What’s behind voting delays?

The Observer editorial board

Precinct workers in Durham verify IDs and hand out ballots to early afternoon voters Tuesday.
Precinct workers in Durham verify IDs and hand out ballots to early afternoon voters Tuesday. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Not everyone had voted Tuesday when the polls closed at 7:30 p.m. across North Carolina. That’s not at all unusual here or in many states. In fact, it’s a sign of democratic health that high turnout resulted in some longer voting lines than usual, and also that people were engaged enough to wait in those lines – even long after dinnertime – to vote.

But in Charlotte and across the state, some of those lines got a little too long.

Media and advocacy groups reported that voters waited more than 90 minutes in some precincts. In Charlotte, the last voter in a University City precinct wasn’t able to cast a ballot until about 10 p.m. In Durham, there were anecdotal reports of voters in line even later.

There were other problems, too. The N.C. advocacy group Advancement Project reports that several Greensboro voters who didn’t comply with North Carolina’s new voter ID law were turned away instead of being given a provisional ballot, as the law dictates. Others were told that provisional ballots would not be counted.

That’s troubling, but it’s not a reach to conclude that the ID/provisional ballot issues were the result of poll worker confusion about the new law. The next go-round will likely go smoother.

But what about the long lines? It’s easy to point the finger at that same voter ID law, of which we’re not fans. After all, any voter who didn’t have an ID took more time to cast a provisional ballot. Mecklenburg elections director Michael Dickerson said that 53 provisionals – most of them by college students – were cast late Tuesday afternoon at the University City library precinct. That could have played a role in the long after-hours line there.

But while Dickerson and county elections directors across the state acknowledged that things were a little slower, they were reluctant to lay the blame solely on voter ID. The likeliest reason is probably the simplest – about 120,000 more people voted in this N.C. primary than in 2012. (In Mecklenburg, a record 207,000 primary voters cast ballots, which is almost 30,000 more than the 2012 primary and 13,000 more than 2008.)

A lot of those voters tend to show up at the same times, especially after the traditional work day is done. That will result in some longer lines.

Still, we expect that in this extraordinary election, turnout will again be high in November. That gives election boards across the state time to figure out if and how they can make things smoother than Tuesday.

Dickerson said his goal is “to determine where those lines were,” then steer resources toward the precincts that need it. Good. We hope that also happens across the state. After all, we should reward those who take the time to vote, not make that time seem endless.