Paper ballot shortages mean lengthy lines, disillusioned voters
A significant and widespread shortage of paper ballots meant many students waited more than two hours to cast their votes Tuesday.
Some chose simply to walk away from the voting booths and not come back.
“I [have] a lot of work and one of my friends was telling me earlier the wait was over two hours. I just don’t have enough time for that today,” sophomore Amreet Mohanty said.
Ursa’s Fireside, the polling place for all Missouri voters residing on the South 40, ran out of paper ballots at around 1:25 p.m., according to students in line at the time. Additional ballots didn’t arrive until 3:50.
A supervisor at Our Lady of Lourdes School, the polling place for upperclassmen living in the Village and on Snow Way Drive and Forsyth Blvd., said the location was without paper ballots for at least five hours, though other employees said they were supplied with additional ballots throughout the day.
“That was the worst thing that could possibly happen, because students then started leaving,” junior and Gephardt Institute intern Adam Flores said.
“Word of mouth got [around], you know, ‘I’ve been in line for one hour, two hours.’ And ideally, people will come back. But you know, especially when the line’s already like this, it’s a pretty hostile environment,” said junior Charles Unger, who was volunteering for a nonpartisan voter rights group at the South 40 polling location.
But election officials said that long lines aren’t a noteworthy problem.
“We didn’t go past a location at 6:00 that had more than 25 or 30 people in line. So this is a decision to say, ‘Oh, I was going to [vote] at 3:00, but there’s a line.’ The election board isn’t planning this around every hour of the day every student has an unlimited ability to wander in. They’ve planned it on saying we’ve got to serve 1,300 voters at this location,” Election Board Deputy Daniel O’Sullivan said.
That’s not to say that things were going as smoothly as intended.
Ursa’s was set as the polling place on the South 40 when there were less than 700 registered voters there, O’Sullivan said. In the last two weeks before the registration deadline, the number of registered voters doubled to nearly 1,400.
“The physical space is selected based on the number of registered voters and four weeks before the election is too late to lease new space,” O’Sullivan said. “If they’d had more time, they might have moved [voters] elsewhere.”
“For some reason, they weren’t expecting so many students,” Flores said, “but we were anticipating that about half the people who live on the 40 would vote there. Somehow it didn’t translate with the county.”
To try and make up for the lack of paper ballots, the supervisors added two touch-screen voting machines over the course of the day, taking it from three machines to five. Washington University Dining Services brought large trays of free food and Wydown Water provided free water for students stuck in the congested cafe.
O’Sullivan said there were few individuals at Ursa’s who actually wanted or needed paper ballots. One was a student whom the system said registered after the deadline, the other a student who thought he registered but didn’t appear on the roll.
“In 450 sites [throughout St. Louis], there’s less than ten of them that are running out of paper ballots. That’s an insignificant number,” O’Sullivan said.
“Once the paper ballots came in, I was happy and it moved really quickly, but until then it was miserable and ridiculous that they ran out of paper ballots that quickly, and then were using five touch screens for hundreds and hundreds of us. It’s better now,” freshman Dana Arditti said.
Two blocks away at Our Lady of Lourdes, upperclassmen spent about an hour in lines facing a similar situation when the polling location ran out of paper ballot style #44—the form that applied primarily to Washington University students, poll workers said.
“They [at the election board] said, ‘Oh, there’s only a tiny number of people who get that ballot.’ Well, that is so far off it’s unbelievable,” Election Supervisor Dan Malan said. “They completely screwed up.”
Malan said the sole difference between ballot style #44 and the other paper ballots they still had was a measure concerning a library tax for University City.
“They said we can’t use the other one, that would invalidate them because they’re not the right ballot,” Malan said. “They also didn’t send us enough screens. We don’t know why they sent us three screens and 11 booths for paper ballots, but we can’t use paper ballots. It’s insane…the whole thing is just insane.”
Another election supervisor said they were given shipments of 100 ballots at both 2 and 4 p.m.
“It’s a serious issue, I would say that,” junior Michael Cohen said. “I’m sure the word has spread that the line here is an hour long, and people might be deterred who were kind of on the fence about voting initially. I feel like most people who were pretty sure they were going to vote before will stay.”
With additional reporting by Parker Chang and Matt Mitgang.