Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Line forms early at Roanoke City precincts

Richard Bell with his wife was first in line to vote at the Peters Creek precinct in Northwest City.

On Election Day the line to vote at the Peters Creek precinct in Northwest Roanoke City almost reached to Ferncliff Avenue just below William Fleming High School. By 6:45 a.m. cars filled the Schewels furniture store parking lot across the street from the Ruffner Middle School gym.

The doors opened promptly at 6:00 a.m. and the first in line was Richard Bell who said he had been waiting since 4:00 a.m. His disabled wife waited in the car.

Close behind was Tim Allen who had been waiting since 4:30 a.m. Allen joked saying “no I’m not related to the candidate for Senate, George Allen.” He and Davetta Seals and Veronica Mitchell were joking and laughing as they waited in the cold frosty morning to be first in the line.

The door opened suddenly and a young man yelled, “the polls are now open.” In went the shivering voters but there was no chance for all to fit inside the gym. By 6:30 a.m. the line still stretched to Ferncliff Avenue and the voters kept coming. Some had blankets wrapped around them.

Councilman Sherman Lea frustrated with poll worker Stephen Niamke

Cars spilled into Ferncliff Avenue, William Fleming High School, Burlington Coat Factory, Home Depot and Schewels furniture store. There was a steady stream of voters filling the line.

Inside the building the bottleneck was at the check-in. After checking in there was a yellow taped gauntlet that voters had to weave through. There were 8 long loops that no one at first could figure out why they were there. It was a struggle for Mr. Bell’s wife to maneuver the loops with her cane. “Don’t know who’s bright idea that was,” said one voter in line.

By 6:40 a.m. as the light broke outside the line was even longer. Many voters were crammed in the entrance doorway trying to get out of the cold. Those walking from Home Depot and up and down Ferncliff were not deterred. At first everyone was jolly as they prepared to wait with their neighbors. Frustrations grew as the line slowed and feet and backs began to ache.

Later in the morning it became clear what the yellow “caution” tapes were for. Voters were directed to enter the winding yellow-lined loops. Like a slow moving snail they continued their journey that took two hours to complete. “Voting shouldn’t be so hard,” said one woman.

The two-hour gauntlet voters snaked through at a snails pace.

A nurse treated one woman as she lay on the floor. With help she was able to bypass the line and vote. Some voters left saying they had to work but most suffered the two-hour gauntlet to the computer check in. There were only two computers for the 2150 voters and it was a slow process.

Councilman Sherman Lea was livid when he had to wait two hours. He stayed at the precinct encouraging voters to stick it out. He told poll worker Stephen Niamke that the process was inept. The city should be able to afford another computer if the city can afford $6 million for Elmwood Park he said. Lea was trying to coax voter Eugene Arrington to stay. He said this proves that it was not a wise idea to reduce the voting precincts from 32 to 19 as the three Electoral Board members were planning. “If you are inept at 32 you’ll be inept at 19 [precincts],” said Lea. “It is poor planning.”

When the polls closed the line to vote was still long. One voter said there were 100 people still in line waiting to vote at 8:15 p.m. at Ruffner while at the same time Virginia’s results were being released to the media. The Virginia State Board of Elections spoke up and delayed the release of results until 8:00 p.m. At Forest Park Academy it was reported that they were just finishing up the line and it was after 9:00 p.m.

It’s unclear what solutions will be found to prevent it from happening again. In the 2008 presidential election the alphabetical lines were long and frustrating too. Even with another computer poll workers that work 16-hour days are hard to find.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Election 2012, Elections, Local Events

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