AD Main Menu

Problems at polls left voters frustrated

Michelle Theriault Boots

Louise Wood thought she would simply show up to her neighborhood polling place at Klatt Elementary School and vote in the citywide election Tuesday evening, as she had before.

Not this election.

Instead, she went on a Kafkaesque odyssey around Anchorage that included four different stops, all in an attempt to find a polling place able to supply a ballot.

Wood still went home without having cast her vote.

She is part of a chorus of Anchorage voters unhappy with long lines, widespread ballot shortages and poor communication they say they encountered in this year's municipal election. The city attorney is reviewing the impact of ballot shortages and the validity of the election, according to the city.

"We want to reassure voters who ended up voting questioned ballots because of the shortage that their vote counts," said a statement issued Wednesday by the clerk's office.

But for Wood, the problem was no ballots.

It started at Klatt Elementary School, which had run out when she arrived Tuesday evening.

Election workers advised her to try nearby Ocean View Elementary School, which turned out not to be a polling place at all.

A group that had ended up there on similar recommendations decided to try Bayshore Elementary School.

No ballots there, either.

Desperate, someone suggested giving Mears Middle School a shot.

At Mears, a testy crowd of 50 people waited. There were ballots but not enough envelopes to put them in.

By now it was getting close to 8 p.m., the time polls were due to close.

Wood said she gave up and drove home.

"I assume they are going to have a new election, because it was ridiculous how many people were not able to vote," she said Wednesday. "At each place, it was getting more and more clear to me that this election was not going to work."

Voters have said poll workers were competent and efficient but seemed overwhelmed.

Others describe lines 60 people deep at polling sites from Peters Creek to Huffman Road, and would-be voters giving up after waiting for promised ballots to arrive for hours.

"People were angry, confused and disappointed," said Kristine Nelson, who said some voters were turned away from her polling place at Mears because the limited number of sample ballots left were to be reserved for people in the precinct.

"I think they were mostly confused, like, how could this happen?"

Here are some of their stories:

****

Veteran poll workers reported desperation breeding creativity at precincts where ballots ran dry.

Phyllis Janke has been an elections volunteer in Eagle River since the days when the polling spot was a tavern and votes were counted in the bathrooms when the voting ended and the tavern opened for business.

On Tuesday, her site at Alpenglow Elementary had run out of ballots by 7 p.m., and out of backup "sample ballots" shortly after that. Workers got creative and photocopied more ballots to supply a steady flow to people, she said.

The photocopied ballots will have to be hand-counted, like all of the "questioned ballots," but were better than nothing, Janke said.

****

Dianne Holmes said she was shocked to see a uniformed security guard at an entrance to Chapel by the Sea, a south-side church that is also a polling site.

One voter, she said, asked her why the security guard was there.

"She felt intimidated," Holmes said.

Pastor Tim Davis said his church became the target of harassing phone calls and messages after the church gave thousands of dollars to the campaign opposing Proposition 5 was mentioned in TV ads.

A worried church elder privately hired a security guard to "drive through the parking lot" on Election Day in case any animus lingered, Davis said, to make sure things were "calm and serene."

He said he was not sure why the security guards ended up inside the building.

****

Wesley Loy said he saw people giving up and leaving Hanshew Middle School after the ballots ran dry, though workers said an additional supply was to be delivered.

Poll workers were trying hard, he said, but "clearly there was some improvising going on."

****

Lisa Davis was a bit luckier than Louise Wood, who went to four polling places without ever touching a ballot.

Her path included stops at Klatt Elementary, which had been out of ballots for "more than three hours" when she got there at 6:15 p.m., she was told, a fire station on Huffman Road, a Lutheran church in Oceanview, all of which were out of ballots. Finally she got a ballot at Sunset Hills Baptist Church, but the ballots being used were being rejected by the automated machine.

She doesn't understand why the city wasn't more prepared.

"Voter turnout, if it was around 27 percent, why wouldn't there be enough ballots for 27 percent of Anchorage to vote?" she asked.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
Anchorage Daily News