After long lines on Election Day and a surge in residents voting early, the D.C. Council plans to review how the city handled the 2012 election, Council member Muriel Bowser said Thursday.
Bowser (D-Ward 4), the chairwoman of the Committee on Government Operations, said she and other members have concerns that the D.C. Board of Elections wasn’t fully prepared for the tens of thousands of voters who swarmed both the city’s eight early voting locations as well as its 143 precincts on elections day.
Some residents reported two hour-plus waits to vote on Tuesday. During early voting, some waited in line more than three hours.
The long lines prompted an outburst from D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).
“”This election is one of the worst run elections I have seen since I’ve been in Washington DC,” Barry said in an interview about midday.
Clifford D. Tatum, the executive director of the elections board, quickly pushed back against Barry. He said officials were well prepared, but at times were overwhelmed by turnout.
According to preliminary returns, 51 percent of District voters turned out to vote, well short of the 60 percent turnout during the 2008 elections. But the 2012 turnout will increase after all the provisional ballots are counted. After the election is certified, the District may still record more total votes this year than 2008, when 266,000 residents voted.
Bowser said she wants to explore whether the District has adequate equipment and enough early voting locations to handle turnout in a presidential election.
When the council approved early voting in 2009, it established one early voting center in each of the District’s eight wards. But Bowser said the District should consider expanding the number of early voting sites. About 52,000 residents voted early this year.
“We are going to have to decide, if trends toward early voting persists, then we have to have more polling places,” Bowser said. “You have every voter in the city trying to go eight [early voter] locations while on Election Day, you have 140 locations.”
Bowser cautioned city officials shouldn’t be too impulsive as they consider the adequacy of current voting systems. She noted that President Obama, who won 91 percent of the vote in the District, urged his supporters to vote early this year.
“It was no problem in the primary, but now you have a presidential campaign with Barack Obama and Barack Obama told everyone to vote early,” Bowser said. “Are we going to have that next time? I don’t know.”
Instead of maintaining 143 polling sites on election day, Bowser said the council may consider whether it would be more efficient to have several centralized “voting centers” in each ward. The same locations could then be open for both early and Election Day voting.
“With all this early voting, I think we need four sites per ward at least and that is 32,” Bowser said. “Maybe you just keep those 32 centers open for the early period and then right through the election.”
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), the past chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee, noted, “If you open more early voting centers, you have to pay for it.”
Cheh said the council and elections board should also consider when some lines could have been lessened through other modifications to current procedures. Cheh noted the the lines to check in at polling sites varied greatly depending on a person’s last name.
A recalibration of the check-in process should be considered, Cheh said. She also noted each precinct only had one touch-screen machine.
“I think we had enough go wrong, we need to have a hearing to get underneath it, about what were the causes and how we can fix it next time,” Cheh said.