AUSTIN – Voters in parts of California and Texas, the two most populous states voting in the Democratic primary on Tuesday complained of long queues and long waits to vote.
Experts said crowded polling stations and delays caused by electronic devices used to verify voter registration resulted in long wait times in California and Texas counties. And officials from some polling stations said that election workers did not show up because of concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
Jesse Salinas, Chief Electoral Officer for Yolo County, just west of Sacramento, said about 10% of poll workers pulled out at the last minute, and voiced concerns. regarding the transmission of the virus. He said it was about double what is normal for an election and sent his team to fight for substitutes.
“We hope that people will remain calm and still participate in the electoral process,” said Salinas.
Fears of catching the coronavirus disrupted staffing at some Travis County, Texas polling stations earlier today, said Travis County clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.
Eleven people, including judges responsible for opening some of the county’s 175 polling stations on Tuesday, did not show up for work, she said.
“The electoral judges said they were afraid of the news,” said DeBeauvoir. “The media is hyping this corona thing.”
Other workers also quit their jobs Tuesday morning after realizing there were not enough staff to open the vote, she said.
At 9 a.m.CST, Travis County had 164 vacancies after exhausting all of its emergency workers, DeBeauvoir said. This was in addition to the 31 judges who said last week that they would not operate the polling stations for fear of catching the virus or another disease.
All the polling stations were reopened and opened later in the morning, said the county clerk.
But the shortage of poll workers was not the only problem.
Erica Bernal-Martinez, Director of Operations for the NALEO Educational Fund, attributed the extraordinarily long wait times to the high turnout without enough voting machines at the polling stations.
“In Los Angeles County in particular, at two locations, queues of up to 3 hours have been reported, mainly due to the small number of machines and the small locations,” said Bernal-Martinez.
Beverly Hills city councilor Julian Gold said wait times are 2 1/2 to 3 hours. He said he was told that the delays were related to voter registration.
“There is a lot of frustration (and) people are walking away,” he said. “I don’t know if they will return. I hope they will.”
Kathay Feng, executive director of Common Cause of California, said that election officials were using a new system to electronically verify voter registration and to mark ballots, which resulted in voting delays.
“At the same time as the turnout is extremely high, people can request same-day registration, people can request a party registration change and indicate that they want a cross-vote,” said Feng. These requests “cause extreme delays,” she said, reported between 45 and 90 minutes.
Kristen Clarke, chair of the Lawyers for Civil Rights Under the Law Committee, said there were poll closings and delayed openings in Texas counties, including Dallas, Travis and Tarrant.
“These closings and delays have extended the waiting times for voters,” she said. “In addition, the Secretary of State’s website, which is used to verify voter registration, was unavailable for much of the day.”
Contributor: Austin American Statesman; The Associated Press