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small-town crush

  • Nov. 4th, 2008 at 10:59 AM
I live less than a mile from my polling place and the weather was downright balmy for November--mid 50s with high humidity--so I decided to walk.  Polls in Iowa open at 7 AM, and there were the beginnings of a sunrise when I left the house at 6:30.  Less than ten minutes later I was in line, about fifteenth of what soon grew to be a line of about fifty.  Every previous time I've voted, there has been at most two people in front of me, so turnout was significantly higher than usual.  This is one of twenty precincts in a town of 50,000.  People waited quietly in the gathering light and at 7, the line started crawling forward.  New technology had been arranged for this year, but unfortunately the polling room was ridiculously tiny and it was immediately clear that with only six voting stations and one optical scan machine, that there was going to be not only space but also procedural bottlenecking.  Assuming that turnout remains high throughout the day (I plan on swinging back around at least once more to check the line length), I foresee a growing backup.

The polls were staffed, as they almost always are, by older people who were impeccably organized but simply overwhelmed by the early rush.  There wasn't enough room in the place to have multiple lines snaking about, so everyone was politely keeping track of their own place to make it easier for the poll workers.

Things were not helped when the scan machine went offline before even ten people had voted.  I was standing right next to the machine when it gave an error message and refused to accept any ballots.  The message read, "Tampering detected or ballot too long!" (exclamation point original).  Though I am in a reliably blue area in a fairly reliable blue state, even the suggestion of tampering makes me slightly queasy.  The poll workers put in a call to the County Board of Elections and they got a technician en route immediately.  The "emergency" system was put on line in the meantime.  I use scare quotes b/c the emergency system is really nothing more than a lockbox.  Ah, dropping a piece of paper through a slot into a safe: voting the way it used to be!  The poll workers gave everyone the option of waiting until the machine was fixed to submit their vote, but most (including me) had places to be and couldn't stick around.

After some more waiting, I got to check in and vote.  I was number 16.  On the way out, I noticed the line had grown by about twenty more to probably close to seventy.  It is going to be a long day for poll workers, here and everywhere.   


( Comment )
carmy_w wrote:
Nov. 4th, 2008 05:13 pm (UTC)
A lockbox
This is how they still do it at my polling place. And they still count them by hand, as far as I know...with an extra person watching for verification!
blankoo wrote:
Nov. 4th, 2008 05:42 pm (UTC)
I can't believe there are reports of machines going offline in so many states. ;;
( Comment )