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Election official talks about long lines at voting precincts

COMANCHE COUNTY, Okla_There were over 30,000 voters in Comanche County Tuesday. For some, the voting process was a breeze, in and out in five minutes, but most voters faced lines that snaked out doors and around buildings. At one precinct, the average wait time was over two hours. Many voters were asking why some polling stations were practically empty and some were backed up for blocks.

Monica Baughman said overall, things ran smoothly or as smoothly as they can on a day as hectic as Election Day. She said the phone was ringing off the hook with people asking questions, and complaining about wait times. Today, we gave her a chance to explain.

7News was out at a polling station for about four hours, watching the line crawl, slowly but surely, until every voter had cast their ballot. There wasn't a mad rush in the middle of the day the problems start before the polls even open.

"The polling place doesn't start voting until 7, but we had people lined up at 5:30 and 6 in the morning. Some of these large precincts already had 100 to 200 people waiting in line, before it even opened to vote. Those workers at the polling place are never going to catch up."

While we were out we heard over and over again these questions: Why are there not more workers? Why can't they split the line up?

We didn't have those answers but Baughman did, and it's black and white.

"A precinct polling place cannot have two House lines, or two Senate lines, or two Commissioner lines within one precinct. I can only have one set of workers working each precinct and I can only have one poll book at a polling place. It can not be split up, it has to be bound in one book. Our hands are tied on that."

There is no way to even out the precincts, even on Election Day. The State House and Senate determine them every ten years and they are set in stone.

"We have some large precincts, and we have some real small precincts. The ones that got out in a few minutes, maybe had 200, 300, 400 or 700 people registered. Our heavy precincts are MacArthur Middle School, Elgin, Cache, St. Paul's United Methodist Church on 38th street. All those places have anywhere from 2,800-3,400 registered in those precincts."

Baughman said her most of her volunteers are retired, some in their 70's and 80's. She said voters took their frustration out on them.

"They were yelled at and cussed at and pens thrown at them because they're slow or they can't hear."

Baughman will never understand that behavior, she has something to say to those who complain: in four years, volunteer to work a polling station and see what it's like.

"I'm proud of them for staying in there and lasting all day and putting up with the complaints. We had new machines, and we did not have one problem with any machine."

Monica Baughman has worked at the election board for 26 years. She said some of the Election Day volunteers have been there longer than she has. There is a huge demand for volunteers every election season, but only the trustworthy and dedicated need apply.

If you're interested in getting a taste of what goes into running a polling station, give the election board at the Comanche County Courthouse a call.

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