EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 6, 2012

Crush of voters result in long waits, traffic jams, headaches

By Bill Kirk and Mike Labella Staff writers
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — From traffic jams to jammed voting machines, the “sheer number” of voters flooding polls across the Merrimack Valley created headaches for poll workers and long lines for voters.

At Lawrence’s Partham School, 400 people stood in a line that looped through the lobby at 7 p.m., enduring a wait that was two hours and growing. The doors to the polling place were locked on schedule at 8 p.m., but everyone on line at that point would be allowed to vote, said Lt. Shawn Conway, who supervises police at polling places.

For Darlysha Gonzalez and her mother, Minerva, the wait was exacerbated by the fact they originally showed up at the wrong polling place.

“We were at the Rowley School for an hour,” Darlysha Gonzalez, describing their wait to reach the head of the line there, only to be told by an election clerk that they were at the wrong place. “Here, we’ve been on line two hours.”

The two said they saw several other voters leave the Partham School in disgust, but Conway said there had been no angry incidents and poll worker Heidi Stokes said voters were being “really polite.”

Earlier in the day the wait was shorter but still long enough at the Valebrook apartment complex on Summer Street in Lawrence. About 100 people stood in a line that snaked from the registration table down a dark hallway to a bank of elevators.

Precinct B-4 Warden Jason Iarossi said there were so many voters on the inactive list that he was running low on affidavits people must sign to attest they are who they say they are.

In addition, the two-page ballot was causing problems because people weren’t voting on the referendums, causing the counting machine to spit those ballots out.

He said the heavy crowd was unprecedented.

“I’ve worked for years on elections and I’ve never seen it like this,” he said. “Just the sheer number of people.”

Jose Santiago, running for state representative in Lawrence against incumbent Marcos Devers, said the city wasn’t ready for the crush of people.

“The lines are too long,” said Santiago, who was standing inside precinct B-1 at the Frost School in Lawrence. “They were not prepared. People were going to vote at lunch break from work and they don’t have enough time to vote.”

Some people, however, didn’t mind the wait.

Nancy Nunez, of Haverhill, had escorted her mother, Maria Santiago, 69, of Lawrence, to the polling place.

She said they waited 30 to 45 minutes.

“We didn’t mind waiting,” Nunez said. “We voted for Obama. We trust him.”

Similar problems were being encountered in Haverhill.

The heavy turnout at Bradford Elementary School (Ward 7, Precinct 3) included residents whose names had been placed on the city’s inactive voter list. So many of them showed up that an election worker had to be stationed in a hallway to check their identifications, which is required when someone is on that list.

Voters are placed on the inactive list when they fail to return a census or have not voted in recent elections. By late morning, 50 people who showed up at Bradford Elementary to vote had to show their identifications and sign paperwork because they were on the inactive list.

“We’ve never done anything like this before,’’ said poll worker Bruce Nelson, who ran the inactive voter station in a school hallway.

In Andover, the problem was outside.

Voter turnout was so heavy late in the morning that drivers approaching Andover High School at 80 Shawsheen Road were backed up nearly a mile to get into the entrance. Police said the problem was that pedestrians were crossing the driveway from the so-called senior lot, to get into the field house where the voting booths were set up.

As they crossed, it slowed traffic for people trying to get into the parking lots, which had a ripple effect onto Shawsheen Road and beyond.

Inside the field house, things were relatively smooth. The only problem appeared to be that there were so many voters that the machines were filling up with ballots. The machines would then get jammed and a precinct warden, under the watchful eye of a police officer, had to remove the ballots and place them in a lock box to make room for new ballots.

Haverhill had a similar problem, but it was caused by absentee ballots. There, several machines broke down, forcing workers to repair them.

Machines at seven Haverhill polls became jammed. Election officials said the machines became jammed because of absentee ballots that were folded, due to some ballots that were bigger than usual to accommodate the lengthy wording of ballot questions, and also due to malfunctioning computer chips that read ballots for the machines.

Haverhill technicians said they were busy going to polls to fix machines, and that the problem was happening across the state, due primarily to folded absentee ballots and larger-than-normal ballots.

In North Andover, the polls opened at 6 a.m. so people could vote before going to work, but Town Clerk Joyce Bradshaw reported no significant problems yesterday morning. By the afternoon, the crowds had not let up.

“We are very busy,” she said around 3 p.m., but everything was going smoothly.

A record 3.2 million voters were projected to cast ballots, Secretary of State William Galvin predicted.

Reporter Keith Eddings contributed to this report.