The District’s more than 330,000 registered Democratic voters go to the polls tomorrow to cast their ballots in local and presidential races. But is D.C. ready to handle what could be above-average turnout due to the 2016 general election?
Despite previously documented problems with polling infrastructure, site staffing, and accessibility, the D.C. Board of Elections says it doesn’t expect too many hiccups come Tuesday. DCBOE says it has 1,900 people set to work across the District’s 143 voting precincts for the primary, above a staffing goal of approximately 1,650 workers, which is based on prior turnout numbers. Scheduled staffing gets padded in excess of projected need to accommodate sicknesses and no-shows. The D.C. Auditor identified the latter as a major factor in why 23 of 89 precincts it surveyed for a 2015 report “did not have the minimum number of workers in each position,” in accordance with turnout in the April 1, 2014 primary.
That audit determined between eight and 20 workers were required in every precinct. In the April primary, 174 workers, or 10 percent of those scheduled, failed to show up, while in the November 2014 general election, 168 workers, or nine percent, failed to do so, the auditor’s report explains. At 1,900 scheduled workers, tomorrow’s Democratic primary should receive an average of 13 workers at each voting site, though the final number of no-shows remains to be seen.
“We do not anticipate crowding or long lines on Election Day—in part because we are deploying new equipment that should make it easier and faster for voters to check-in and vote,” DCBOE spokesperson Margarita Mikhaylova writes in an email. “The KnowInk poll-pads that use iPad technology are able to scan a voter’s registration card, their DC-DMV ID, or the mailer that we sent out to every eligible voter. The scanning process has already significantly sped up check-in at Early Voting.”
Mikhaylova adds that election workers have been “cross-trained” for different roles, so DCBOE can substitute them as needed. Every worker has gotten at least four hours of training, with precinct captains receiving at least eight hours of training, for all positions. The spokesperson says the board’s employee-training materials got a redesign this year, and that there will be “overflow staff” sent to individual precincts as backup. Voters will be able to complete their ballots with a pen or an “ADA-accessible ballot marking device called the ExpressVote,” which uses touch-screen technology. Any voter can use either method, but DCBOE “urge[s] everyone to keep in mind that marking a ballot by pen will be faster.”
The District saw its lowest voter turnout in three decades during the April 2014 primary, with only about 25 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. Mikhaylova says as of Friday, 15,260 people had voted early for the June 2016 primary.
Also on Friday, DCBOE announced a new permanent executive director in Alice P. Miller, the first African-American President of the National Association of State Elections Directors. She will officially begin on July 6. DCBOE’s Acting Executive Director Terri Stroud will remain in her capacity until Tuesday’s results are certified, according to a release.