So, I posted the details of my voting experience this election, but the question I have yet to answer is: Why the long lines?
I will share with you here what Election workers told me last night, while I stood in line for 5-1/2 hours -- getting me home around 11:00pm (and when I left there were probably 200 or more other voters still waiting in line). I did try to confirm the explanations I was given and though more will probably unfold in the coming weeks, here is one article that gives a very high-level explanation for what was going on to back up what I will write about here.
The last time I voted here in New Mexico, I went to an assigned polling center for my precinct. This polling center actually serviced two precincts. There was no line when I arrived in late afternoon. The whole process took me about 5-10 minutes.
But earlier this year, I received an updated voter registration card that explained that there were no more polling centers for each precinct (or two), but that everyone in our community would go to one of five polling centers to vote.
We live in Sandoval County and our particular town has a population of nearly 90,000, making us the third largest city in the entire state after Las Cruces and Albuquerque.
Las Cruces has a population of around 97,000 and opened 29 polling centers. Albuquerque has a population of over half-a-million and opened 69 polling centers.
Our town? With under 10,000 fewer residents than Las Cruces, we had a whopping five polling centers open. Five.
Twelve hours for voting to squish the voting population of the third largest city in the state into just five polling centers. Crazy.
Even Santa Fe, in fourth place with around 68,000 residents opened up over 30 polling centers.
So besides the incredible lack of foresight for enough space for people to vote in under three to seven hours, the town had put in a request for five computer stations per location. However, each polling center was granted only three computers.
The computers are used to verify voter registration and print the appropriate ballot for each person's precinct. When we voted in our precinct's polling location, they had those ballots printed and ready for us. But now that we all go to centralized polling centers, they just want to print ballots per person who checks in to vote.
While this method might save paper and ink for the town, it definitely adds time to the whole process. And though there were about twelve voting booths, people could only go to the booths in groups of three (usually staggered) because there were only three computers to check people in. The check-in and ballot printing process lasted about four minutes (in my estimation). Four minutes per person, give or take. I think there may have been only one printer, too, which didn't help.
Incredible inefficiencies there.
Some of us in line were talking about how they could have done the drive-through line thing and come to find out our precincts while we were still in line so that they would be ahead of the check-in process and already have ballots printed by the time we got up there. There were other suggestions as well, like if they'd used the money they spent on food and water for people in line to purchase more computers, they wouldn't have needed the food and water, because there wouldn't be much of a line.
It's easy to cast judgment on the whole situation and those in charge of it. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.
I don't harbor any ill-will. I do hope the city learns from this experience and makes some changes before the next election, but I know that even the best laid plans don't always work out.
In the meantime, I am grateful to the Election workers for keeping the peace and trying to console people in the best way they could -- with information and empathy. They arrived on site at 5:45am and probably did not leave till well after midnight. I complained about being there less than six hours when they had given that place more than a full day's effort and energy. God bless them.
Things could have been worse, but no one got out of hand or too incredibly impatient in all that time I was there. I think a lot of that had to do with the way the Election workers handled themselves and the crowd in a stressful situation.
The rest of it had to do with the fact that there is still hope for humanity. People can and do behave civilly when under stress. I am glad for that.