Long lines, some snags as voters hit the polls
Heavy voter turnout and longer-than-usual lines were reported at many polling locales in Metro Detroit on Election Day, with scattered problems at some locations.
Voting at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit was delayed by about a half-hour when poll workers couldn't find ballot machines when they arrived to set up at 5:45 a.m. Tuesday, according to Detroit Elections Supervisor Daniel Baxter.
Poll workers had to contact the delivery company to help them locate the machines, which weren't found until 7 a.m., as the polls were opening. Machines weren't up and running until sometime between 7:30 and 8 a.m., Baxter said.
"It's always our practice to keep these machines under lock and key until election morning," he said. Poll workers also usually arrive about an hour and 15 minutes before polls open, which normally gives them ample time to set up.
"In this particular instance, there was a mix-up," Baxter said.
Joe Rozell, director of elections for Oakland County, said voter turnout was unusually high.
“Most precincts in the county have had constant voting all day and most have had lines,” he said. “Although in some areas, voters are only waiting about 10 minutes and in other areas, they’re waiting a little bit longer than that.”
He said the county had sent out nearly 203,908 absentee voter ballots and more than 180,187 of them were returned as of Nov. 5.
“What we’re seeing is a significantly higher number of absentee ballots for a mid-term election,” Rozell said. “It’s more in line with what we see in a presidential election year."
That, combined with Tuesday’s Election Day turnout, is going to put the county on pace to be at or near turnout for a presidential election, he said.
Long lines were reported at several locations. Shortly after polls opened Tuesday, the ballot-counting machine broke down at Grosse Pointe Woods' Precinct 4, which votes at city hall. Poll workers decided to have voters drop their ballots into a bin without being tabulated, but until then, the line stretched to a one-hour wait. By 8:30 a.m., the wait was down to 25 minutes. The tabulator was replaced by 10:30 a.m. At the end of the night, poll workers will feed uncounted ballots into the machine, which will delay reporting time from that precinct.
Pierce Middle School in Grosse Pointe Park, where precincts No. 4 and No. 7 vote, lost electrical power Tuesday morning, as winds gusted to more than 30 miles per hour. A spokesperson for the city said DTE Energy had power restored in less than an hour. Voting was not interrupted, the spokesperson said.
Few problems were reported in Hamtramck.
“We staffed and prepared for this like it was a presidential election,” said Hamtramck City Clerk August Gitschlag. “We doubled the number of voting booths and beefed up the staff. It seems to be going very smoothly. My only concern is the wind, and that’s in God’s hands.”
At a polling place inside a Hamtramck senior center that housed seven precincts, Sam Alasri was on hand to help Yemeni residents. He is the president of the Yemeni American Political Action Committee.
“I am here, along with volunteers who are at all the polling places in Hamtramck, because we want to make sure there are no problems,” he said. “We’re here to help people understand if they need translating, or with any issues that may come up.”
He continued, “One man said he left his ID at his bank, and I explained that he still has a right to vote, he just had to sign a form first.”
He said his organization has been working for weeks to educate the Yemeni community about the issues and the importance of exercising their right to vote.
“There are 7,000 registered voters in Hamtramck and in parts of Detroit,” he said. “We registered more than 1,000 new voters. They need to exercise their rights.”
Roseville resident David Looker, 56, said he always gets to the polls when it opens at 7 a.m. on Election Day, and Tuesday was no different.
“The lines tend to be a little shorter in the morning,” he said after voting at the city’s fifth voting precinct, housed in Huron Park Elementary near Kelly And Frazho roads.
He said he’s retired but makes voting on Election Day his first priority: “I vote in every election."
Turnout was high Tuesday morning at the city of Plymouth’s third precinct, with voters waiting in line for up to 45 minutes when the polls opened at 7 a.m.
At St. John’s Presbyterian Church on East Lafayette near downtown Detroit, voters who dodged the rain to get inside were greeted by a table filled with baked goods. The bake sale included homemade brownies, red velvet cake, apple pie, cupcakes and sweet potato pie.
Apparently, the long ballots made voters hungry.
“You should have seen the table earlier,” said one of the volunteers. “It was full, but they bought almost everything.”
That foot traffic was good news to Tamika Powell, chairperson for precinct 156.
“We had 142 votes by noon, which is an excellent turnout, especially compared to the primary election,” said Powell.
Detroit News Staff Writers Karen Bouffard, Leonard N. Fleming, Nora Naughton and Ian Thibodeau contributed.