One big, positive result to come out of Tuesday election, at least here in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, was the high voter turnout.
In a typical election, it’s an achievement to get 50 percent of eligible voters to turn out — 60 percent is usually considered exceptional.
But Tuesday saw an estimate of more than 70 percent of registered voters in New Hampshire casting ballots with some Southern New Hampshire communities topping 80 percent. Turnout in Massachusetts communities was high as well.
So what did these fired-up voters get for their trouble? Long lines, long waits and, in some cases, inadequate preparation by those running the election.
Election watchers have long been weeping and wailing about low voter turnout. So why then, when voters do turn out in droves, are they treated so shabbily? Why must voting be such a chore?
In New Hampshire, some might be quick to blame the new Voter ID law, which requires that voters show some kind of identification at the polls or fill out an affidavit to receive a provisional ballot. But poll workers reported no real problems with the Voter ID process.
“Everybody — and I mean everybody — has had their IDs,” Bernard Campbell, assistant moderator at Mary Fisk School in Salem, told reporter Doug Ireland. “But there have been a lot of people registering to vote. There has been a boatload of them.”
New Hampshire’s policy permitting voters to register at the polls surely contributed to the delays. At least 100,000 New Hampshire residents were expected to register to vote at the polls, according to Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan. New voters should help themselves and poll workers by registering before the election. It’s easy and takes little time.
Even accounting for Voter ID and same-day registration, some polling places just seemed overwhelmed by the crush of voters. Londonderry, Salem and other locations were reporting waiting times of more than an hour to vote. Estimates of turnout were 88 percent in Derry and at least 80 percent in Londonderry. Hampstead had 83 percent, Atkinson had 82 percent and Plaistow had 80.2 percent.
In New Hampshire close contests for president, governor and congressional seats drew voters to the polls.
In Massachusetts, an Obama victory was a foregone conclusion. But a tight race for Senate and strong local contests contributed to the heavy turnout that overwhelmed some polling places.
In Lawrence, City Councilor Daniel Rivera wants an investigation into the poor preparation at voting sites. Equipment shortages led to hours-long delays that prompted some voters to simply quit and go home.
“The City Clerk was not prepared and planned poorly,” Rivera told reporter Keith Eddings. “When voting locations are running out of pens at 10 in the morning... I think the City Clerk is over his capacity and is unable to handle some of the requests he’s got on the ground.”
Programmed exterior lights went out at one polling place; a voting booth collapsed at another. There were not enough booths or pens to keep voters moving.
The higher than usual turnout should not have surprised election officials as it had been predicted for some time before Election Day.
Representative democracy depends on voters who are willing to go to the polls on Election Day and cast their ballots. It should be an inspiring and fulfilling experience, not a grim death-march through a bureaucratic nightmare.
The difference is preparation. Election officials need to be better prepared the next time.