I spent election day observing five campus polling places. There is a long history of students being turned away at the polls so I decided to be a watchdog to guard against such behavior. As a poll watcher, this is what I saw ...
I estimate 1 in 8 students had problems voting. Most stuck it out until they were able to vote, but about 1 in 20 potential student voters couldn't or didn't vote. The County Clerk's office changed its story throughout the day - starting with restrictive interpretations of law and then backing down over time, in a kind of cat and mouse game. Many many voters lacked basic information about the voter registration process.
At McKinley, several voters were turned away because they were told that leases were not sufficient proof of address - this information came from the County Clerk. Then the rules changed around 12:30pm - voters could present a lease with a picture ID.
I went onto the County Clerk website which says that for new voters who mailed in forms: "You will be required to show one ID complete with your registration address election day." The only place it clarifies WHAT ID is under the requirements for in-person registration, which clearly lists a lease as allowable: "Two forms of identification are required showing your name, one must show your permanent residence, such as an Illinois driver's license, hunting or fishing license, library card, student identification, COPY OF A LEASE or rent receipt showing your address, or any piece of mail delivered to you at your residence."
At LAR, judges were only accepting the 6 types of mail listed in the instructions. After an attorney from the Jakobsson campaign arrived to explain that the types of mail listed in the instructions are examples only and other types are valid, the rules were interpreted more broadly.
Students registered at dorm addresses often have only one way to prove their address - the housing.uiuc.edu website. Early in the day phone calls to the Clerk produced one version of the rules: print outs from this website would be accepted, but on-screen proof would not. Mid-morning, this changed.
Lincoln Avenue Residence Hall & Pennsylvania Residence Hall happened to have people with laptops staffing them and happened to have wireless, so makeshift internet terminals were set up to show the judges that voters indeed lived in the residence halls. Before this was set up, voters were sent to the computer lab to print out proof of residence. In LAR, the computer lab was locked at times and voters had to walk two blocks north to print out proof and then two blocks back to stand in line and vote, and then try to get to class on time.
At Illinois Street Residence Hall, I showed a poll watcher how to look up election information on her laptop. She then started helping students prove residency or look up their polling place. This was about mid afternoon - too bad for anyone who had problems in the morning. McKinley was not so lucky. They had no wireless to the polling place and the public computer in the building had a broken printer.
The judge's manual says if a voter claims to be registered but is not on the list, the judge should call the County Clerk's office, but the judges are not given phones. At ISR, none of the judges had cell phones so they used the phones of poll watchers and voters, as available.
At Daniels Hall, we were all crammed into a room the size of a bedroom - 5 judges & 3 pollwatchers, several pizzas (on the floor) and an apple cake backed by one of the judges (on a chair). A number of voters came to the wrong precinct and some were not registered. One voter who was new to the county said that when they tried to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles, they were told they did not need to register since they were registered in the state elsewhere.
Other reasons people had problems voting:
- Voters were sent to the wrong polling place by other polling places. If you move addresses within the county 30 days before the election and don't re-register, you can vote in federal elections only at your OLD precinct. This was a very common situation amongst students who move every year. Folks were showing up at their old precinct and being told to go to their new one to vote.
- Voters came to the wrong polling place.
- Students understood that they need to bring "government proof of ID" - but voter registration cards and their information on the UI phone look up system (PH) were not accepted.
- Some voters thought that once they register in the state, they can vote anywhere.
- Typos when processing the name at the Clerk's office
- Polling places ran out of affidavits - this was usually corrected quickly, but people had to wait.
- The electronic voting machine for disabled students at ISR was broken most of the day.
- A voter forgot to put her social security, state ID, or drivers license number on her registration -- after much to do she was able to produce 2 forms of ID and get a provisional ballot.
At McKinley at 5:30PM, the judges had a stack of 10-12 people who had been sent away to get documentation and had not yet returned. My guess is that every campus polling place turned away over a dozen voters who never returned.
A few things were done right where I observed:
- Polling places had a "Voters Bill of Rights" on the front door.
- I didn't see partisan posturing by the judges who genuinely tried to get help everyone to vote.
- Lines were generally not long.
The Frerich's campaign had law students poll watching in the student precincts. They were instrumental in setting up the ad hoc computers to help people prove residency and sometimes were consulted by the judges (this is a no no but happened anyway) on matters of process.
I interviewed these law student observers as well as the judges and other poll watchers to gather their ideas for improving the process. This is what we came up with:
Improving the Voting Process on Campus
- The UI should incorporate voter education into its orientation of every freshman.
- Post rules for requiring ID & acceptable forms of ID for voting on the front door of polling places.
- Post a precinct map with a list of all polling places on the wall at every polling place.
- Put a computer terminal at every polling place possible where voters can look up their voter registration status and prove residence in UI housing. Have two screens - so the judge can easily see.
- Inform the judges of the locations of nearby computer labs.
- Have people staffing the computer labs election day to help voters look up their information - perhaps the League of Women Voters would help.
- Provide cellphones to judges or coordinate to make sure a cell phone is present and available at every polling place for the duration of the day.
- Judges should be given a simple flowchart to determine what to do with voters not in the book. Right now the instructions are prose, lengthy, and difficult to understand and a table that is cryptic.
- Assign one of the judges to work on the voters who don't show on the rolls and prove to be exceptions. Have those voters move out of line so that the rest are not held up in the process.
- When voters are sent their registration card, it should clearly say that the card does NOT qualify as ID and then list what ID does qualify.
- Make sure polling places are large and centrally located. Daniels Hall needs a new location.
- Put "start here" signs at the front of the line.
- Insist on professionalism of the judges. A few judges were taking breaks longer than an hour, reading newspapers at the table (prohibited), or clearly did not know the procedures for voters who did not show up on the rolls.