Local Politics

Durham elections chief: Vote early to avoid lines

Posted March 16, 2016 6:40 p.m. EDT
Updated March 16, 2016 6:46 p.m. EDT

— Long lines at some Durham County polling sites on Tuesday had some people casting ballots after many statewide races had already been decided.

"It was completely unacceptable and insane," said Bob Rapier, who waited in line for about two-and-a-half hours to vote at Southern School of Energy and Sustainability, finally casting a ballot at 9:40 p.m.

Rapier said hundreds of people were queued up for a turn at the eight voting booths at the high school.

"It was about 100,010 percent worse than I’ve ever experienced," he said.

At the East Regional Library, the final votes weren't cast until after 10 p.m., and Durham County officials were still reporting results to the State Board of Elections long after midnight.

"I've been here 10 years, and yes, that's the latest we've ever reported election results," county elections director Michael Perry said.

Perry blamed voters for the lines, saying early voting in Durham County was down 20 percent from traditional levels, meaning more people waiting to vote on primary day.

"You chose to wait to the last hour of the last day to vote, and if a lot of people do that, guess what's going to happen? You're going to have a line, and they're going to have to wait," he said.

Perry had no explanation for the drop in early voting, but when that ended on Saturday, he said there was no time to adjust to the impending crush of voters on Tuesday.

"An election day polling place is a complicated thing. You have people, machines, ballots – all those things that have to be prepared ahead of time," he said. "You can’t just flip a switch and say, 'Oh, let’s do more on election day.'"

Statewide, about 10.5 percent of voters cast early ballots, up from 7.8 percent in the May 2012 primary.

Many voters also showed up at the wrong polling sites or weren't registered when they arrived, which also contributed to the lines and wait times, Perry said.

The Durham County Board of Elections will try additional outreach before the November election to encourage people to register and vote early, he said.

"We’re going to try to ... get information out to them to say, 'Hey, here is the early voting period' and 'If you vote on election day, go to your polling place,'" he said. "The key is to get process so that it flows. Make sure a voter shows up to right place and that voter is registered."

Rapier said more delays like the one he experienced Tuesday can only hurt future elections.

"Everyone said the same thing: 'What’s the point?'" he said.