Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Abq Election "Convenience" Meant Long Lines

Yesterday the city of Albuquerque tried a new approach to locating polling places. The theory, I understand, was to make things more convenient by having far fewer polling places than in previous city elections. This seems backwards. I can’t imagine McDonald’s, one working definition of fast and convenient, consolidating locations in the name of increasing convenience.

We voted at Jefferson Middle School, kitty corner across Lomas Blvd. from the University of New Mexico. The polling place in the old gym. We took my mom to vote. She is pushing 92 and is semi-mobile.

We waited about 45 minutes to vote, finally getting to the head of the line after 6 P.M. More than 1,200 people had voted by this time. This wasn’t all bad. We got to visit with a number of acquaintances who were also stranded.

One theory of the line was offered by the UNM freshman in the line ahead of us. Being close to UNM meant that tens of thousands of people, not resident in the area, perhaps saw the Jefferson polling place as handy. We were told that Montezuma Elementary, a mile or so to the north, had no crowd, which supported the UNM theory. The length of the line drove some people away. One of our neighbors opted for Montezuma, observing that she just didn’t have the 45 minutes to wait.

The Jefferson parking situation, never good with the slightest crowd, which means every day after school, was a mess. Some new access adjustments, clearly the product of the worst nightmares of traffic engineers, made things worse. The parking lot by the gym had two handicapped spots, both full, of course. Two young men rolled their BMW convertible into the spot reserved for police.

Part of the convenience idea was that anyone could vote anywhere. But that meant some production issues which took more time. The polling place lacked the usual printed voter list, an omission that made sense because the list would have needed to include every city registered voter.

Polling staff, presented with a photo ID, found the voter in the database, which took a moment or two. Then a custom ballot was printed which took a minute or two. At, say, two minutes per voter, these tasks added more than 40 hours to the process for people voting at Jefferson.

Bernalillo County officials including Maggie Hart Stebbins, a county commissioner, were in evidence at Jefferson. The county really wants to implement a voting system like the one producing the long lines yesterday, we were told.

Say it ain’t so. Just under 40,000 people voted yesterday. Can you imagine the disasterous effect of laying this convenience on a general election?

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