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Monday, October 29, 2012

My 2012 Early Voting Experience

I exercised my right to vote this past Saturday, taking advantage of early voting here in Georgia. It was the first year (and the only Saturday of this election cycle) of statewide Saturday voting [1]. The lines were long across the state and the wait at George Pierce Park Community Recreation Center in Suwanee, Ga. where I stood in line reached up to seven and a half hours for some people.

The problem was not "human error or a shortage of machines," according to poll manager Dawn P. Gober, who came out every so often to give citizens updates on wait times for the various sections of the queue. "At most only about nine of the machines are in use at one time," she said.

I got a chance to speak briefly to Ms. Gober after I voted for—honestly!—90 seconds before she had to stop and close the poll at 7p.m. When I asked her what she thought had improved since the 2008 elections, I heard her suppress a chuckle. "Well, there's no long lines at the machines."

She wasn't kidding. When it had been my turn to enter the voting booth, I was the only one physically in front of the 15 voting machines despite the fact that hundreds had gone ahead of me and hundreds more had yet to vote. The issue, she said, was that all four satellite location were only provided with three computer to check voter identity and generate ballot smart cards and that each person manning the computers were basically "doing the job of two people."

"This the first ever Saturday, we've ever been open," Ms. Gober explained. "We didn't expect this kind of turn out. We didn't make any predictions about turn out at all really. We just couldn't." She did predict that she and her fellow poll volunteers will be working until well past 2 a.m., estimating that the George Pierce Park location will have served roughly 1200 citizen by the end of the night. Even though the polls closed at seven that night [2], any one in line at the time of closing would be allowed to vote.

Gwinnett County voting officials tried to address the issues by adding two more computers for a total of five computer at each of the locations, Fox 5 in Atlanta reported today. As of noon on Monday, the wait time was down to a (relatively) reasonable 90-minute wait at the Snellville, Ga. location. However, in the same report, Fox 5 stated that county officials excepted to see another surge of voters Thursday and Friday, the last two days of early voting before the November 6th elections. So, we will have to see if these changes were enough to deal with an enthusiastic crowd voting during a very contentious election year.

Voting is your right as a citizen and I encourage everyone to vote and vote early if you can. But if you're planning to vote this year—especially early vote—plan for the long haul. I'm not saying that your experience will be an all-day marathon as it was for those who voted on Saturday in Gwinnett County Ga., but as my dad likes to say: "Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance. Here are some things I've learned:
  • Make sure you have all your proper documentations — I heard that one lady in front of me stood in line for seven hours only to discover that she did not have her driver's license and was therefore turned away.
  • Bring lots of patience — You'll need it. Once you get there don't lose heart. Don't get frustrated and leave. You're better off sticking it through. Don't waste your time standing in line only to spend more time trying again the next day. Probably best to clear your schedule if you can. Stay positive. Your perseverance will be worth it.
  • Wear comfy shoes — I had to park a mile away just to find parking. The walk to the end of the line wasn't too bad but after standing for five and a half hours, the trek back was not at all fun. That said: there will be a lot of standing.
  • Plan your clothing for the weather — Pay attention to the forecasts. A lot of people came Saturday afternoon in just shorts and a t-shirt. Granted when they showed up at 1 p.m., the weather was in the 70s and they expected to only be there a couple of hours at most. But as soon as the sun began to set and their wait stretched into hour four, the temperature plummeted and so did their moods.
  • Bring water, bring snacks, bring a book — Don't worry about what people will think. Trust me on this.
  • Bring chairs —  Of all the things I wish I had, I wish I had something to sit on. The folk who brought chairs sometimes complained that they only got to sit for 20 minutes at a time before they had to get back up. But take it from someone who stood most of that time and who sat on the hard asphalt, having to get up every 20 minutes from a comfy chair to move 20 feet beats standing the entire time. Next time I might come with one of those cooler/chair combos like the one pictured below.
  • [Image Source: The Comfort Store]
  • Bring a good attitude, be friendly — Despite the wait and the standing and the cluster that was the election commission's (lack of) planning, the folks in line shared a surprisingly upbeat attitude and, in most cases, a gallows humor full of jocularity and laughter. Also, it is a inevitable truth that you will want to go to the restroom. Everyone in line recognized this and everyone feared being sent to the back of the line if they leave the queue. People looked out for each other, however, allowing their neighbors to get their spaces back. Most people refrained from discussing divisive political topic, choosing instead to talk about things they had in common with each other, things that transcended political alliances. The camaraderie, civility, and sense of fair play should be set as an example for the politicians for whom we came to vote. In short: don't be an ass. 
  • Don't make assumptions — One of the most important things I learned was not to assume that just because you get there early enough or because it's the middle of the day of a work week, that you will have a quick voting experience. Nor does coming back tomorrow or on Election Day necessarily mean you will have less of a wait. Everyone else is thinking the same thing. Just bring a lot of patience.
If Karen Buckley Washington can enjoy her early voting experience [read her letter to the Suwanee Patch here] you can too. So, go out there. Vote. And make sure you have fun.