Impending Storm Draws Crowds to the Polls
Thousands of residents who live in the District and Maryland cast their ballots days before Nov. 6 – the thought of lengthy lines at voting centers on Election Day and the threat and possible aftermath of Hurricane Sandy hastened their arrival at polls throughout the region.
Early voting, which allows residents in the District and Maryland the opportunity to cast their ballot for the Nov. 6 elections, has experienced problems since the District opened up seven voting sites throughout the city. Prince George's County opened five sites. Paul Stenbjorn, an elections official in the District, said that he and his staff were surprised by the turnout on Saturday, Oct. 27.
"We did not anticipate the level of turnout that we had," Stenbjorn said. "We did not anticipate the enthusiasm for the presidential election. We also underestimated that the number of people, on their Saturday errands, would choose to vote as a part of their schedule."
The D.C. Board of Elections set up the first early voting station at the Old Council Chambers in Northwest on Monday, Oct. 22 and seven other voting centers opened on Saturday in each of the city's wards. In Prince George's County, early voting started on Saturday, Oct. 27 at five stations.
Hurricane Sandy, it's believed, played a pivotal role in people voting early on Oct. 27 and in the decisions by elections officials in the District and Prince George's County to postpone early voting activities on Monday, Oct. 29 and Tuesday, Oct. 30.
Ward 5 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Albrette "Gigi" Ransom sent out an email to D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie [D-Ward 5], city officials, and bloggers about problems at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Northeast on Saturday.
"There have been long lines, probably more so than what would normally be expected for the first Saturday of early voting due to the pending storm [Hurricane Sandy] that could affect the flow of electricity next week that could impact voting," Ransom said. "[It] Seems voters have been waiting for hours. Seems voters are upset about the way the long lines are being handled."
Ransom, 50, said that long lines had formed inside the recreation center and outside of the building. She also said that some people waited three hours to vote and that the problems were far worse in Ward 8 at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center.
"The problems in early voting were all over the listservs in Ward 5," Ransom said. "Everybody was talking about it."
Prince George's County also had its fair share of long lines.
Belinda Queen, a political activist who lives near Capitol Heights, said that when she took her daughter to tumbling lessons at the Wayne Curry Sports and Learning Complex in Landover, Md., she was shocked to see so many people in line to vote.
"The line was all the way in the parking lot," said Queen, 48. "I really could not believe it. Durand Ford [legislative aide to Maryland Sen. Joanne Benson] was making plans to give out donuts to people who were standing in line."
Queen said that elections officials didn't have enough machines to accommodate the crowd and while some walked away, most continued to stand in line and deal with the situation.
"Two years ago, hardly anybody voted early, so I was coming to vote while my daughter was in class," she said. "I will vote another time."
Stenbjorn said that early voting will end in the District on Saturday, Nov. 3, as scheduled, while in Prince George's County, early voting will be extended to Friday, Nov. 2.
The District counts among one of 32 electoral jurisdictions, the others being states like Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio and Florida that allows early voting. The D.C. Board of Elections started its early voting in 2010, and it has proven to be extremely popular.
"Early voting fits into my personal schedule," said Terrell Newkirk, who voted on Thursday, Oct. 25 at the Old Council Chambers at One Judiciary Square in Northwest. "I did not want to deal with the crowds on Nov. 6."
D.C. Board of Election executive director Clifford Tatum likes the city's response to early voting.
"It is going extremely well in the District," said Tatum, 47. "We have had 1,000 voters a day since it started on Monday [Oct. 22]. We, like the other states that use early voting, like it because it is a convenience to people who will have a hard time getting to the polls on Election Day."
Walter Garcia, an advisory neighborhood commissioner candidate for Ward 7, stood in line on Saturday with scores of residents at the Dorothy I. Height/Benning Library in Northeast.
Garcia, 48, said that convenience wasn't the only reason he took advantage of early voting.
"I am here to vote so I can work to get people to the polls on Nov. 6 so they can vote for Ron Moten for the city council," said Garcia who also lives in Northeast. "On Nov. 6, I will be knocking on doors and informing residents of the ward about Ron and will probably help some people get to the polls."
Kelvin Ridley, who voted on Thursday, Oct. 25, has the same idea as Garcia.
"I wanted to vote early so I can get out to Virginia and help President Obama," said Ridley, 47. "I plan to help the president on Nov. 6 by making sure that people get to the polls."
Nichelle Payne, a Southeast resident, voted early on Thursday, Oct. 25 to help her candidate win.
"I did it to make sure that my vote counted for my candidate, Michael Brown," said Payne, 21. Brown is an at-large D.C. Council member who is running for re-election as an independent.
Newkirk said he's sold on early voting.
"It was a smooth process and I absolutely recommend early voting to anyone."