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Voting Issues Hit California And Texas With Long Waits On Super Tuesday


Voters waited up to seven hours in line to cast ballots yesterday. As NPR's Pam Fessler reports, problems were especially bad in Texas and California, even though voters had more options than ever before, such as early voting and vote-by-mail.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Polls in Texas were scheduled to close at 7 p.m., but voters were allowed to stay if they were already waiting in line. And wait they did.


HERVIS ROGERS: I've been here for, like, five hours, but I've got to finish the job, though.

FESSLER: Hervis Rogers was at Texas Southern University in Houston with about a hundred others who were still waiting to cast ballots at 11 p.m. Rogers said he tried a couple of other voting places, but their lines were even worse.


ROGERS: I might have about another hour or two, but I'm going to wait it out.

FESSLER: Turns out, he was right. Rogers was the last to vote at the polling site at 1 a.m. Long lines were also reported elsewhere in the state. Election officials blamed a shortage of machines at locations where turnout was higher than expected. And in Travis County, where Austin is located, officials said several dozen poll workers and election judges failed to show up for work due to concerns about the spread of coronavirus. There were also difficulties in California.


RACHELLE BURCHETTE: The process was really long and pretty grueling, to be honest.

FESSLER: It took Rachelle Burchette two hours to cast her ballot at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. She says when she got to the front of the line, she was told that the system was down.


BURCHETTE: I think it was something with, like, the surge - like, the power.

FESSLER: And, indeed, the county did have problems with the electronic poll books it uses to check in voters. This was the first time LA residents were allowed to use any one of about a thousand vote centers across the county. The failures were especially noteworthy because LA, this year, rolled out an entirely new voting system that was seen as a potential model for the rest of the country.


DEAN LOGAN: Obviously, not the rollout that we had hoped for.

FESSLER: The county's chief election official Dean Logan admitted that besides some machine problems, they miscalculated how many voters would show up yesterday instead of using another option.


LOGAN: I think that we, perhaps, overestimated how many of those voters would take advantage of the 10-day early voting period, and that resulted in a significant amount of voters turning out on election day.

FESSLER: A turnout for which they were not prepared, something for which Logan apologized - Charles Stewart of MIT has worked with election officials on trying to reduce long lines at the polls. He says it often involves guesswork and can be especially difficult when it comes to unpredictable primaries like this one.

CHARLES STEWART: You don't know from one presidential cycle to the next how hot the race is going to be when the primary rolls by your state. And then on top of that, you're being asked to predict what turnout is going to be at a particular location.

FESSLER: He says yesterday's experience should help officials figure out how to avoid similar problems in November. The fear is that voters will get discouraged. In Houston, Hervis Rogers stuck it out, but many others in line with him did not and left before casting their ballots.

Pam Fessler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.
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