Election Day in Washington, D.C., Nov. 8, began before dawn for hundreds of election board employees, poll workers and poll watchers as they set up and opened 143 voting sites in eight voting districts throughout the District of Columbia.
Their work continued with long lines of voters in the morning and evening. And it ended with wails of shock and cries of “Keep hopeful . . . Stay positive” at the National Press Club’s Truman Lounge as members’ attention darted between a half dozen TV screens on four different cable channels revealing the stunning upset election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.
No major glitches or incidents of voter fraud or intimidation were reported by the D.C. elections board. Everything appeared to run smoothly. But there were clear problems and some surprisingly basic deficiencies that “need to be pointed out and improved,” according to veteran D.C. election watchdog Dorothy Brizill.
A former foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institute and the State Department, Brizill has devoted the past 20 years to observing, asking questions and reporting on the operations of the District of Columbia government in her blog, DCWatch. She often covers 20 to 30 polling stations every election day.
Brizill looks for the access signs posted on the sidewalk, some 50 yards before the polling entrance. She looks for curb voting markers clearly showing where handicapped voters could drive up. A poll volunteer is supposed to be stationed there to bring voters ballots marked inside the automobile.
She especially observes how the line flow is organized, if there is seating, if instruction material and voting equipment and polling personnel are easily accessible. Brizill can assess problems immediately.
“Guess where the worst congestion, delays and grumbling was so far?” Brizill asked Alice Miller, executive director of D.C. Board of Elections as they watched election board officials shut down the some two dozen early voting machines that had been brought into the election office site at noon.
“Cleveland Park?” Miller replied.
“No!” said Brizill. “Georgetown! At the library!”
At 11 a.m., the lines at the Georgetown Public Library began almost on Wisconsin Ave on R Street, then did a long triple loop up a flight of stairs into the library where voters then had to descend a double flight of stairs (the elevator was not clearly marked) to stand again in line to get into the small meeting hall where the election materials were placed. Several of the elderly in the line bent over canes. Some had been in line one-and-a-half hours. There was a one-car long space marked for curb voting — difficult to negotiate on busy R Street. Some seniors were told erroneously they could go to the front of the line then told not. The complaints of some escalated. Delegations of Swedish and Danish visitors and journalists took notes.
“This is not nuclear science,” Brizill said. “There are 40 full-time positions at the Elections Board to organize bi-yearly elections. While all polling sites need to meet basic standards, still the size of the voting area should fit the number and demographics of registered voters. Georgetown obviously has a lot of seniors in the library area. Their mobility should have been considered. Allowing voters to enter and exit from the normally locked ground floor back garden doors for instance could have been considered.”