On the Ground Turnout in MI Feels Like It Did in 2008

I just finished a 7 hour voter protection shift in Grand Rapids MI. The precinct compares reasonably well with the Detroit precinct I worked in in 2008: both are low turnout predominantly African American precincts. The 2008 precinct also has a significant number of Latinos, many primarily Spanish speakers. This one is almost entirely African American. This one is probably 3 times larger by number.

Turnout this year was running just behind or equal to turnout in my own precinct, which is predominantly white working class though it includes the affluent downtown condo dwellers. My own precinct also has more voting booths and far more space to work with, to keep people out of the cold and moving as quickly as possible.

If the precinct manages to keep the flow going, can manage the post-work rush, and doesn’t lose people waiting in the cold (we were squeezing about 90 people in line inside, but they won’t be able to maintain that tonight), the precinct will have 20-40% more turnout than the precinct head predicted, in one of the larger precincts in the city. Immediately adjacent precincts–at which there were terrible lines in 2008–voted 96% for Obama in 2008.

We lost a few people to waiting in line today (I’d say there is a higher rate of employment than the precinct I worked in Detroit in 2008), some of whom missed their voting window before they started a 12-hour work shift. Some people will arrive at work about 20 minutes late because they waited in long lines. We struggled to juggle the number of disabled people in the precinct, though we ultimately got a system worked out so they could wait while seated.

I’m most worried about supplies. The precinct had two or three fewer voting booths than my whiter precinct, we ran out of pens once already, and things like ink was running low.

The other biggest problem we had–and it was a problem–is the disinformation that has been spread about straight ticket. A number of people had heard incorrect rumors that a straight ticket vote doesn’t register a vote for President. Some people asked and got their questions corrected before voting. Others, however, spent the time to fill in every bubble on the (presumably Democratic side) “just to be sure,” they said. And there were a fair number of spoiled (which would happen if someone marked both Obama and straight ticket Democratic).

The lines in this neighborhood won’t get as terrible as they were in 2008, I hope. But disinformation like the straight ticket rumor works to slow down voting too.

All that said, there was a great deal of good will about voting in general (with more than a few voters talking about the civil rights struggle). And a pretty significant number of first time and/or under 21 voters.

14 replies
  1. nomolos says:

    Well we don’t them poor folk voting, now do we.

    In my own Ward in NH the line for new voters to register was as long as the line of people waiting to vote. We noticed a very high percentage of young women in the “new” line. Encouraging.

    I believe, in this state, we have a possibility of 100,000 newly registered voters (approx 4.5% of the total vote I understand).

    As we are a predominately white, gentrifying, neighborhood with many new residents well into a six figure salary bracket we have short, warm lines, more booths than we will ever need and a delicious spread of muffins and cup cakes and cookies on the way out. I am embarrassed and disgusted.

    Good for you for working the polls.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @nomolos: Ah, warm lines! It was about 40 when the polls opened this morning. It’s only a few degrees warmer now. It’ll be around that when the late arrivals get stuck waiting outside.

  3. nomolos says:

    I am cynical enough to believe that the voting procedure will start taking a little longer as the temperature goes down.

  4. emptywheel says:

    @nomolos: Well, there’s one Republican challenger there, but the process is moving along and he’s not doing much more than making sure people have IDs, and almost everyone has ID (here you can sign an affidavit if you are voting w/o ID, and that has worked fine too).

    The biggest bummer is that the janitor at the church we were at was being a stickler about the entryway, refusing to let people snake in there to stay warm.

  5. rosalind says:

    drove past my voting place on way home from class, saw line out door. stared in shock.

    never have lines.

    am now chugging down gatorade to prepare myself for the wait in our 90 degree cloudless day. (down from yesterday’s 95).

  6. rosalind says:

    update: w00t! no wait. my L.A. church hall had 3 precincts, 8 Ink-a-Vote machines each, all mostly full with a few people waiting. Longest line today has been 1/2 hour.

    biggest delay for me was waiting for the kindly older gent to unearth the pad of ballots hidden under the tons of misc. crap strewn on the table.

  7. emptywheel says:

    @rosalind: A secret about the two voting precincts I visited today.

    The average age of the workers in the African American one was probably 40–35 if you count the high school senior running the QVF.

    The average age of the workers in my precinct was probably 65–59 if you count the high school woman running our QVF.

    When I told the women in my precinct I had been doing voter protection, they asked if we had had problems with the stickers. Nope, I said. But I realized that the stickers this time were proving difficult for the older, possibly arthritic hands of the women in my precinct.

  8. joanneleon says:

    Upper East Side, of all places:

    At 3pm at the York Ave/78th poll I saw a remarkable number of people who were told they were not on the lists even though they said they had been voting at this poll for years.

    Mark Crispin Miller

  9. rosalind says:

    @emptywheel: although i see the wisdom in going to an all-mail vote for the Country until we can restore sanity, i love voting in person to see all the immigrant poll workers in action. they are SO freakin’ excited to participate. always a good reminder of what we have in this Country, flawed though it may be.

  10. Oaktown Girl says:

    Regardless of how most of us here feel about the candidates and the election system as a whole, thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who is volunteering to help people who are being denied the right to vote and have their vote counted.

  11. scribe says:

    Per the Portland Press-Herald, the first thing out of Angus King’s mouth after thanking his supporters, was to thank Karl Rove for his advertising in Maine and then told him he hoped Rove never comes to Maine.

    Rove and his SuperPACs and his friends spent bales of cash, it seems, in ads both against King and for the Dems’ sacrificial lamb.

    What I’m hearing is that the same-sex marriage referendum in Maine is going to be close.

    LMAO at Akin and Murdock. And, especially, Brown in MA. Some of the public-safety unions that supported Brown had put out an odious paper earlier in the campaign, calling Elizabeth Warren a “squaw” and telling her to stay out of the Senate. I wonder how Brown feels now….

    Me? Schadenfreude. Rip-roaring howl-at-the-moon schadenfreude.

  12. orionATL says:

    thanks, ew, for getting in the voting trenches and staying there.

    same problem here. where i vote – a large catholic church with ample space – there were just a few of us old farts at a time, super quiet, lots of unused machines, zero lines.

    yet 15 miles away in fulton county (atlanta), reports were that there were lines around the block – a clear sign people wanted a say in their gov’t.

    but too few machines and too little help, kept people, 99% aa, waiting an intolerably long time in line in the dark and cold.

    there really is no excuse for this kind of (local gov’t) f-up.

  13. Bob Schacht says:

    Thanks for this report. I did a turn at poll-watching several years ago, and I would recommend it to anyone. What a way to witness our democracy at work on the grass-roots level!

    Bob in AZ

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