Lots of Summit County residents voted Tuesday with frowns on their faces.
Some voting locations didn’t have enough booths. Others didn’t have signs directing voters were to go. And voters casting provisional ballots gummed up the flow, slowing the process even further.
The result: Long lines.
“This is a big deal. This is a basic function of what we do,” Tim Gorbach, the board’s Democratic chairman, said at a Summit County Board of Elections meeting Tuesday afternoon as complaints wafted in. “This presidential election didn’t sneak up on us.”
Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and council members Marco Sommerville, Garry Moneypenny and Russel Neal Jr. heard about numerous problems as they traveled to polling places throughout the city.
“Chaos. Mass confusion. A lot of precincts are helpful to people and a lot of them aren’t,” said Sommerville, the Akron City Council president.
He said problems were amplified because the Summit County elections board significantly reduced the number of polling locations between the primary and general elections to save money.
The board of elections was supposed to put signs on former voting locations to tell voters that the site wasn’t being used this time around and to call the board office. Some signs didn’t get put up.
“They are saying, ‘I’ve voted here 20 years. I don’t know where to go.’ They’re calling the board of elections. The line is busy. It’s mass chaos,” Sommerville said.
He received an email from an attorney with Obama’s campaign who was compiling complaints about problems at polls in the Greater Akron area.
Complaints included long lines, slow check-ins, broken machines, people being turned away with valid identification, excessive use of provisional ballots and ballot shortages in Akron, Canton, Barberton, Springfield, Cuyahoga Falls, Twinsburg, Wadsworth, Copley and Munroe Falls.
Akron police were called to the polling location at First Baptist Church on Shatto Avenue in West Akron when a voter cut to the front of the line and demanded to be allowed to vote. He was outraged at the number of empty voting booths. But by the time police arrived, a board employee had talked to the voter, who had calmed down and gotten in line and voted, officials said.
At some points during the day, many voters waited up to two hours to vote at several locations, elections officials said.
At the Northwest Family Recreation Center on Shatto Avenue, the polling place for two precincts, there weren’t enough signs directing voters to the correct precinct, so some waited in one line, learned they were in the wrong one and were forced to go to the back of the line for the correct precinct.
Once they got into the room to vote, each precinct had three poll workers who processed the ballots and a fourth who fed the ballots into the scanning machine.
The slow process ensured that long lines formed early. Some voters left and came back when they saw the long lines — only to find the lines hadn’t shrunk much, if at all.
Other precincts didn’t have enough voting machines, so more were shuttled out.
At Resnik Community Learning Center in West Akron, voter Carol A. Murphy said it took her close to two hours, and her husband Peter Niewiarowski nearly three hours, to vote early Tuesday morning in a recently combined precinct.
“I saw people leaving because they could not vote,” she said.
Ray Weber, a Republican elections board member, complained at the board meeting of his own experience voting at Bath Church.
“It seems as though we had the oldest people checking them in,” Weber said. “I said, ‘Look at how long the lines are. You need to be processing the line more quickly.’ ”
There was too much visiting going on, younger poll workers were deployed to menial tasks while older workers were checking voters in, he said.
Deputy elections director Kim Zurz, a Democrat, said she had been switching poll workers out all day to try to speed up the process.
“They haven’t been happy,” she said.
Republican Party Chairman Alex Arshinkoff, an elections board member, said the board office should study the problems after the holiday break with one goal: tell the four-member board how to improve the process.
This might be an opportunity for the elections board to ask the County Council, which holds the county’s financial purse strings, for more money, he said. The board complained earlier this year that its $6.1 million budget wasn’t enough to run an efficient election.
The emphasis on Tuesday, though, was on problems at the polling locations.
“It sounds like some of this is our fault,” Gorbach said.
Among the last voters in Summit County were Corena Mitchell and Jolie O’Conner.
They were last in line at the Community of Believers Church in Cuyahoga Falls. This was their second time Tuesday in the same line. Both visited the polling place earlier but left when they saw the long line.
Mitchell, 50 said it’s a privilege to vote, especially as a woman, and that’s why she returned to cast her ballot.
“I can’t complain if I don’t so something about it,” she said. “You have to try and make a difference no matter how big or small it is.”
When O’Conner, 45, arrived at polls in the early afternoon, she was told the wait was 45 minutes to an hour.
“It’s just crazy,” she said.
The last ballot at First Baptist Church in Akron was cast around 8:30 p.m. — a full hour after the polls officially closed. Those still in line at 7:30 p.m. were allowed to vote.
At one point during Election Day, the wait to vote at the church — home to three precincts — was more than two hours. The last stragglers to make their way to vote at the church waited about an hour.
Caitlyn Cook and Kayleigh Bracht of TheNewsOutlet.org contributed to this report. Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3705.