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Tuesday, June 06, 2023

High turnout of last-minute voters results in delays at polls

A lobby of high ceilings, low-hanging lanterns and floor-length curtains greeted voters at the Hilton Garden Inn Precinct-39 polling location Tuesday.

At first glance, fulfilling one’s civic duty seemed glamorous.

But past the guest couches and complimentary coffee, reality set in in the shape of a small sheet of paper taped crookedly to a metal pole, directing voters away from the check-in desk, around the corner and to a back ballroom to cast their ballots.

Three volunteers waited to sign in voters. Another waited by the exit sign to pass out stickers. But traffic was unusually slow.

Tuesday’s election saw a nearly 50 percent voting turnout, and though Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Pam Carpenter predicted voting lines wouldn’t be long with 18,000 early ballots cast, she said college students sometimes forget or wait to update their registration, which can cause delays.

“We have a pretty mobile community here,” she said, attributing the frequent moves in Alachua County to its transient population. And with only one clerk at each polling station to approve changes-of-address, the time it takes to vote can quickly add up.

At Precinct-39, a line of students and young adults swelled behind the single clerk’s table to update their voter’s registration with new addresses.

First it was seven. The addition of 31-year-old Andrew Evans, 23-year-old Victoria Earnest and their 12-week-old daughter, Lillian, brought the line to nine. And in the next 30 minutes it jumped to 20.

“I just didn’t think it was necessary to change your address,” Earnest said to Evans. “I’ve moved every year since I moved out of my parent’s house. And we’re about to do it again, too.”

Evans nodded while entertaining little Lillian.

“They should have three people doing the change of addresses and one doing the check-in,” he said with a laugh while touching the infant’s tummy. “Daddy’s gonna starve to death in this line.”

As the line to update information grew, the hotel’s chief engineer Greg Talley grabbed extra chairs. UF industrial engineering junior Paige Lesher sat in one. The 20-year-old said she too was waiting to update her address.

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“I would’ve thought my parents would’ve given me a heads up,” she said. “This is kind of important.”

A group of three Santa Fe College students sitting next to her in the makeshift line started laughing. Psychology freshman Mac Schelstrate donned a Bob Marley shirt.

The 19-year-old said he was in favor of Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and Amendment 2 — “legalizing. . . something,” he said before trailing off.

Schelstrate said he drove both 18-year-old freshman Brandon Taylor and 19-year-old psychology sophomore Jacob Nolen to the polls. The three moved in together in the Fall and were also waiting to update their addresses.  

“We always encourage everyone to keep their voting information current,” Carpenter said. “All they have to do is contact our office.”

Outside of the hotel, poll deputy Amos Reid greeted voters. He said he and his wife, married 54 years, have volunteered on election day for the last 10.

He noticed a flux.

“A lot of students just walking in,” he said. “Lots of them, which is nice.”

In the ballroom, the three women manning the main desk were patient. They had ballots, but no one to hand them to. And the registration line continued to grow. Soon more people were using voting booths to fill out their change-of-address forms than to fill out their ballots.

“This is really sad,” one volunteer said to assistant clerk Kathy Bolton.

“They don’t realize,” Bolton said in reply. She said it’s typical to have a few people procrastinate in updating their info, but 20 at once was odd.

“We’ve never had this many people,” she said. “I think it’s because of what’s on the ballot,” she continued, hinting at Amendment 2, a medical marijuana initiative that saw a 66.1-percent approval in Alachua, though it ultimately failed to reach 60 percent of the vote needed to pass statewide.

Carpenter said the number of students who voted wouldn’t be available for another two weeks but reiterated Bolton’s comment.

“We’re very aware that the candidates and the issues drive people to the polls,” Carpenter said.

[A version of this story ran on page 4 on 11/7/2014]

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