Ask ELi: Why Did It Take So Long to Vote?

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Thursday, November 10, 2016, 8:18 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: A precinct sign at Edgewood United Church in a photo taken last year

Ask ELi to Investigate: At ELi, we provide a service called "Ask ELi to Investigate." We take reader-submitted questions, try to find out the answer, and share the answer. (See a sampling.) Here's a question we received yesterday and the answer.

A reader asked: I've voted in the 10th precinct for about 10 years and yesterday [this Tuesday] was the first time that I had to wait in line for 40 minutes to vote. My wife had to wait for 2 hours plus.  What has changed from all the previous years to today that caused this line?  Were there more people voting? What is being done to fix this?  Thank you.

East Lansing’s City Clerk, Marie Wicks, provides the answer:

I am happy to answer. Over the past month, my office has processed over 7,500 new voter registrations (as opposed to about 2,500 in 2012). As you may know, MSU has now been able to tell us that about 5,000 students live in the Bailey neighborhood, part of which encompasses precinct 10. [You can see the precinct map here.]

As such, we experienced unprecedented registration numbers (2,038) and turnout for this precinct. With such high numbers of student voters, there was frequently confusion about voting in the correct polling location so redirection, changes of address, issuing provisional ballots and the like, became time-consuming. I was quite aware of the line and worked my way from the five campus precincts (which also had significant wait times) to Edgewood [United Church].

Armed with paper poll books, we went "old school" because using the single computer was causing the bottleneck. Four of us working in teams of two began issuing ballots using the paper poll books (we looked up the voter, highlighted the name, wrote down the ballot number in the poll book and on the Application to Vote, issued the ballot). We got that line moving (I worked in this for about an hour) and by the close of the polls at 8:00, there were less than a dozen people in line.

We then logged the ballot information into the Electronic Poll Book. We made sure to thank voters for waiting and, according to one of the all-day workers, there were very few complaints and most people were heartened by the student turnout. Edgewood also kindly provided refreshment and at about 7:00, those in line were treated to an impromptu acapella performance.

So, yes, there were definitely more voters registered in precinct 10 for this election, with over 800 people casting a ballot. We received these registrations very close to the October 11 deadline and as a result, I scheduled extra training to deploy additional workers (who were recruited with the help of ELi!).

I appreciate that long waits can be discouraging for voters and for that reason, I am a strong advocate of no-reason absentee voting. I wish to thank your reader for posing a question we received frequently yesterday, and for waiting in line to cast his ballot. We learned a lot from this election and will take those lessons forward to future elections.

ELi thanks Marie Wicks for helping us with this reader's question.

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