Tuesday, November 4, 2008

11 a.m. Election Day update

8 a.m.: Carter & MacRae Elementary School (Lancaster City 4th Ward, 1st Precinct)

Just after 8:00 a.m., the poll workers at Carter & MacRae Elementary School at 251 S. Prince St. had seen 64 voters. Although there was not a long line, voters were streaming into the polling place at a sporadic but ongoing pace. I kept having to wait to talk to the election workers, since they were so busy. Judge of Elections Glenn Brooks described the pace as "nutty." There have been no errors with the voting machines and no disruptive behavior by voters or those accompanying them. Dick Kamety, a Clerk of Elections for the precinct, indicated that a ballot or two had to be spoiled and re-issued when a voter accidentally filled in the circles for two different individuals for the same office. Three of the five poll workers speak Spanish, which is essential in their very urban precinct. They also had issues with people coming to the wrong polling place. Brooks was frequently on the phone with the elections board, trying to help voters determine their designated polling place. Approximately seven people had mistakenly come to Carter & MacRae as of this writing. A local lawyer, Jim Kearney, was volunteering as a poll watcher for the Obama campaign. He indicated that he had not yet seen anything to raise concerns with him and that the other poll workers "know a lot of the people by name" and "seem to be doing a great job." Kamety suggested that the turnout as of about 8:30 a.m. was already about as high as the total turnout for the Presidential Primary Election in May. Poll workers indicated that the large majority of voters prefer to vote by paper ballot. In one interesting incident, a voter wanted to exit the polling place through interior doors that led to a school hallway. Although on the phone, Brooks blocked the doorway and repeatedly told the individual that he had to exit directly to the outside. The incident underscored the concern officials have about school safety. Indeed, a number of local schools are no longer used as polling places due to concerns about safety.

9 a.m.: First Assembly of God (Lancaster Township 7th District)

By 9 a.m. at the First Assembly of God Church at 1025 Columbia Ave., 256 people had voted, according to Judge of Elections Terry Finger. "We're having a good day," she said. She reported no problems with either voting machines or voters. She reported that only one or two voters had come to the wrong place. When the polls opened at 7:00 a.m., a line had already formed. Besides that initial line, she said, the wait has been no longer than five minutes or so in duration. The majority of voters choose the paper ballot, although two eSlate electronic machines are also available. Outside, assertive volunteers were handing out literature promoting Jose Urdaneta, Barack Obama, and the Home Rule Charter. Finger suggested that turnout was running high for this Presidential election compared to previous ones, but cautioned, "It's hard to say. We'll know at the end of the day." She also revealed that she had not spoken with any reporters from the Lancaster Newspapers.

9:45 a.m.: J.P. McCaskey High School (6th Ward, 6th Precinct)

J.P. McCaskey High School had seen 90 voters as of about 10:00 a.m. Judge of Elections Joyce Hall indicated that there are 542 voters on the roll for that precinct, and that turnout in November 2004 was 266 at the end of the day. Voters entered the polling place at a trickle, but enough to keep the poll workers on their toes, Hall indicated that there was a line when they first opened at 7:00 a.m. That line included about 24 people, she said. She said that she understood from training that poll workers are to offer voters the paper ballot and allow them to use the eSlate only if the voter specifically requests to do so. No one had yet asked to use the eSlate, according to Hall. She also had to issue one provisional ballot to a voter whose residency in the precinct could not be immediately determined. No poll watchers, advocates, or reporters had been noted at the polling place, up until the time of my visit, according to Hall.

10:40 a.m.: Millersville Fire Company (Millersville Borough, District 3)

At the Millersville Fire Company, they had seen approximately 360 voters as of about 10:45 a.m. There are about 2,600 registered voters in the precinct, according to Judge of Elections Steve St. John. He indicated, "We've been instructed to give [voters] a paper ballot" The eSlates are also available and a handful of voters had asked to vote on the eSlates, which St. John says they are permitted to do upon request. He reported no problems with the voting machines or behavioral issues with the electorate. He did have to issue approximately 15 provisional ballots to persons whose residency status could not be immediately determined. Millersville being a college town with large numbers of college students frequently in transition in or out of the precinct, the issue is not uncommon. A lawyer who had volunteered to be a poll watcher for the Obama campaign was seated at a nearby table. He declined to give his name, but said he hadn't seen any issues, noting "These folks are doing a nice job." St. John said that there was a line when the polls first opened, but that the maximum wait time has been about 8-10 minutes. He said he had not encountered any reporters from the Lancaster Newspapers. The Minority Inspector of Elections for the precinct, John R. Steman, said he thinks the turnout has been "more than I've seen in any past election." Outside were two more Obama poll watchers, who indicated that they had not encountered any problems, and Home Rule advocates, distributing literature. One of them was Bill Saylor, who sat on the Government Study Commission that crafted the charter before the voters for a decision today.

Check back here throughout the day for periodic updates on our polling place observations throughout the county.