Pennsylvania polls officially closed at 8 p.m., but voters were still waiting to cast their ballots on the Temple University campus in North Philadelphia at 9 pm. By law, all people who are in line by 8 are allowed to vote. The line at closing time stretched out the door and a half block to the street corner.
Election Judge Danna Gass stood at the end of the line at poll-closing time, ready to turn away late voters. None arrived. Gass said a high voter turnout here in years past has been around 185. More than 400 voters had passed through by 7 p.m., she said.
“We never had that many people, never even when we gave out rice cakes,” Gass said.
The long lines could be blamed on two things, Gass said: The polling place had three machines but one was broken. Students who had changed their registration from their hometowns — even those who had new ID cards identifying this spot on Temple University’s campus as their voting spot — were not listed on local rolls.
That’s what happened to Cassandra Jones, 18, a Temple student from New York, and Lauren Werner, 18, a Temple student from suburban Pennsylvania. Both had changed their voter registrations to Philadelphia addresses in October and received email confirmation saying their voter registration place had been changed. Jones and Werner got in line to vote at 5:30, they said. They both emerged from the polling place at 8:40. Election officials had them fill out and sign an affidavit saying they lived in Philadelphia. That allowed them to vote.
“I voted. That’s what matters,” Werner said. “I’ve been waiting a long time to do so.”
Briana Vetter, also 18, wasn’t as fortunate. Poll workers were unfamiliar with the affidavit option when she came in to vote and found, like Jones, that her voter registration had not been changed from Oreland, Pa., to Philadelphia. She filled out a provisional ballot and was angry to learn her vote would not be counted for at least a week. She also said poll workers gave her a hard time about making the switch, saying students like her were pushing out residents of this largely African-American neighborhood.
“Election day isn’t a holiday. We didn’t get a day off and it’s a long way to drive,” Vetter said, giving some reasons why she didn’t return home to vote.
While voters waited, a man handed out free smoothies. At one point during the wait, the three students said, they talked about writing him in as their candidate of choice.
“He was the real hero,” Vetter said.
The last vote was cast by 23-year-old Jesse Jones at 9:22 p.m. He’d arrived at the line just before the 8 p.m. deadline — “I was stressing,” he said at the time. Poll workers were cleaning up as he stood in the voting booth.
He was all smiles when he left the building. “A weight has been lifted,” he said. “It was worth the wait. I’d wait another three hours if I had to.”