Ballot shortages afflict Palo Alto polling places | News | Palo Alto Online |

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Ballot shortages afflict Palo Alto polling places

Voters forced to improvise with sample ballots, touch screens -- or simply turned away

Voters throughout Palo Alto faced a scramble to find enough ballots as high voter turnout overwhelmed polling places Tuesday.

As in cities statewide, locals hoping to vote with Democratic ballots quickly exceeded the number available at the 678 Arastradero Road polling place, resident Mark Agnew said.

Agnew, an Obama-campaign precinct captain for that neighborhood, said poll volunteers resorted to handing out sample ballots for Democratic voters.

Only eight sample ballots were left at the 8 p.m. close, he said.

Elsewhere in North Palo Alto, a polling place on Edgewood Drive opened up a touch-screen voting machine to handle demand, Agnew said.

The 750 Escondido Road polling place on Stanford University's campus called the county for more ballots at noon as lines stretched down the block, senior Charlie Davis said.

More students had voted by noon than voted in the entire 2004 election, he said.

And the polling place for precincts 2046 and 2049 at Ramona Street and Channing Avenue was out of provisional ballots between about 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., according to precinct volunteers and a voter.

In 37 years of volunteering at polls, on-duty volunteer Betty Britton said she couldn't recall another year when provisional ballots ran out.

"This is one of the busier years," she said.

"It's been non-stop since 6 o'clock (in the morning)."

Resident Eliza Ridgeway was one of those who left the polling station.

She registered to vote by mail but her ballot never came, so she had to request a provisional ballot at the polls -- but they had run out at 6:15 p.m., she said.

Others in line also seeking provisional ballots left angrily when volunteers told them to return to the polling place later, she said.

"It was really crowded and people were really frustrated," she said.

Britton estimated that the polling place lacked provisional ballots –- one of 28 different ballots -- for about 90 minutes. More provisional ballots arrived by 7 p.m., volunteer Irvin Dawid estimated.

In between, Ridgeway asked if there were another polling station nearby and volunteers pointed her to Palo Alto High School, about half a mile away, where she successfully voted, she said.

"The volunteers were nice but they were not well-versed in how to respond to problems as they arose. Until I pushed them, they didn't tell people they could go to another polling place," she said.

Several factors may have led to ballot shortage.

California's Secretary of State Debra Bowen restricted the use of electronic voting because of security concerns this year, leaving counties such as Santa Clara to contend with stacks of paper ballots at polls.

Newspapers throughout the state are attributing Democratic-ballot shortages to high turn-out of unaffiliated voters. Those not registered with any party were allowed to vote for Democratic or American Independent candidates, but not Republican candidates.

Each party sets its own rules for who can vote, which are subject to review several times yearly.

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