The Edmond Sun

November 9, 2012

Long lines, thin pens slow down voting

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Elaine Root isn’t the only voter in town complaining she had to stand in line Tuesday for 2 1/2 hours in order to vote. Oklahoma County Election Board Secretary Doug Sanderson said most polling concerns he’s heard about in Edmond dealt with precinct 66 at LifeChurch at Interstate 35 and Second Street.

“We have limited resources and we try to do the best we can with what we have,” Sanderson said. “I know that some people at some of the precincts in Edmond had to wait longer than they would have liked. It’s kind of the nature of the beast. That’s why we have other voting options available.”

Other voting options, he said, include the absentee ballot or early voting at the Oklahoma County Election Board.

Cynthia Hendershot said her voting experience was expedient at Waterloo Road Baptist Church. She was the fifth person in line at 5:45 a.m. when the church opened its doors before the polls opened at 7 a.m.

“I left the parking lot at 7:08 a.m.,” Hendershot said.

Root was one of the 38,272 people in Edmond this week who voted in Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District election. She arrived at her usual polling place at LifeChurch at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday.

“People were griping the whole time I was in line,” Root said. “Part of the problem obviously is someone messed up on redistricting.”

Two precincts, 60 and 66, were designated to LifeChurch on I-35. While Root was assigned to vote at precinct 66, she noticed that Precinct 60 never had more than 40 people in line during the 2 1/2 hours she waited in line.

“There were two people checking names and 26 cardboard booths,” Root said. “The line never got smaller while I waited and instead got even longer, and I estimated there were between 200-250 in line at all times.”

The line was just as long at 3 p.m. when her husband, Michael, waited to vote, he said. Elderly adults and small children also stood in line, she said.

She doesn’t understand why so many people were assigned to precinct 66 when friends have told her they stood in line for 5 minutes before voting at other Edmond precincts.

“The election board ultimately has very little say in it,” Sanderson said.

The state Legislature is mandated to re-do jurisdictional lines every 10 years after the federal census is released. Lawmakers reconfigure the lines for the state House and Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, county commissioners and judicial districts. Those lines don’t have to match, Sanderson said.

“Then they say, ‘Election board, your turn. Draw your precinct boundary lines. But you can’t have more than those five types of jurisdictions in one precinct,’” Sanderson said.

Smaller precincts cannot be absorbed into larger ones, because isolated precincts have different sets of jurisdictions, Sanderson explained.

Interstate 35 is the dividing line for the two precincts at Life Church. One side has a higher density of voters, Sanderson said. The two precincts could have been combined, he said.

Sanderson said more workers were sent to precinct 66 to split the line with two intake people, he said. There should have been 100 voting booths to accommodate the overcrowded precinct 66, Root said.

“The bottle neck is really getting them signed in,” Sanderson said.

Changing the type of ballot markers also slowed down the process, Root said. One of her neighbors had to re-do a ballot when it was rejected, she added.

“This was the first time they didn’t have a felt pen. It was a sharp point and it took forever to fill those stupid boxes in,” she said. “That caused more time.”

The problem with using a felt tip pen is that the ballot is now printed on thinner paper, which would allow the felt tip pen ink to bleed to the other side of the ballot, Sanderson said.

Voters were asked to fill in the ballot boxes completely without checking the box, Sanderson said.

“In spite of that, if you ‘x’ the box or check the box, it will still count,” Sanderson said. “But the instruction makes people think the proper marking is to fill in the box completely. And so people are trying to do that with that thin pen and that’s what’s driving them crazy.”

In addition to the presidential and 5th District contests on Tuesday’s ballot, most Edmond voters also considered races in Senate District 41 and for Oklahoma County sheriff as well as six state questions on the ballot. Southern precincts in Edmond also had House District 83 on their ballots.