2016 General Election

Long Lines Greet People Trying to Vote Early Today

Long lines greeted early voters at Hunter Street Baptist Church.
Long lines greeted early voters at Hunter Street Baptist Church.

Cameron Ydarraga turned 18 in September and has been looking forward to his first chance to vote. The John Carroll Catholic senior considered the candidates and he considered the amendments.

But the Hoover resident didn’t consider the incredibly long line in which he would have to stand at Hunter Street Baptist Church before casting his ballot.

“I did not consider waiting in a line this big,” Cameron said at about 7:30 this morning.

Cameron wasn’t the only one taken aback by the crowd, which was “Way, way, way more than normal,” according to a poll worker who asked that his name not be used.

Courtney Ydarraga, Cameron’s mother, said the line was three times as long as it would normally be. Ironically, her son’s first class at 7:50 a.m. on this Election Day is government.

The line stretched from the door of the building where votes were cast and went all the way around the playground. But it didn’t stop there.

After beginning to loop inside the first circle, a second line formed that stretched to the parking lot. That line spanned toward the main church building and then back up the small hill.

Cynthia Brown was at the head of that second line. Her husband was out of sight farther down in the line.

“There are several hundred other people in front of me,” the Lake Trace resident said. “We came in separate cars. He left maybe 10, 15 minutes ahead of me. And we could walk.”

As she spoke, the doors opened and voters began to file in.

Steve Katchur was farther back, beyond the fence. He said he and his wife left home at 6:45.

“It’s kind of like being at Disney,” he laughed. “Once you get through the door, there will be another line.”

Told that his joke was close to reality, Katchur quipped: “You’re making our day.”

A poll worker would actually make their day better as he called for persons whose last names begin with I to Q to step forward.

But there was no help for Keith Harrah, who left home at 7 a.m. to find the massive turnout.

“This line out here has got to be well over a block long,” he said. “Most of the time I come to vote here, it’s been maybe 50 yards. In fact, I have a flight to catch in about an hour, 45 minutes and I doubt I’m going to make my flight if I wait in line.”

Ultimately, Harrah, a banker, threw up his hands and said, “I give up,” as he made his way to his car.

Hunter Street isn’t the only polling place with a long line. The line at Homewood Public Library was out the door, according to several people who posted on Facebook.  So were the lines at Vestavia Town Village and Highland Golf Club, where Barbara Thomas said the mood was celebratory.

“Never seen a line this long at my polling place! And we had a Pay It Forward in the drive through At McDonalds this a.m. I was the 4th to pay for the next guy’s breakfast,” she wrote.

Long lines at Hunter Street Baptist Church.
Long lines at Hunter Street Baptist Church.

Poll officials have been preparing for weeks for what they believe might be historic turnout at the polls. The state already has record voter registration, with more than 3.3 million approved to vote in the election. Likewise, Jefferson County has set a record for registered voters, with 456,000, almost 20,000 more than in the last presidential election.

Barry Stephenson, chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Registrars, said the county is expecting more than 300,000 voters to show up at the polls Tuesday.

In preparation, Jefferson County has increased the number of precincts and added an extra 150 poll workers, bringing the total number to 1,900. There will be more voter sign-in books at the polls in an attempt to avoid long lines, but Stephenson warned, “It still may not be a quick process.”

The controversial presidential race that has increased interest in voting this year also has increased fears nationally about potential disruptions at the polls. Donald Trump already has claimed the elections are rigged, and some of his supporters are organizing people to monitor activity at the polls in some fashion.

Ed Packard, director of the Elections Division of the Alabama’s Secretary of State’s Office, said his office isn’t getting an abnormal number of calls from people worried about security at the polls. He said that, since Alabama is not a battleground state, it is unlikely to be the target of planned widespread disruption.

“We’ll have to wait for election day to see,” he said.

Jefferson County also has had no indications of planned disruptions at the polls, Stephenson said. But the sheriff will be assigning deputies to cover four or five precincts, so if something does happen, they’ll be close and can respond quickly.

Loitering is not allowed in the polling places. Each polling place will be staffed by trained poll workers, and each party can have one trained poll watcher on premises. But otherwise, the only people authorized to be in the polling place are the voters, their dependent children, and anyone they need to provide assistance while they vote, Packard said.

Candidates are allowed to have campaigners or exit polling outside the polling place, but they must be at least 30 feet from the entrance. Photographs also cannot be taken in Alabama’s polling places. Voters may wear clothing or hats declaring their preference, but they have to vote and leave and cannot campaign for their candidate or badger other voters while they are in the polling place.

An Elections Preparedness Kit is posted on the Secretary of State’s AlabamaVotes.gov site that includes dos and don’ts for the polls along with a feedback form to let voters rate their experience at the polls and instructions for casting write-in votes.

If you encounter problems at the polls, notify the chief election official on site or the probate judge in your county, or you can report problems to the Secretary of State’s StopVoterFraudNow.com site.

You can visit AlabamaVoterGuide.org before you vote for a rundown on the candidates and the amendments as well as a box of tools to determine such things as where you vote, who will be on your ballot, and whether you’re properly registered.

The Google News Lab created the Electionland Google Trends map to visualize what people are concerned about at the polls using real time Trends data.

BirminghamWatch is participating in ElectionLand, a ProPublica project that will cover access to the ballot and problems that prevent people from exercising their right to vote. You can participate by texting ELECTIONLAND to 69866. Or you can notify BirminghamWatch directly of any issues at the polls by emailing vmartin@bellsouth.net or calling 205-595-2402.