An Akron man is wishing he’d listened to his wife about his method for voting.
She warned him that Summit County had significantly cut precincts and polling locations and there could be long lines on Election Day.
She voted absentee by mail with no waits or hassle, while he waited until Tuesday and stood in line for two hours before casting his ballot.
“She said, ‘Told you so,’ ” said Scott Moyer, 54. “There was no sympathy there.”
Moyer wasn’t alone. Many Summit County residents who voted on Election Day were unpleasantly surprised by the problems they encountered. They flooded the Summit County Board of Elections with phone calls — so numerous that the board’s 40 lines weren’t enough and many got busy signals — and emails. The board sent teams of troubleshooters to address the problems deemed most serious, though, in hindsight, board officials think they didn’t have enough employees to handle the issues that arose.
The complaints included: lines as long as 2½ hours, ballot scanners that weren’t working, not enough voting booths, poll workers who were too slow or seemed overwhelmed, people who didn’t know where to vote, and a lack of signs or enough signs telling voters which line they needed to be in at their polling places. Many voters stood in one line and found out they were in the wrong line and had to wait in another line before they could vote.
Summit County elections officials, who think the problems were caused by a combination of the changes the board had made and the high turnout typical in a presidential election, plan to assess what went wrong Tuesday and see what can be done to prevent it from happening again. This will include:
• Reassessing the precincts and polling location reductions made between the primary and general election to save the board money and the number of booth workers and trouble shooters the board needs to have on hand.
• Deciding whether the board should invest in technology, like electronic poll books or netbooks (small laptops with Internet access) for each polling location.
• Re-examining the signs and method for moving people through the voting process at the polls.
“I don’t know that we did the best job this time,” said Kim Zurz, the Democratic deputy director of the elections board. “Hopefully, we will do a better job next time.”
The complaints from voters weren’t confined to one area in the county, stretching from Norton to Stow.
Patty Neidert, 54, from Norton, went to her new polling location at Grace United Church of Christ about 10:30 a.m., figuring this would be a good time in between the before-work and lunch-hour rushes. What she found were long lines and lots of confusion at the multi-precinct location.
“There was no wait before,” she said of her previous voting experiences. “I would walk up and then vote. In a presidential election, it was maybe 5 to 10 minutes.”
Neidert didn’t know what precinct she was in, so she had to wait in line at a table of greeters to find out. (The board had greeter tables at all polling places with two or more precincts.) Neidert said it would have helped if the woman with the precinct book had come outside with the book to tell voters where they needed to go.
“She was inside in warm weather,” Neidert said. “They hadn’t posted any of the precinct lists outside. We were forced to wait in line to figure out which line to get into. It was very ridiculous how we were herded.”
At one point, Neidert said a poll worker was taking the identification of a voter in line, going to the greeter table to look up the precinct and coming back to relay this to the voter.
Neidert waited in that line for a half hour and then another 20 minutes in her precinct line. Meanwhile, she said, voters were grumbling to poll workers and each other about what had gone wrong.
“The poll workers were telling us they were not equipped to handle the numbers,” she said. “They said they normally have 600 and had 1,000 with the same number of poll workers. They were very upset as well.”
Neidert thinks the maximum wait for voters should be 20 minutes to a half hour to accommodate people who aren’t able to stand in line because of health reasons or have commitments, like needing to get to work or take care of young children.
Moyer, the voter who waited two hours to vote at First Baptist Church in West Akron, thinks a half hour would be ideal and an hour should be the longest people have to wait.
“The bottom line is: they made a lot of changes before a big election,” he said. “They could have been wiser about how they made the changes. I hope the money they saved was worthwhile. It cost a lot of other people a lot of time, which is money.”
Observers on Election Day kept an eye on how voting went in Summit County and across Ohio.
They had to be affiliated with a party, candidate or issue campaign.
Bill Rich, a University of Akron law professor, was in charge of coordinating 150 observers in Summit and five other counties for President Barack Obama’s campaign. He said by far the worst problem in Summit County was long lines and delays, with voters often waiting an hour or two. He attributed this to the board’s reduction of precincts from 475 to 298 and of polling places from 194 to 151, as a cost-cutting move that resulted from a battle with Summit County about how much money the board needed for this year.
“If you considerably increase the size of a precinct — the registered voters per precinct — and allocate the same number of poll workers, what do you think will happen?” Rich asked. “The concern was that people may not be able to take that much time and may end up having to not vote.”
“To me, it’s really unacceptable to have waits of one to two hours,” Rich added.
Rich said Summit County was considered a “hot spot” by the Obama campaign in Columbus and in the campaign’s headquarters in Chicago because of the long waits.
Tina Merlitti, who heads up the League of Women Voters of the Akron Area and is a former Akron councilwoman, was an observer on behalf of the state Issue 2 campaign at Callis Tower in Akron, a single-precinct polling location. She said voters in the morning were lined up before the polls opened at 6:30 a.m. and waited 45 to 50 minutes to vote. She said the rest of the day saw a steady stream of voters, who didn’t have to wait as long.
Merlitti said the biggest problem she saw at the polling place was voters who had moved and weren’t sure where they needed to vote. The poll workers didn’t have a precinct book for all voters — those were only given to poll workers in multi-precinct locations — and instead handed the voters a card with the elections board’s phone number. Calls to the board often were met with busy signals.
Merlitti and an observer for the Obama campaign began pulling these voters aside and used smart phones to look up the voters’ polling locations.
“Often the people were supposed to vote there,” she said. “We would look it up for them and then take them back to the judge — the one checking voters in — and say, ‘They’re supposed to vote here.’ They would then give them a provisional ballot. After it happened a couple of times, they would send them to us to have us look it up for them.”
Merlitti said a lot of confusion could have been averted if another poll worker had been posted at the polling place with a laptop to look up where people were supposed to vote. She said this extra person also could have relieved the poll workers, who she said were too busy to take any breaks.
“I felt so bad for them,” she said. “They worked really hard all day long.”
When voters called the elections board about a problem, an employee wrote it down on a complaint form.
Board officials assessed the complaints and dispatched one of the 14 teams of troubleshooters already in the field to address the issues deemed the highest priorities.
After the election, elections officials assemble a list of those complaints, as well as those sent to the board via email — a process that is still under way. The list will be one of the documents the board relies on as it looks at the problems that arose on Election Day.
Joe Masich, the board’s Republican director, said the board will be taking another look at the precinct and polling location changes the board made to see if adjustments are needed. He said some of the locations weren’t big enough — or the part of the facility the board was given for voting was too small — or had inadequate parking. He wants to reach out to communities to see if they have alternate facilities with big open spaces and ample parking that the board can use for voting.
Masich said the board may consider moving to a setup in polling locations that is recommended by Secretary of State Jon Husted in which voters go to a table where a poll worker looks up their names on an alphabetical list. The voters then go to a second table to get a ballot and then to a voting stall.
If the board keeps precincts the size they are now, Zurz thinks the board may want to boost the number of poll workers from four to six per precinct. She and Masich think the number of troubleshooters also may need to be increased.
The board was supposed to post signs telling people when polling locations had been closed, but this wasn’t done at every location. Zurz thinks this step is needed and the board needs to have better signs in polling locations that direct voters to the right spots.
Zurz doubts whether the board was able to save any money with the changes it made, like cutting precincts and polling locations, because of additional steps the board had to take, such as putting greeters at multi-precinct polling locations. Masich plans to do a savings analysis.
Masich is pleased that, despite the challenges of the day, the board posted its final results by 12:31 a.m. Zurz said employees did a good job of working together and doing their best to address voters’ complaints.
“We try to be very responsive,” she said.
Tim Gorbach, the board’s Democratic chairman, said the board needs to look at what went right and wrong on Election Day. He said he has told the county that the board likely will request money in its capital budget for next year for the purchase of either electronic poll books or netbooks aimed at speeding up the voting process at the polls.
“In 2008, we had a higher turnout and the lines weren’t as long,” he said. “We need to make sure we manage that better. It’s frustrating because we weren’t ready for the game as much as I thought we should have been.”