Friday, October 26, 2012

Line Shifting

As I sit looking out my office window on the fifth day of advance voting in person, our parking lot is remarkably empty.

We have a steady stream of persons coming in, and we have more parking spaces than we had in 2008, but the difference between now and then is stark.

In 2008, it felt like a magnet was pulling in any car driving by.  I imagined we were experiencing what employees at the Apple Store felt, where just because we existed, droves of people were coming into our business.

It's not like we're dead now.  It's just not alive.

Yesterday, in our four advance locations, we had 5,214 voters.  Four years ago on the comparable day, we had 6,715.

But that's not the story. 

What we saw in 2008 were people waiting in lines to avoid potentially more inconvenient lines on election day.  Advance voting is often called convenience voting because it allows voters to accommodate voting more around their schedules.

Here's a photo of the Saturday morning before the 2008 election, before we even opened:

It's as though lines in 2008 made people happy, that democracy was vibrant.  This year, a line during advance voting is viewed by some voters as suppression.
Our county is spending nearly $100,000 to have four locations open nine or more hours a day during the week and another six hours on Saturday for two weeks before election day.  We also promoted the fact that people can vote by mail by sending out a postcard that cost another $120,000 just to mail.
And we're doing this to keep people from voting?
That was the message I got from a voter at our Metcalf South location, where we had 300 fewer people voting than we did the same day in 2008, with more election workers and more voting machines this year.
I've had other calls, too, and always the callers have referred to the advance site as the polling place.  In fact, we have 221 polling places that will be called into action on election day.  These are advance voting locations.
Every election brings new social issues, whether it be concerns of voting machines or illegal voters, as were the topics in 2006 and 2008, for instance. 
This anti-line sentiment is beginning to feel like a social shift and maybe the issue of 2012.  If people are complaining of a line during advance voting now, when we actually do have the lines we had in 2008, I can only imagine the calls. 
This is the slow week.  Next week, we'll average 10,000 voters a day.
Then, there's the Monday before the election, when we can only have advance voting at our office, and it is required to end at noon by law.
We treat the noon deadline the same as we do the close of the polls on election day, where anyone in line at noon would be able to vote.
In 2008, the only problem was, there was a line of cars waiting to turn into our parking lot for more than a mile to the south.  We had a police car travel to the end of that line and when the police car made it here, we treated everyone in the parking lot as "in line." 
We processed our last voter that day at 2 p.m.
So, I wonder what the reaction will be if we have a repeat of that in 2012.  It's as though the mere site of other voters is stifling this year.
On the other hand, on the day registration closed in 2008, we had a line out the door at 5 p.m.  This year, we had one car in the parking lot at 5.
Fewer people are engaged, but we're getting complaints that we are handling them with more resources than we applied in 2008.  I'm trying to make sense of that.
So, there's definitely a social change in 2012.  Is it a shift in attitude toward the election,  toward advance voting "rights," or was 2008 simply the shift and this is just normal?
Remember, in budget focus groups, people told the county they thought we had too many polling places, open one day.  Now, we're being told we have too few advance voting sites, open 12 days.


W James Holt III said...

At 430PM on Thursday 11/01/2012, advance voting at Metcalf Mall was painless, smooth and efficient. I was impressed with how well entrances, lines and exits were marked and identified, and with how well organized the election workers were. It only took 45 minutes to weave through the staging area, converse with people also in line to vote, identify myself to the election officials, vote and exit the mall. The mood of those I spoke with while wating in line was pleasant. No one I spoke with nor anyone I heard speaking around me in line had anything negative or bad to say about waiting in line. They like I - were simply waiting in line for the opportunity to cast a vote. Thanks for your work in preparing the workers and the site - it all was very well done.