Waiting so long at polls harmful to voting process
As I listened to tales from coworkers Tuesday about waiting in line to vote, I had one thought - I'm glad I used an early ballot.
Standing in line for three or more hours, as some told me they had done, has no appeal at all to me. In fact, I think it is a great disservice to all voters, but especially to older voters who may not have the stamina for that kind of ordeal.
Remedies need to be found to avoid that kind of situation in the future at Yuma County polling places.
It is understandably difficult for election officials to anticipate turnout. Sometimes it can be low and poll workers sit around staring at the ceiling waiting for people to come in. Then there are times when polls are busier than expected.
Elections cost money and part of the cost is paying poll workers, so you don't want to over-staff them. That wastes taxpayers' money. Yet you need an adequate staff for efficient operations that do not hold up voters.
Finding the right balance between those two needs is not an easy task.
Add to that the issue of deciding which polls need more staff than others. After all, along with the horror stories about long waits, some coworkers told me they had hardly any wait at all at their polls. County officials said for the most part things went pretty smoothly.
Perhaps so, but you won't convince people who were still waiting to vote late Tuesday night that it was a smooth operation. I don't see how anyone could say waiting in line two or three hours is a desirable thing.
It is likely that some voters were denied their right to participate in the voting process Tuesday simply because they could not stand in line that long and turned away. Perhaps that is the reason the number of voters here was lower than expected.
The estimated 64 percent turnout here - it was expected to be a record turnout of 80 percent or more - was less than the last presidential election in 2004, even though there were far more registered voters. That is hard to believe, given the huge voter interest that many of us sensed this year. Could these people have gone to the polls and given up out of frustration? Could those long lines have affected some of the local outcomes on ballot issues?
This is something that county election officials and the supervisors really need to look at in the aftermath of the election. A "postmortem" should be conducted on what happened to see if there are things that could or should have been done to alleviate the problem.
One answer might be contingency plans for busy polls, where "floating workers" and extra supplies could be sent to unexpectedly busy polling places, kind of like an "emergency strike force." Perhaps such plans are already in place, but if so they didn't work that well Tuesday.
Perhaps it is just a matter of having more poll workers or better procedures at the polls. Perhaps it is a matter of organizing polling sites better - are they too many or two few? Would it be better to centralize polls and heavily staff them to handle a large number of people?
The search for answers should start with the assumption that such long waits at the polling places are intolerable and must be prevented in future elections.
Terry Ross is director of The Sun's News and Information Center. E-mail him at email@example.com or phone him at 539-6870.