Voting In the Garden State: A Thorn In A Rose Bush

In the 2008 Election, Citizens All Over the Country Had Voting Problems. Shouldn’t We Be Able to Do Better?


Published: November 20, 2008

All of my friends would be doing it. We had spent months talking about it, and the day had finally come. We would all be voting in the Presidential Election of 2008. I had already been hearing horror stories about fellow students having problems registering to vote, voting machines experiencing glitches during early voting and projections from newscasters that voter turnout would lead to very long lines. I remained optimistic through it all and thought to myself, “How bad could voting in New Jersey be?”

I was nervous on the days leading up to Nov. 4. It was the first time I would be voting in a presidential election. The day I received the official general election sample ballot was when it finally hit me. I meticulously read the section entitled “Instructions For Voting,” repeating every word so as not to be the one voter at the polling place who had no idea how to cast his vote. After reading the public questions, asking my sister about the electronic voting machine and making myself familiar with the layout of the ballot, I was certain that nothing could go wrong.

I awoke on Election Day eager to vote, so I took a shower quickly, got dressed and made my way over to the elementary school a few blocks from my house. The polling place was set up in two different portable classrooms, which was surprising because it would be more logical to have the voting take place in the school, as opposed to in the very small and detached classrooms.

The line to enter the two classrooms was rather long, and I noticed that an elderly woman at the front of the line was having a difficult time with the registrar.  The woman only spoke Spanish, and to make matters worse, she had moved to my town from Virginia just a few weeks prior, making it impossible for the registrar to find her name on the list. The language barrier between them was obvious, so other voters stepped in to try to understand the woman’s broken English and translate her issues to the registrar, who was quickly becoming impatient. No volunteers or fellow voters were able to help the woman, and she was eventually removed from the line and voter sign-in resumed.

I was really taken aback that, despite the large Hispanic population in my area, there were no volunteers at the polling place who spoke Spanish to help resolve this woman’s issue. Those responsible for assembling volunteers would have been wise to recruit bilingual speakers. This way, voters who didn’t speak English could have their issues resolved and could cast their votes with relative ease.

After signing in, I walked into the portable classroom and was shocked by the chaos. There was little room to move around, especially with the addition of four oversized voting machines and two long tables. I struggled to say my name to a volunteer above all of the commotion. Immediately behind me, a woman screamed for a volunteer to help fix her voting machine. Volunteers scrambled from one portable classroom to the other, slamming the heavy doors as they went. Voters nudged and pushed their way through the mass of people as my fear of cramped spaces began to take hold. The location of the polling place is a very important aspect of the voting experience. Cramped portable classrooms should be avoided at all costs. A polling place that actually has enough space to house the bulky voting machines, running volunteers and frantic voters would be a relief. Also, there should be strict codes of conduct enforced in these polling places, with the rule “Speak Quietly” appearing at the top of the list. Hearing loud voices scream things like, “Help! It’s broken!” from inside the voting machine is a stressful distraction to other voters.

Prior to entering the voting machine, I made sure to mention to the nearest volunteer that I was a first-time voter. She looked at me briefly, nodded and walked off. I’m not one to complain, but I believe it is the volunteer’s civic duty to make the experience of first-time voters as stress-free as possible. A good volunteer would take the time to ask if I had any questions before entering the voting machine or would even walk me through the process to be certain that I knew what I was doing.

After casting my vote, I left the polling place feeling unsatisfied and upset. I only hope that those responsible for organizing and running the polling places will make the voting process smoother the next time around. Positive changes made to the voting system will encourage even more people to vote and help them remember their experiences not as stressful or frustrating, but as perfect opportunities to express their democratic freedom.