There was an air of excitement about campus Tuesday as students gathered to vote in one of the most contentious and controversial elections in American history. But for many, Election Day was marred by what has become a problem for voters throughout the country — long lines.
At the Penn Care and Rehabilitation Center polling station, the wait was especially grueling. Throughout the day a pair of lines, one each for two separate voting precincts, curled around the block, as students and local residents slowly made their way inside. Many, if not most, stood almost immobile as several hours passed before they reached the voting booth.
Engineering junior Chris Cahill was one such student.
“I got there at 7 and didn’t leave until 9,” Cahill recounted. “There were hundreds of people there and the line was ridiculously long from the moment I got there to when I walked out. To me, it seems like they just didn’t properly prepare at all.”
The seemingly poor preparation Cahill spoke about was evident to anyone who visited the voting station. For the ever-growing crowd of people mustered outside, there were but three polls inside the center, and only a handful of workers to help expedite the process.
Polling workers at the center cautioned students from being too harsh with these criticisms. Philadelphia election official Christine Abbott said a host of factors largely outside the city’s control conspired to create long waits, including sudden new registrants.
“There are a multitude of problems that have come together,” Abbott said. “We didn’t know [turn-out] would be this large, because of new housing and the new registration of Penn students coming out to vote in the presidential election.”
Abbott also attributed much of the problem to how few places qualifying as polling stations require the use of smaller buildings.
“We have a hard time getting appropriate [sized] polling places, because there is a limited number of places we can use, because they must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Abbott explained. “So we only have three machines ...[and] the number of people you can fit through that is limited.”
Despite the trying wait, there was relief for those stuck in line. Volunteers from several political groups, such as Penn Democrats and the Clinton campaign, came to the center offering free pizza, water, pretzels and doughnuts, hoping to entice voters to wait it out. Clinton campaign volunteer and College sophomore Derek Willie discussed his volunteerism.
“We want to keep voters in line to fulfill their civic duty ... and not just [Democratic] voters, voters in general.” Willie said. “And if that means providing people with food, we’ll do that.”
A mixture of Federal Donuts and Dunkin’ Donuts wasn’t the only thing motivating voters. For some Penn students, such as College junior Jennifer Saouaf, said the democratic process was too important to not be a part of.
“I thought [the wait] would just be a few minutes,” said Saouaf, who had been waiting in line for an hour and a half. “But its my first time voting and I really want to vote. And Pennsylvania’s a swing state and its really close.”
For other students, it was their support for a particular candidate convincing them to wait.
“I’d sever my left arm before not voting for Hillary,” Cahill remarked.
And such remarkable resolve did not go unnoticed. Former Pennsylvania Governor and 1965 College graduate, Democrat Ed Rendell, visited the Penn Care and Rehabilitation Center polling station to praise voters for their incredible commitment. He said such strong turn-out and strong voter-patience would precipitate good results for his fellow Democrats.
“There are long lines all over the city. That’s the bad news in that people are inconvenienced. The good news is that it means a lot of people are voting,” Rendell said. “This [voting] division hasn’t had any sort of turn-out like this in years, and this crew is a relatively inexperienced one that doesn’t get paid a lot. But they’re doing the best they can ... so it’s difficult, but it’s actually good. It means people are excited about the election.”
For other student voters, the issue plaguing Election Day was not a long line but the logistics at the front of the line. Pockets of students who registered to vote around Penn’s campus were told at the tables that their names were not included in the lists of registered voters.
“When I got to Houston Hall and ... got to the front, they asked for my name and they couldn’t find it under my last name, so they searched my first name and they couldn’t find it under that either,” Engineering and College freshman Veer Sobti said. “So, then they asked me to check my voter status online and basically it showed no records of me being registered online.”
The students who discovered that they were not able to vote were confused and could recall when and where they registered to vote. College freshman Susan Maroney said that she was certain she registered before the cutoff date at a booth across from the Wawa near campus.
“I definitely did sign up,” Sobti said. “I was a little surprised and obviously a little annoyed because, you know, it’s my first time voting, everyone around me was voting and everyone was excited to vote.”
Alex Rabin contributed reporting.
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