Randall County is going to need a serious reworking of how it conducts its elections in 2016, based on what I witnessed all day today in this mid-term, supposedly “low-turnout” election.
The county established “voting centers,” which effectively eliminated many traditional polling places around the county.
One of those centers happened to be at the County Courthouse Annex on Georgia and the Canyon E-Way in south Amarillo. I worked all day there conducting exit polling for a public opinion research company.
I witnessed considerable chaos, some chagrin from disheartened voters and some angst among county election officials seeking to manage the mayhem.
The voting center system allows voters who live anywhere in the county to vote at whatever polling site they wish. It turned out today that nearly 2,000 of them decided to vote at the courthouse annex. It started off fast when the polls opened at 7 a.m., slacked off just a bit right after noon, then it got seriously busy and crowded from about 2 p.m. until the polls closed at 7.
I was camped just outside the west entrance and I watched voter after voter walk in, look at the crowd, then walk out proclaiming they’re “coming back later,” or “I’ll go vote somewhere else. I ain’t waiting in that line to vote.”
It was an impressive display of voter interest in an election that pundits said would produce a tepid turnout. I don’t know what the final numbers are just yet and I don’t think they’ll really rival presidential election-year vote totals. The pandemonium at the annex, though, needs to be examined.
We’ll be electing a new president in 2016. The turnout for those elections always is greater than these mid-term elections.
What’s the county to do? Elections officials told me tonight they’re going to need to reconfigure the ballot box setup, the course of the lines that will be sure to form and look for better ways to manage the crowd packed into the area in front of the tax office.
Good luck with all of it.