Ballot shortage causes frustration at EPA polls

Voters leave after long lines lead to frustration at East Palo Alto polling places

Angry voters in East Palo Alto left in frustration without casting their votes after a shortage of paper ballots created long lines that went out the door on Election Day, poll workers said.

Others stuck it out so their votes would be counted.

The line snaked through the City Hall lobby for hours after the ballots ran out and voters had to use electronic machines to cast their votes.

The problem was exacerbated by voters who were reading the ballot for the first time on the machines, each person taking 20 to 30 minutes to vote, Ethan Frantz, a San Mateo County election official, said.

"An insanely long ballot" also added to the long voting times, he said.

The ballots ran out about 3 p.m. and workers scrambled to accommodate voters by getting in two additional voting machines, but those machines did not arrive until 6 p.m., he said.

"We're seeing a lot of irate voters," he added, noting that some voters felt the lack of ballots was meant to disenfranchise voters in the heavily Democratic and minority community.

But Frantz said the problem appeared to be countywide. Precincts in Portola Valley were just as affected as East Palo Alto, he said.

Frantz did not know the reason for the snafu and a call to the San Mateo County Registrar of Voters reached only voice mail.

But Frantz said voter turnout in many places was much higher than anticipated. In East Palo Alto, the City Hall precinct had as much as 40 percent more voters than he has seen in any of his six years serving as an election official.

The only thing to rival this year's election was the 2008 presidential primary, when residents voted for Barack Obama. Precincts experienced ballot problems then also, but not on the scale of Tuesday's vote, he said.

Residents standing in line were promised that polls would stay open until midnight or later if necessary and that anyone who was in line by 8 p.m. would be admitted. Workers pleaded with voters to stay, but some voters were forced to leave because of other obligations.

"Unjust is a good word" to describe some voters' feelings, a woman in her 40s said. "They should plan better. I've been voting here for over 20 years and have never experienced anything like this," the woman, who declined to give her name, said.

"I'm encouraged at the same time by the voter turnout, but I'm sad for the people who couldn't wait and went home because they had to take care of their kids. It's important for people to bring their kids to see the process but it's not good to have an interruption of family life," she said.

Jaime Calderon said he has voted for many years but was surprised by the long wait and lack of ballots.

"It's bad, very bad. Did they do it on purpose?"

Poll workers accepted sample ballots that arrive with voter information booklets. Frantz and other poll workers signed each page as witnesses. The registrar's office will transfer each sample-ballot vote onto a real paper ballot, then will stamp the ballot to certify it and run it through optical scanners that record votes, Frantz said.

Workers said San Mateo County Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson, angered by the shortage, went in search of additional ballots.

At 8:35 p.m., registrar's office employee Greta McIntyre arrived with additional ballots. Precinct workers had seven ballot stations and six electronic voting machines going simultaneously, speeding up the voting so that by about 9 p.m. only 25 people remained in line.

An older African-American woman said she was prepared to wait as long as necessary to vote.

The long wait cast a different light on the impact of voting, she said. In most elections, people just fill in the blanks and leave -- a quick in and out process without much thought. But the long lines gave pause for thought.

"Our votes mean something," she said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Vote-On-Line
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 3, 2010 at 6:52 am

You'd think that those running these elections would have a "quick response" team that would be able to drive ballots to locations where there might be shortages. Given how inexpensive paper is, compared to denying people their votes, having extra ballots at every polling place would seem like a mandate for those managing elections.

But if we had on-line voting, then these sorts of problems would not happen.

Like this comment
Posted by Petal
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 3, 2010 at 9:25 am

I waited nearly 45 minutes to vote at my precinct in Menlo Park, where they were also out of paper ballots. I've never seen lines there before ... it must have been a huge turn-out!

Like this comment
Posted by Joyce McCloy
a resident of another community
on Nov 3, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Why not enough ballots? This doesn't happen in my state of North Carolina. State law mandates printing 1 ballot per registered voter.
Ballots not used end up being recycled or even shredded and donated.

As for using internet voting, this is paperless voting on steroids.

Consider the public test of D.C.'s internet voting pilot a few weeks ago. Students from U of Michigan hacked into the system quickly and
were even able to change all votes, download all voters personal data, and even took control of the BoE's video cameras, taking pictures of various employees at work. It took election officials 36 hours to figure out that the system had been hacked.

Add to that the U of Michigan students detected efforts by computers in China and Iran that were trying to hack into DC's system. The U of M students changed DC password to help keep the foreign hackers out.

Like this comment
Posted by Vote-On-Line
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 3, 2010 at 3:14 pm

> Consider the public test of D.C.'s internet voting pilot a
> few weeks ago

Here's a link to the WaPO story:
Web Link

without any detail, there is little to say about this .. other than it sounds like the people crafting this system did not design "security" into it. For instance, all user data should be encrypted. And then there is the issue of detecting "probes". And if this system was supposed to have been by military people overseas, then it should have only accepted access attempts from IP-Addresses that were assigned to specific military servers.

Lots to discuss on this topic.

Like this comment
Posted by Myrtle
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Why does the County of San Mateo always try to estimate the number of voters in EPA who are going to the polls. We vote on very important issues that effect the average citizen. There were many. And when the County is exposed, it was just a mistake. There should be a mechanism for those voters who could not vote. They should be able to file a late absentee ballot because of the Countys snafoo. Take their names and number and set up the next day for them to come in because they are still counting absentee ballots for days. And I agree, there should be one ballot printed for each registered voter.

Like this comment
Posted by Cortney
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2010 at 4:48 pm

What people fail to realize is that paper ballots are meant to be a backup for San Mateo County. They have worked hard to have an electronic voting machine which is one of the few approved for use by Secretary of State Deborah Bowen. They're easy to use, and can be used by any voter to cast a private ballot, regardless of disabilities. You can help everyone else vote in the time they have available without needlessly using a paper ballot. You can also help the process along by making your choices on how to vote ahead of time. All registered voters receive sample ballots in the mail. If yours doesn't arrive, there are tons of sources to see what your ballot looks like online (The League of Women Voters is a great resource for everyone). Voters are wasting their time by making their decisions in front of the eSlates or when having rear paper ballot in-hand on election day.

Another suggestion for people who don't want to wait in case of lines? Request to be a vote by mail voter. Then you have the choice of sending it in before election day, turning it in to any precinct on election day, or surrendering at your home precinct to vote on the eSlates or on paper (or surrender elsewhere in the county to vote on paper with a provisional envelope).

Perhaps there should have been more paper ballots, but if voters are prepared and use the eSlates, it's an efficient system, even with a four-page ballot like we had this time around.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2010 at 7:37 pm

No excuses - they shoulda had enough paper ballots in EPA, PV, anywhere they're needed. What a shame people had to leave w/out voting.

Like this comment
Posted by Ugh!!!MyReturn!
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I worked at the East Palo Alto Polls Yesterday and let me tell you I will never EVER work at the East Palo Alto polls ever again! I was and still am extremely shocked at how rude and disrespectful people were to me. I understand why people were upset they had every right to be. However the complaining, the attitude, the disrespect was not necessary it wasn't going to change anything anyways. I too have a life, I missed a whole day of school, which I still need to make up all the class work, plus homework, just to I could help out with the elections and HELP out MY community. I woke up at 4:30a.m to get ready and head out to setup the polls. I had my break my 1 hour break at 11a.m( the only break I got for working 16hours). I did not eat for the rest of the day.Then I had to stand outside just like the rest you! From 3:30ishP.M to when the polls closed. Of course I had to deal with all of the disrespect through the day. Got home at 10:25P.m and went straight to writing my 10 page Senior Exhibition Paper didn't go to sleep until 4A.M and had wake up at 6A.M today. I too have a life and yet I did not complain or yell at people saying its "unfair" that I have to deal with really obnoxious people and I'm starving, my feet and back are killing me because I've been standing for 4 hours! I have so much homework,and I'm extremely tired! I did it all because I wanted to HELP! Yet people were pointing the finger at me as if I was the one who caused the problem. It felt more like I was standing in front of the line getting a beating from almost every single person imagine 100 plus people doing that to you over and over and over again.People had seem to forgot that I too am Human, and I too have feelings. After everything was over I was physically and emotionally drained. So I leave with this thank you MY community, you once again giving me another reason why I want to move out of East Palo Alto and never look back.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 3, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Methinks Ugh needs a Hug!

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Hugs, not Ughs!

Like this comment
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 3, 2010 at 11:56 pm

To Ugg!!!My return! -

You are a wonderful person! If I could give you a reference for college I would do it in an instant.

I think Palo Parent and Hmmm would agree.

You get a reference and a hug from me too, so now you have three.

Idea: Make a copy of your post, and the replies from Palo Parent, Hmmm, and mine, and show it to your teachers or principal.

Good luck in your future.

It is nice to know there are dedicated people like you.

Thank you for your hard work

Like this comment
Posted by HUMMM
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 4, 2010 at 1:57 am

i think the county in which Meg Griffin lives, wanted her to win...

sounds pretty fishy

Like this comment
Posted by Cortney
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 4, 2010 at 9:56 am

To Ugh!

Thank you for working the polls, even if it was an unpleasant experience. I'm terribly sorry to hear that happened. Everyone has a right to a great experience when voting, as well as being treated well by everyone for their hard work when they work for an election. Even on a super-smooth, quiet election, it's a LONG, TIRING, EXHAUSTING day for everyone.

Please please please let the county know who you are, and what happened. 1) No single person should be left to do that job for that long. 2) EVERYONE, no matter how chaotic it gets, gets TWO breaks (before 5pm). You should not be stuck there and hungry. Period. 3) Send mail to, and I'd be happy to do what I can. I'd at least like a record of your experience. I can't promise anything beyond making sure the county is aware, but I sure will try.

To Hmm!

I don't know that there necessarily should have been more paper ballots in advance, but the response to needing more needs to be more efficient. I think this election will result in an improvement in process. I'm curious to see what happens. Everyone should get to vote, I agree 100%. It sucks when it takes time, but every single person had the ability to vote. It wasn't an ideal election day.

Like this comment
Posted by Cortney
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 4, 2010 at 9:59 am

HUMMM, do you mean Meg Whitman? I'm pretty sure that the election results speak for themselves.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 4, 2010 at 10:46 am

Yes, Cortney, there should've been more ballots, here & in PV, to avoid these problems. It's not about improving the process, it's about making the process work immediately, at the time, so that people can exercise their right to vote; the point wasn't for this to be an attempted exercise in civic engagement. If someone has to get home to their kids or get to work, they can't stand in line for hours, and the problems were not caused by the voters.

Like this comment
Posted by Ethan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 4, 2010 at 12:36 pm

The number of paper ballots at a precinct is a magic art. A typical precinct has about 1000 active voters. But a good portion of them are vote by mail. And a bunch vote by machine. Plus there are the inactive voters who haven't voted in the last 4 years. Plus you have to be prepared for provisional voters. Do you print ballots for all of them? Even in this high turnout election, we only had about 300 people come through my precinct. 1000 ballots would have been way more than enough.

Plus there are only a couple printers certified to print California ballots. And every ballot must be checked and examined before the election. It a lot of labor and money to print all those extra ballots.

I've always said that the skill of an organization is how they respond when things go wrong (cause at some point they will). Wait 5+ hours from requesting addition ballots to receiving them is just wrong.

California elections are strictly controlled by law. If you think there should be more ballots or some other detail has to change, contact you state congresspeople. They are the one that would have to change the law to create change at the local level.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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