By TRACEY O’NEILL
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN– The State Board of Elections and local boards of canvassers had several new issues to deal with at the polls this election season, including implementation of the Rhode Island Voter ID law in its maiden voyage in a general election.
Poll workers facing increased numbers at district polling places, due to a legislative change increasing the number of voters served at one polling location from 1,900 to 3,000, were also required to check the identification of each individual who showed up vote on Election Day. Adding to the sometimes long lines and wait times was confusion due to redistricting which saw many voters turning up at the wrong polling places to cast their ballots.
In North Kingstown, voter identification was not seen as a hindrance and was not the cause of delays at the polls per the Board of Canvassers. In a phone interview one week after the election, when all mail ballots were cast and the possibility of any recount was near end, Carol Byers, Clerk in the Board of Canvassers reflected on the election.
A seasoned election worker beginning her career with the Town of North Kingstown in 1989, the clerk has seen many improvements over the years.
“Voter ID wasn’t really an issue,” Byers said. “We had a few people who refused to show their ID. They were asked to cast a provisional ballot that came back to the Board of Canvassers for certification of signature.”
The long lines were more a result of the increase in numbers and reduction in polling places from 14 to nine, Byers said. North Kingstown chose to split the polling books alphabetically into three sections to move the lines along faster. Due to the adjustment, the Town was required to hire more poll workers as each book is required to have 2 supervisors under State Board of Elections criteria.
Also contributing to the long lines was technical difficulty with machines that were up and down during peak times.
The main issue that arose throughout the day was people unaware of their polling place.
“One of the biggest problems was due to re-districting,” Byers said. “People didn’t know where to go to vote. Even though Voter ID cards were sent out, some people didn’t get them or read all of the information on the cards. The phones were ringing all day.”
Polling places also changed due to redistricting, as determined by population in the district. Each district had to be reexamined due to redistricting requirements and as a result once familiar polling venues were no longer viable locations.
In the end, all votes were counted, including 1100 mail-in ballots. “Overall for a Presidential Election, it went very well. We had high voter turnout and no major problems,” Byers mused.
Robert B. Rapoza, Director of the State Board of Elections weighed in on the Voter ID issue statewide.
“I believe the Voter ID bill did affect the movement of voters in the polling places to a degree and may have contributed to longer wait times,” he said.
“As for issues with the machines themselves, the majority of those problems were simple paper jams, due to multi-page ballots,” Rapoza added.
Voters who fed the second page too quickly sometimes caused machines to jam. At that point, workers placed outstanding ballots in the machine’s emergency compartment, until the tech arrived to clear the machine. The ballots were then fed into the machines to be counted.
“People were concerned that the ballots weren’t being counted,” Rapoza said. “They were, but it’s a process that takes time.”
Exeter also faired well throughout the day, noting no increases in lines or wait times due to voter ID initiation.
Several voters were directed to Town Hall to cast ballots for President and Vice President as they discovered that they hadn’t been registered through the DMV process.
Ballots were cast and they were registered to vote in their correct district going forward.
Mary B. Hall, chair of the Exeter Board of Canvassers was pleased with the process.
“We had no issues with the new laws, no issues with ballots or machines, and had no major complaints.” she said.