Long lines, no ballots for some.
Sacramento Bee. November 3, 2004. By Will Evans and Christina Jewett, Bee Staff Writers.
Lawsuits, lines and lost ballots marred voting in some states Tuesday, but in Sacramento County, elections officials reported a different problem: Not enough ballots.
Voters at nearly two dozen polling places throughout Sacramento County reported they had to wait in line while elections officials overwhelmed by heavy turnout rushed extra ballots to them.
"A lot of them are running out of ballots," Sally Pujol, manager of precinct operations for Sacramento County, said at 7 p.m., an hour before the polls closed. "We're sending ballots as fast as we can get them and get them out there.
"I'm killing myself trying to get these together, packaging and sending them out."
At the Franklin High School library in Elk Grove, for instance, about 100 voters were told late Tuesday to remain in line for another hour while officials rushed to get more ballots to them.
"It's ridiculous," said Primo Siador, an Elk Grove voter who said he made four trips to polling places only to find long lines and no ballots. "I don't know how they ran out of ballots. They should have been watching."
Sacramento County registrar Jill LaVine said workers were dispatched to the polling place with additional ballots, and officials regionwide said they had seen long lines in places caused by the turnout, which they estimated at 75 percent or higher.
State and local officials had predicted heavy turnout in recent days because of the huge interest in this election, particularly the presidential race.
"We are seeing lines, which is good, because it means people are interested," LaVine said.
But the lines of voters left polling places in Sacramento County out of ballots or running low and asking for more, officials said.
At Arlene Hein Elementary School in Elk Grove, poll workers ran out of ballots at 7:30 p.m., forcing about 100 voters to wait half an hour for more to arrive. "You expect this to happen in Florida, but not in California," said Dan Arredondo, a 43-yearold Democrat. "You can't believe that this would really happen."
Voters applauded loudly when the ballots arrived about 8 p.m., and shortly after 9 p.m. the last ballots were delivered to waiting voters.
Officials actually had enough ballots in Sacramento County, with 729,000 ballots ordered for the 650,000 registered voters. But unexpectedly high turnout in some areas had polling places reporting shortages starting at about 6:30 p.m.
"It's a phenomenal turnout," assistant registrar Alice Jarboe said. "I'm very excited about that. And I apologize that we're running out of ballots.
"Following this election, we're going to take a hard, long look at what happened. I'm stunned what's happening - all I can ask for is patience from the voters."
Officials began telling voters who came to the polls with their sample ballots to use those Tuesday night as the shortages of regular ballots began to occur.
"They can vote that and they'll put that in a provisional envelope, and we'll duplicate it when it gets back there," Pujol said. Other counties in the region did not have similar problems, officials said, although there were long lines in many places as a result of the heavy turnout.
Statewide, officials said there appeared to be few serious problems.
"I've been involved in conducting 25 state elections in my career, and this is the smoothest yet, so far," said Tony Miller, special counsel to Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. "Things have gone amazingly smoothly so far, especially given the turnout."
But Sacramento officials said they had sporadic trouble with the new scanning machines being used for the first time.
By late Tuesday, nine of the 712 machines used countywide had to be replaced because they didn't work, officials said. One didn't have a power cord, and another had been ped by a poll worker. Others had minor glitches.
Sacramento officials had 70 election coordinators roaming the county to handle problems, and another seven specialists trained in repairing the machines.
Aside from the ballot shortage snafu, however, most of the problems were of the sort officials see reported with every election.
Some voters complained they were wrongly listed as already having voted by absentee or not being registered. Others complained about people wearing political paraphernalia into polling places.
Many of the voters who found they weren't listed as being registered were able to vote using provisional ballots.
And some voters said they had difficulty dealing with the new ballots that replaced the old punch cards.
"I'm 45, voting since I was 18," said Alton Smithart, an Orangevale Republican. "This whole newballot and filling out the football- shaped thing and filling it out on an old rickety table that's designed for the punch card thing - it was just uncomfortable."
In Elk Grove, 35-year-old Ray Robinson said the new ballot, which requires voters to fill in oval shapes with a black pen, said the process was "a little strange, because it was like the old test we did in school...fill in the blanks."
"It took a minute for me to understand (the ballot) because of the ballot layout," he said. "The choices for some measures were spread over more than one column." But other voters said they were pleased with the new machines because they might eliminate the problems that plagued the Florida vote count four years ago.
"I think after what happened four years ago, filling out a ballot and having it scanned provides assurances that it's not going to be another hanging chad situation," said Tim McDonald, a 42-year-old Galt voter.