the first time and overall it was a smooth roll out although there were some lines at certain vote centers, especially those on campuses. “I’m really proud of where we ended up with a launch of a whole new way of voting and, overall, it’s worked really well,” Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley told The Patch.

In Fresno and a handful of other counties voting was slowed because of issues with accessing the state’s voter registration database. Some vote centers across Fresno County had connection problems. The issues were reported shortly after 9 a.m. By 11 a.m. all 53 vote centers were up and running as normal, Clerk and Recorder Brandi Orth told the Fresno Bee.

Sacramento County suffered a poll worker shortage after some poll workers failed to show up because of fears over the coronavirus although a county spokesman told the Sacramento Bee that there were more than enough poll workers on hand to make up for those that were absent.

When 75 percent of  your voters vote before Election Day as they did in San Diego, things are bound to go pretty smoothly on primary day.

Colorado
It’s been seven years since legislators in Colorado overhauled the state’s voting system moving to an all vote-by-mail/vote center system and it’s clear by the lack of headlines on Tuesday and the days since that it’s been a good move for the Rocky Mountain State. [Take heart California counties that have become Voter’s Choice counties.]

This was also Colorado’s first foray into Super Tuesday primary voting and turnout was high. In Larimer County, 41 percent of the county’s eligible voters had cast ballots before polls opened on Tuesday. The story was similar in Freemont County which had a 44 percent turnout. “This is our first Presidential Primary in nearly 20 years, and we’ve never had an all-mail Presidential Primary,” Fremont County Clerk & Recorder Justin Grantham told the Canon City Daily Record. “The turnout we have had is simply phenomenal, to be honest.”

In Mesa County, elections officials were operating under new procedures after ballots from a 2019 election were discovered in a ballot drop box in the days before the 2020 primary. Lake County officials were forced to reach out to about 250 unaffiliated voters after workers failed to record which party primary they voted in in advance of Tuesday’s primary. “We’re not asking how they voted or who they voted for, we’re just asking which party ballot they voted,” Lake County Clerk and Recorder Patty Berger told Colorado Public Radio, “We’re sorry it happened but we’re trying to do the best we can.”

Maine
Turnout was the big story of the day in Maine. Voters turned out in unexpectedly high numbers. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap said they were sure in advance of Tuesday’s election they had printed enough ballots however record-high temperatures both of the climate kind and the political kind drove turnout. While initially officials expected turnout to be around 15 percent, it ended up being three times that.

“By 10 o’clock yesterday morning, we threw the playbook out the window,” Dunlap told WGME. “Because it was clear that we were looking at probably almost an historic turnout.” A Portland polling site ran out of ballots several times throughout the day.

Unfortunately, voters at the Blue Hill Town Hall were forced to leave the voting location and wait outside for about an hour after a voter died at the polls. While first responders were on the scene, voting booths and ballot boxes were moved to another location. They were returned to the auditorium for voting to resume.

Voters in Lewiston were faced with a parking problem and long lines at one voting location. According to the Sun Journal, a high school hockey playoff game held across the street from the city’s one polling location caused major parking issues. “The congestion was worsened when the first (hockey) game of the evening ran to three overtimes, adding even more traffic to the area, with fans arriving for the second game before those at the first had left,” City Administrator Ed Barrett told the paper. “We will take care in the future to limit situations where there are conflicts between voting and events at the Colisee. Again, we apologize to anyone who faced difficulties or inconvenience when coming to vote last evening.”

In Portland voters overwhelmingly voted to expand the use of ranked choice in the city.

Massachusetts
Warm weather seemed to attribute to higher than expected turnout in Massachusetts as well. At one voting location in Plymouth, residents faced parking issues and long lines where one voter fainted while waiting to cast her ballot due to the temperatures in the long line.

In Northampton the polling site temporarily ran out of ballot and voters those chose to wait had to do so for about 45 minutes. “I take full responsibility for this. This is totally human error,” City Clerk Pam Powers told the Daily Hampshire Gazette on Wednesday morning at City Hall. “I take every precaution to not disenfranchise the voter.”

Voters at one Boston polling location were asked to show an ID, not to cast a ballot, but to enter the apartment building where the polling site was located. The secretary of state’s office contacted Boston Elections Commission Eneida Tavares who went to the scene herself to make sure that voters were able to access the location without presenting an ID. According to WBUR it was unclear whether any voters were actually turned away before the situation was remedied.

Minnesota
Minnesota was holding its first-ever presidential primary and according to early numbers, turnout increased 177 percent from the presidential caucus four years ago. While turnout was high, it was a relatively smooth experience for voters with few reports of problems.

The biggest issue in Minnesota on Super Tuesday occurred when the state’s polling place locator was seemingly mysteriously directing voters to a progressive website. Was this the election interference that everyone had been fearing? No, it was a human mistake. When the state’s polling locator go overloaded a staffer redirected web traffic to another polling locator, however instead of redirecting traffic to a nonpartisan site, the staff sent voters to the partisan site.

“It was an error in judgement,” Secretary of State Steve Simon told Minnesota Public Radio. “The person who made a mistake had no political agenda or anything. This was a career service employee and it was just a mistake and we corrected it immediately.”

Simon outlined three steps his office is taking to prevent a repeat of the problem: Websites that could be used as a fallback during periods of heavy traffic to the secretary of state’s office will have to be preapproved; More than one staff member must approve a similar change; and Staff will be required to adhere to preset contingency plans.

One of the great things about smooth-sailing elections is although that gives us here at electionline less to follow, we do get fun stories like this one about Helen Burgstaler, a Crow Wing County election judge who’s been working at the polls for seven (7!!!!) decades. A lot has changed since Erickson started working at the polls in 1950. Her first election at 18 was also her first election as a poll worker.

“Helen was one of the first election judges I met when I first started working elections, and … she already had probably close to 50 years under her belt as an election judge at that point in time,” Deborah Erickson, county elections chief told the Brainerd Dispatch. “I’ve always been struck by her passion and commitment to the democratic process, to be willing to continue to serve as an election judge all these years. … She was always one who’s always been willing to say, I want to work a full day, and I’ll work however you need me wherever you need me to serve and help service the voters.”

North Carolina
Voting in the Tar Heel State was relatively smooth on Tuesday. As with any election anywhere there were some issues but overall, things went well.

Voting was extended in several precincts throughout the state including in Bertie County where voting machines had gone down for a brief period of time earlier in the day and in Winston-Salem where one precinct ran out of ballots. Keeping those polls open longer obviously slowed the reporting of results in other locations.

Voters in Mecklenburg County used new voting machines for the first time and seemed to enjoy the experience. “It was a much better feeling knowing it was paper and it was going into a scanner and I waited there to make sure it completed and went through,” one voter told WCNC. Burke County also used new voting machines and Debbie Mace, the county board of elections director told the New Herald that she had the smoothest elections she’s had in 14 years as a director, most of which she chalked up to the new machines. Guilford County voters also cast ballots on a new hand-marked paper system.

Oklahoma
Although things got off to a bit of a bumpy start at one Tulsa-area polling place when a ballot machine malfunctioned, that issue was quickly resolved and voting was not affected although voters did have to place ballots in an emergency bin instead of the ballot scanner. Once the scanner was repaired the ballots were scanned.

Our favorite story out of the Sooner State actually happened before Super Tuesday. Tulsa World has a great story about how Will Rodgers High School teacher Emily Harris took her eligible students to the polls so they could vote early.

“This is something that you’re going to remember for the rest of your lives,” Harris told them. “So I want you to leave today remembering that you should encourage others like you, 18 years old, to vote in elections. This is not the only time you’re going to be voting. You guys are going to be participating in democracy for the rest of your lives. It’s important that your voices are heard not just this year, but every year. Now let’s go. Let’s go vote.”

Tennessee
You can have all the contingency plans in the world, but no one ever really expects a massive tornado to sweep through the area in the hours before polls open leaving more than 20 people dead, homes and building destroyed or damaged and power lines and trees down all over the place, but that’s exactly what happened in parts of Tennessee Tuesday morning. The storms forced the relocation of numerous voting precincts and voting started an hour late and voting was extended as late as 10 p.m. so everyone could vote. The secretary of state’s office was closed but the elections division remained on the job to assist not only affected counties, but all the other counties voting Tuesday as well. Davidson County, home to Nashville and one of the most heavily hit areas actually saw a decent turnout on Tuesday.

“Last night, we still had 35,000 residents without power, roads blocked, the mayor asking people not to get out on the roads, an emergency declaration,” Davidson County Elections Administrator Jeff Roberts told the Associated Press. “All of those things added up, yet Davidson County voters still turned out.”‘

In Putnam County several polling sites were inaccessible to those voters were directed to vote at the election commission office. Two polling places in Wilson County were closed due to storm damage and several polling places were forced to operate with a generator. Voters in Nashville were forced to move to new locations after buildings scheduled for voting were damaged.

Voting went smoothly in other parts of the state with the exceptions of a few “typical” election day problems like a gas leak at a polling place in Shelby County. Also in Shelby County polls opened late at one polling place because an elections worker with a key overslept.

Texas
There are 254 counties in Texas, but based on the headlines coming out of Tuesday you would think that there are only five – Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Travis and Tarrant. Granted those are the state’s most populous counties and on Tuesday they proved the most troublesome.

Most of Bexar County’s problems arose after the polls closed on Tuesday. According to the San Antonio News-Express, county Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said computers used to post results in a new voting system “crashed” three times, forcing election officials to post separate sets of numbers, rather than consolidating them as they had on past election nights. “We will be working today with the vendor to get the regular report that y’all are used to seeing,” Callanen told reporters at a Wednesday news conference. Voting in the county also got off to a rough start when 50 to 60 of the 280 countywide vote centers had issues with printers.

In Dallas County, where the turnout was 23.6 percent most of the issues came from lines at countywide vote centers. Election Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole apologized to voters and said that she and her staff were already working on remedies, including a lot more voter education, for November.

Harris County, which was using countywide polling places for the first time in a presidential primary may have suffered the most visible issues on Tuesday as the hours-long lines to vote and one voter not casting his ballot till Wednesday made national and international headlines. So what happened on Tuesday? First of all, turnout was way higher than expected. 271,354 voters cast ballots on Tuesday which was almost 40,000 more than in 2008. Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman also blamed long lines on a large number of last-minute voters, a long ballot and unpredictability from a new countywide voting system, which let voters go to any polling site rather than just their precinct.

Trautman noted that because the county GOP did not want to hold a combined primary, each polling site was required to have voting machines exclusively for each party. With Democrats far outweighing Republicans in the county that meant at times voters were lined up to use Democrat-programmed machines while Republican-programmed machines sat unused. “We did not want to short one party over the other cause how do we know, again, with voting centers, that a big rush isn’t going to come in on the Republican side or the Democratic side,” Trautman said. “That would be discrimination.”

Trautman is optimistic about November though because there will be more vote centers, 750 as opposed to 400 and voters will be able to use any machine available.

For voters in Travis County, the day got off to a rocky start when several polling sites did not have enough poll workers because some called in the day before or simply failed to show up citing concerns about the coronavirus. Although those staffing issues were quickly sorted out, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir noted that lines persisted throughout the day because voters chose to go to vote centers in grocery stores that had fewer available voting machines than going to one of the megacenters. “Voters are causing these three-hour lines,” DeBeauvoir told The Statesman. “There are so many places where they can walk right in and vote easily, and yet they still create these monster lines at the grocery stores. I don’t know exactly what we are going to do about it,” she added. And although it may have felt like to some voters, the wait times really weren’t 100 hours, which is what a glitch on the county’s website said. The issue on the site was quickly repaired.

For the other 249 counties, job well done, we’ll see you in November.

Utah
Tuesday’s primary marked the Beehive State’s first foray into Super Tuesday voting and voters did not disappoint turning out in record-breaking numbers.

Like Super Tuesday voters in other states, some Utah voters who cast their ballot by mail before primary day wanted to spoil their ballots and vote for someone new after their candidate dropped out, however Utah does not provide that option. About 23 percent of Utah voters cast their ballot before primary day.

“We’ve had a lot of people asking if they can do a vote-over, revote,” Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen told the Deseret News. “That’s not allowed by state law. I feel badly for the people that have cast a vote and now it’s not going to count.”

The only real issues that occurred on Tuesday happened in Weber County that was experimenting with using one countywide vote center. Given the high number of mail ballots the county made the decision to move all voters to Union State in Ogden. Although the voting process was smooth, some voters expressed frustrations that they weren’t aware of the move until they showed up at their regular polling place.

“Over the years, we’ve noticed that 10% of our voters or less are voting in person,” Weber County elections director Ryan Cowley told KSLTV. “But yet, consistently we’ve had some times where there’s long lines and things like that. And in our polling places, we’ve got some great polling places at our libraries, but there’s no room to expand or put in addition resources and things like that, and so it becomes very compact and people have sometimes had to wait in lines for long periods of time.”

Vermont
It was fairly quiet in Green Mountain State on Tuesday although the polls were busy. We’ve not really found many reports of problems and turnout was around what it was in 2016, although it was up in some places like Burlington where reportedly one polling precinct briefly ran out of ballots.

Virginia
The Democratic primary Virginia marked the commonwealth’s highest primary turnout on record. According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, more than 1.3 million Virginians cast ballots in the Democratic primary. The paper also noted that twice as many voters voted absentee as did in the March 2016 primary.

Even with the high turnout there were relatively few problems. Rumors about missing poll workers because of COVID-19 proved unfounded and when polling sites in the Richmond area lost power, voting continued without issue.

“I’ve worked in Virginia elections on and off since 2003, but I will say, in all of those years, I have not experienced a more smooth election,” Virginia Elections Commissioner Christopher Piper told the paper. “This is a real credit to the election officials out there in the field.”

Thanks as always to Mindy (who’s logging well over 100 stories a day recently!) for this roundup. This pattern of “rough in places but uneventful elsewhere” is not unusual – though you know that the trouble spots will be using the time between now and November to make sure everything is right for Election Day. Here’s to all the election officials, pollworkers and voters who made Super Tuesday happen … and best of luck to everyone who votes next week and beyond as the primary season continues in full gear. Stay tuned!

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