Don't forget to vote! It only takes a couple of hours!
(And your vote might not be counted....)

What a coincidence that I titled that last post "Never has arrived," because I just expended nearly two hours voting.

The actual time from arriving at my polling place to finally voting was one hour and ten minutes. Huge lines were compounded by incredible pollworker ineptitude, but the biggest problem was that each voter of all of the hundreds there was forced to stand in a long line after marking the ballot and had to wait to feed the ballot into a single "Accu-Vote" machine. (Yes, that's all there was. One machine.)

If you think having one machine for hundreds of people standing in line is bad enough, think again.

The machine did not work.

After repeared complaints, the pollworkers discovered that the machine was not counting all the ballots. Naturally, the people in charge were elderly volunteers who appeared to have no idea what they were doing, and I watched them stand there and argue with each other for about a half an hour while one of them was on a cell phone explaining to someone that votes weren't being counted, and asking over and over again what to do. Meanwhile, the line just got longer and longer, because no one could feed a ballot through the dysfunctional machine. I don't know whether the glitch was ever resolved or whether they decided to just let people feed their ballots through and hope for the best, but after marking my ballot (which took a couple of minutes) I stood in the line and was finally able to feed mine through. I watched the electronic counter before and after I inserted my ballot, and the display readout did move by one number. I won't disclose what number it was in this blog, but I can assure you that the total number displayed seemed considerably smaller than the number of people in line ahead of me, and I got there at 8:14.

It's simply an outrage. I've been voting since 1972, and I lived for decades in Berkeley (a larger student town than Ann Arbor). Not once has voting taken this long.

This problem would have been easy to avoid too. It's obvious that this is a huge precinct, and they knew that, which is why the voting place was located in a large gymnasium at the University, and why there were plenty of booths. So what's with one lousy machine? There should have been three. Also, there should be at least one professional person in charge who knows how the machines work. It was painful to watch the clueless elderly volunteer fumbling around, and the kids in line were making snarky remarks and laughing at her. One young smartass (in obvious derision of McCain) loudly said "She looks like she's too old to know how to check email!" to much laughter. Yet amazingly, there were student-age volunteers who were equally clueless. (I know how it is to be old and out of touch, though. Me, I'm so old that had trouble figuring out that the massive recent slowdown and inability to scroll properly in my Internet Explorer was being caused by "add-ons" installed automatically by my new Skype software, and they had to be disabled through complex procedures known only to young people, and which I had to teach my ancient self by Googling.)

A problem with volunteers (elderly or otherwise) is that they don't always know what they're doing. Of course, some of them might be partisan activists who know damned well what they're doing.

I guess I should be glad I live in the most modern and technologically advanced country in the world, where voting has been made fast and easy.

It would have been quicker to board a plane.

MORE: From today's Detroit Free Press:

Then there's a site called It is used to report voting and polling place problems. As of this morning, Michigan was one of the leading states in the nation reporting delays and mistakes.
Looking on the bright side, I should probably consider myself lucky to live in a leading state!

MORE: I called the county to report this problem, and I was referred to the City of Ann Arbor, which put me on hold with recorded message suggesting that I leave a message and that

We will return your call on wednesday.
So I held instead. Eventually, someone from the City Clerk's office got on and explained to me that they "used to have different machines" but the previous City Clerk (not the current one) acquired these machines and that "we had to go wth these machines" because state law required it. "We don't have any more money," he said, and told me that I might take the issue up with the Bureau of Elections at the State Capitol in Lansing.

"We were given this machinery," he said, and "they can't fix it," but the pollworkers "will have to do a reconciliation" and if that can be reviewed by the Board of Canvassers."

Three times I was told that the problem is money, that these machines cost thousands of dollars, and that to fix the problem they would have to (guess what?) "raise taxes."

(I kept my mouth shut, but I suspect that they'll do that anyway, but when they do, voting machines will not be at the top of spending priorities.)

MORE: The more I think of long lines, the more I'm reminded of remarks made by Philadelphia City Commission Chair Marge Tartaglione:

"long lines are not a problem...Long lines are no justification for any thing but waiting...people wait in long lines overnight for baseball tickets...people wait in line all night for a new Ipod."
The video is great, BTW.


I doubt Ms. Tartaglione has power outside of Philadelphia, but might there be such a thing as the Tartaglione Effect?

MORE: People have suggested that voting by absentee ballot would avoid problems such as the one I encounted, and the Detroit Free Press advised just that last week. The problem with that is that your reason for requesting the absentee ballot must fall within one of the statutory grounds listed on the application form:

  • I am physically unable to attend the polls without the assistance of another.
  • I cannot attend the polls because of the tenets of my religion.
  • I have been appointed an election precinct inspector in a precinct other than the precinct where I reside.
  • I am 60 years of age or older.
  • I cannot attend the polls because I am confined to jail awaiting arraignment or trial.
  • And further down, the form states,
    A person making a false statement in this absent voter ballot application is guilty of a misdemeanor.
    Not one of the statutory grounds applies to me. Had I said I would be out of town, I'd be committing a crime.

    But maybe I could say that the Detroit Free Press told me to do it!

    A "media entrapment" defense? Hey, why not?

    MORE: Scratch the media entrapment defense. While the Freep said yesterday that "People still can vote today by absentee ballot," and that "If you do not have one, go to your clerk's office to get one," they did list the statutory requirements.

    But elsewhere, they point out that "Local clerks said they don't have the staff to check whether an absentee voter is truthful."

    "I always tell people, I'm not going to be coming to your door to check to see if you're there on Election Day," said Ulrich, the president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks. "We're working on the legislation, so you don't have to lie or come up with a story."
    I'm sure there are arguments on both sides of changing the law, but I think that "not having two hours to spare" ought to be a legitimate reason.

    AND MORE: Unless my powers of simple observation are way off, the Ann Arbor vote (especially in student precincts like mine) will be overwhelmingly pro-Obama. Which means that I should be rejoicing that the election machinery is making it so difficult to vote, right?

    No, I don't care if I am inadvertently helping Barack Obama (who will probably win Michigan anyway). It's a question of electoral integrity, and I believe that this sort of thing tends to discourage voter participation. So I think it matters. (Besides, the votes not being counted might include my own!)

    posted by Eric on 11.04.08 at 10:31 AM


    You said, "It's obvious that this is a huge precinct, and they new that", but you meant, "It's obvious that this is a huge precinct, and they knew that".

    Anon Ymous   ·  November 4, 2008 10:47 AM

    Routine inconvenience almost certainly keeps people from voting.

    In contrast, voting in my small village has the election people greet me by name, produce the book to sign, and into the booth I go. Total 2 minutes not counting the short drive to the town hall.

    The downside to this is that I can only vote once.

    CT   ·  November 4, 2008 11:18 AM

    I got to my polling station ten minutes after it opened, and yeah, I was maybe the hundredth person in line. Luckily, we were subdivided so that no one was waiting behind more than ten or so people for a booth (the old twist-the-dial-and-pull-the-lever type). Just in the twenty minutes it took me to finish, there were a lot more people, though, and the monitors and police seemed pretty blind-sided.

    BTW, I think a good general rule of modern life is "Any product with a cutesy name that starts with 'Accu-' turns out to be noticeably less reliable than its competitors."

    Sean Kinsell   ·  November 4, 2008 11:24 AM

    The problem we have here is the fact people assume other people know what they know. Then, when they learn better, they lack the initiative to offer their assistance. I attribute this to our careful training in letting some authority or official do it.

    Alan Kellogg   ·  November 4, 2008 12:06 PM

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