Election day brought long lines, an unexpected visit from a presidential candidate and a few glitches across the state.
The day’s steady stream of voters ramped up after work with several polling places around the Triangle reporting long wait times to vote. In Wake County, several precincts were expecting delays of an hour or more to ensure that everyone in line by 7:30 p.m. got a chance to vote.
At Pullen Park in Raleigh, about 200 people were still waiting to vote at 7 p.m., 30 minutes before the polls closed. The precinct is one of Wake County’s largest polling places as its covers on-campus housing and N.C. State was busing students in every 15 minutes.
“Once it hit 3 (p.m.) the line got way longer because most people were out of classes,” said Liz Hubbard, an N.C. State student who was volunteering with Democracy N.C. to help people who had voting issues.
The group has been a vocal opponent of North Carolina’s new voter ID law, and volunteers said they were also working on a study on the new ID law and its effect.
Nicole Shumaker, deputy director of the Wake County Board of Elections, said Pullen was the last precinct to close.
“We were voting there until around 11 o’clock last night,” she said. “And the reason for that was the early voting period for this primary coincided exactly with North Carolina State University’s spring break. So all those students were out of town during early voting.”
Voters in Durham also experienced lengthy rush-hour waits, with some people waiting long into the night to vote. Only Mecklendberg County, which reported its final results at 1:34 a.m., took longer than Durham County, which finished at 1:22 a.m.
They were two of nearly a dozen counties statewide that didn’t report their final numbers until after midnight. Around the Triangle, Wake, Johnston and Franklin counties all took until after 11 p.m. to report their final numbers, while Orange, Chatham, Lee and Harnett counties finished earlier in the night.
Some ID problems
During early voting across the state, hundreds of people – including U.S. Sen. Richard Burr – had to cast provisional ballots because of issues with their identification. Most of the 900-plus provisional ballots cast for ID issues were in counties with large college student populations, including Durham, Wake and Orange.
At the Pullen Park precinct, Hubbard – the student volunteer – and another classmate and volunteer, Ryan Levine, said they hadn’t dealt with too many people lacking voter ID. More than 1,700 people voted there Tuesday.
They said the main problem was with students who thought they could vote in Wake County but were registered somewhere else. And some out-of-state-students had to cast provisional ballots because they were registered to vote in North Carolina but had photo IDs from other states, Levine said.
Jackie Hyland, the State Board of Elections spokeswoman, said that through early voting, there had been 903 provisional ballots cast across North Carolina for identification-related reasons. Those included 500 people with no ID and 403 people who claimed an impediment to getting an ID. More updated numbers weren’t immediately available on Wednesday, Hyland said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Wake County reported approximately 8,000 provisional ballots cast for any reason – wrong precinct, lack of voter registration, lack of voter ID, challenges to party affiliation and more.
The county operated several phone lines to help voters and precinct officials resolve issues on Tuesday, but the lines for those were long, too. Shumaker said her office the phones were ringing all day long. The student volunteers at Pullen Park said there probably should’ve been even more people answering calls.
“We had a friend who waited like an hour in the help line and then just gave up because she had somewhere to be,” Hubbard said.
More than 2.3 million people voted statewide, a turnout rate of about 35 percent.
Nearly 270,000 people voted in Wake County, about 41 percent of the county’s registered voters. That’s slightly higher than turnout in the last two presidential primaries, according to the county elections office.
Other than the long lines at some precincts, voting went fairly smoothly across the Triangle and North Carolina in general, although the movement of one precinct in Durham caused confusion.
Durham County moved a precinct on North Carolina Central University’s campus from the student union to the law school during early voting and kept it there for the primary. However, the county elections office didn’t update its website noting the change until about 4 p.m.
Michael Perry, the county elections director, said his staff tried to inform voters in person but kept facing troubles of their own.
“I talked to some of the staff and they said they had put up signs (directing people from the union to the law school), but somebody kept taking them down,” Perry said.
Perry said he believes everyone who showed up to the union eventually made it to the proper location.
The nationwide group Election Protection said it was also at the vacant union spot, helping voters.
“One of our volunteers has redirected over 100 people, many of whom are elderly and are having trouble getting across campus,” wrote the communications director Stacie B. Burgess in an email. Election Protection is a nationwide service of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Wake County had the opposite problem, said Nicole Shumaker, deputy director of the Wake County Board of Elections.
“We have received reports of hundreds of voters trying to go vote at places that were early voting locations last week but are not Election Day polling places,” Shumaker wrote in an email.
Clinton drops in
In Wake County, a pseudo scandal erupted on social media after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stopped in at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School, where hundreds of people had voted before she arrived at noon.
Clinton shook hands, posed for pictures and greeted a relatively small but enthusiastic crowd of supporters, local politicians and neighbors who came out to see her after the stop was announced by her campaign.
71-year-old Joseph Lovelace, a veteran and longtime resident of Southeast Raleigh, said he was confident Clinton would win the primary and the general election.
“I never thought I’d get this close to the next president of the United States,” he said, as reporters, supporters, children and Secret Service agents swarmed around Clinton.
Lovelace said he marched in Selma, Ala. and saw Martin Luther King Jr. speak at his graduation from Tuskeegee University, and he thinks Clinton will carry on that tradition of fighting for civil rights.
His wife Naomi Lovelace, a retired teacher at Broughton High School, said she was thrilled to see Clinton visiting Southeast Raleigh, one of the city’s more impoverished areas.
Online, people began spreading the rumor that Clinton violated election law by campaigning at a polling place. In reality, she stayed far away from the barrier beyond which campaigning is forbidden.
Her caravan of vehicles did block handicapped voters from accessing the curbside voting area for a short time, but Secret Service agents moved their SUVs after the chief precinct judge there, Henry Kuhn, came out and told them to move.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran