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Turnout, equipment woes result in long voter lines
Many voters stood in long lines at the polls Tuesday with wait times of up to four hours due to heavy turnout for the presidential race that was exacerbated by widespread technical difficulties at vote centers.
And as of 10 p.m., there were still many people in line at some of the 11 vote centers waiting to cast their ballots in the general election.
Local leaders with both Democrat and Republican parties expressed frustration with the election process.
“I think things went very poorly,” Gail Beeler, representative for the Yuma County Democratic Party, said late Tuesday evening. “The equipment wasn't functioning and (on-demand ballot) printers were down. And they needed more polling places. I can't say that one vote center moved smoothly all day. I'm tired and very disappointed at what happened today. A lot of voters were disenfranchised.”
At the same time, Beeler said she was pleased with the turnout and voters' patience as they waited. “It was amazing how many came out.”
Jonathan Lines, chairman of the Yuma County Republican Party, agreed that there were a lot of issues Tuesday. “The vote centers were horrible. I don't know if they underestimated the turnout, based on the primary. And there were reports of equipment problems at most of the centers, according to poll observers.”
Lines also said he heard reports of voter fraud in San Luis, where an organization allegedly was offering to fill out people's ballots for them. As a result, he said, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett sent an election observer to Yuma County. Lines said that Bennett's office will investigate the allegations.
Yuma County Administrator Robert Pickels acknowledged that “there were a lot of issues.”
Pickels said he was disappointed with the performance of the voting equipment, noting that it did worked well for the presidential preference election, the primary and multiple testing efforts.
“We did have functioning touch screens and were able to move people through, but not as efficiently as we had hoped,” he said, noting that the vote centers at the Yuma County Health Department, Nazarene Church and Martin Luther King Jr. Center in particular had problems.
In addition, Pickels said “there was just an incredible turnout. So many were passionate about voting, not just locally but nationwide. That's a positive that so many voters were engaged.”
He said the county will work with consultants to determine what went wrong with the equipment and hopefully avoid problems in the future. County officials will also talk with poll workers about issues they saw, in an effort to improve the vote center system.
As of 10 p.m., only results of early ballots and advance ballots were available. With lines of people still waiting to vote, it was unknown how many people went to the polls Tuesday.
However, a record number of people voted by early ballot or casting their ballots in advance at the Yuma County Recorder's Office. As of early Monday afternoon, the office had processed 23,714 early ballots, reported Robyn Stallworth Pouquette.
Yuma County has 75,573 active registered voters, she said.
At least one vote center Tuesday set up chairs outside for those waiting in line, and party committee members passed out water and cookies in hopes of encouraging people to stay in line to vote.
But some people gave up their effort to vote while others went in search of another vote center with a shorter line. Still others, though, said they didn't mind the wait, making the best of the situation and considering it part of the Election Day tradition.
“You shouldn't have to wait like this,” Dan Dill said as he stood in a slowly moving line wrapping around Connecting Point Nazarene Church.
Danny Miller had been waiting two and a half hours to vote and was still waiting as of 6:45 p.m.
But he didn't mind. “Not for what our military did for us and our freedom. I guess we can wait in line for three or four hours.”
Tracy Escamilla and her family brought along lawn chairs to sit in as they waited in line. “Have you seen the lines?” she answered with a laugh when asked why she brought the chairs. She said her family hung out doing trivia and interacting with others in line.
Waiting in line was worth it to Escamilla to be able to voice her opinion. “I believe if you don't vote, you shouldn't complain. I believe we should vote into office those who are going to represent our values and our beliefs as best they possibly can.”
Lines weren't nearly as long at the vote center at Yuma County Public Works.
“I think I waited about an hour,” Trish Ellsworth said. “It wasn't so bad. It made it better to be able to wait inside.”
Derek Gurney began looking for a vote center at 11 a.m. but didn't end up at Public Works until after he had gone to four other locations.
“I had my son with me, so I was hoping the lines were going to go down. We kept checking, but they didn't go down. They actually got longer.”
Hugh and Mary Hendren waited about 45 minutes to vote.
“If we would have been worried about the time, we would have voted early,” Hugh said. “It is just kind of a tradition. We always vote on Election Day.”
Mary added: “I would have waited for as long as it took.”
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6853. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/YSJoyceLobeck or on Twitter at @YSJoyceLobeck.