A Sad Day for Democracy

    To the thousands of people who waited for hours to vote in Denver yesterday: I commend you. To the hundreds (thousands?) of people who gave up and walked away: I don’t blame you.

    I visited several vote centers yesterday and spoke with many people who made both choices. Nobody was very happy with either one. Midafternoon at the Botanic Gardens, most potential voters were shocked at the 1 1/2-hour wait, but waiting in the sunshine wasn’t so bad.

    Later in the evening at Johnson Rec Center, it was a different story.

    Hundreds were packed in a hot gymnasium, some fanning themselves with their registration cards, others trying to calm screaming children – nearly everyone complaining. Under one basketball net was a long table with four election workers, each armed with a feeble laptop to look up voters’ registration. The lines stemming from each station actually didn’t seem that long – maybe 30 people deep. But, they moved at a snail’s pace.

    A lame, tired, in-its-last-throes snail’s pace. The lines painted on the basketball court made that all to easy to gauge. The only reason, it seemed, that lines got shorter was because people were leaving. Some said they had to pick up children from daycare. Others, after a long day at work, just couldn’t take it anymore. And, on top of it all, the crowd was surrounded on three sides by 20 voting machines that were mostly – if not all – empty.The reason for the bottleneck was that it took the election workers 2 to 5 minutes to verify each voter’s registration – and that’s when the computers were working. The system went down at least once for about 20 minutes. When that was announced, there was a noticable exodus of would-be voters throwing in the towel. Others sat down on the gym floor to wait it out. An election worker’s recurring warnings that cell phone use was not allowed were largely ignored as people called home to say they’d be late for dinner or for whatever else they might have planned. Others called to tell friends and family “not to bother” coming to the polls.

    County officials stressed that everyone in line before 7 p.m. could vote. But when faced with situations like that at Johnson Rec Center, could they?

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