Long lines at Oklahoma elections a product of new state laws, election policies

Election officials said long lines at Tuesday's presidential election in Oklahoma were similar to 2004 and 2008 despite lower voter turnout.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Modified: November 9, 2012 at 10:16 pm •  Published: November 10, 2012
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Most complaints lodged at the county election board were also from people frustrated by the lines, Sanderson said. One Oklahoma County voter filed a formal complaint with the State Election Board after finding the signature of a stranger on the line next to his name in the registration book.

Some complaints about lines have been voiced not by voters, but by county election board officials.

Wanda Armold, secretary of the Canadian County Election Board, said board officials are hamstrung by a state law that dictates how much can be paid to election officials.

The state authorizes counties to pay $87 to precinct workers and $97 to election inspectors, which is equal to minimum wage for 12 hours. But most poll workers stayed longer than that, and without a break.

“They have children, they take care of their parents, they can't sit for 13 hours because they've had hip replacements or knee replacements — it's an ongoing challenge to keep those jobs filled,” Armold said.

Monica Baughman, election board secretary in Comanche County, said precinct volume was not considered when the Legislature mapped the new Congressional districts.

Lines two hours or longer wrapped around polling places in five Comanche County precincts on Tuesday, while there was hardly a wait at most others, Baughman said.

This imbalance could have been prevented were election boards brought into the process, she said. It's something election officials complained about after the redistricting a decade ago.

“And then when redistricting was done this time again some of those issues were addressed and some weren't,” she said. “I think they need to involve everybody in the process. We kind of know where the trouble areas could be.”

Ziriax said those are issues that should be taken up with state lawmakers, who set the rules and policies for elections, and not with the local or state election boards.

Tuesday's election is already estimated to cost between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, he said. Asking the state for more money so extra precinct workers can be recruited, trained and deployed seemed like a bad idea during a time of state budget cuts.

“But that does not mean we never will,” he said. “That may be something the Legislature should consider — increasing the amount that can be paid to poll workers. But the Legislature also has to consider the budget realities of how much that would cost, especially if that's every four years.”

Ziriax said the state could also explore alternatives to the traditional precinct program. Some states have reported reduced election costs and shorter lines with larger vote-processing centers replacing smaller precincts in the more populous counties.

“Now what that entails and whether that would cost more or generate savings, we don't know, but we do have discussions about those types of issues al the time and we would certainly discuss those with the Legislature when we feel it's necessary,” he said.