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Northeastern not to blame for long lines on Election Day, superintendent says

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Northeastern School District provided everything York County officials requested to hold a polling place at Northeastern Middle School, Superintendent Stacey Sidle said Wednesday, after voters reported waiting four hours in line to vote.

In a news conference Tuesday night, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar mentioned the issues at the school and said it was her understanding the space provided by the district was too small for people to vote efficiently while also maintaining social distancing.

Sidle said that wasn't the case.

"The request that came to us was, they needed a space big enough for 15 privacy voting tables, five staff tables, one administrative table and three scanning machines," she said.

"We gave them everything that they originally told us they needed, with enough room for an additional three privacy tables," Sidle said.

County officials delayed releasing countywide results until after 10 p.m., when the last person waiting at the middle school made it to the front of the line.

The school was the only polling precinct for East Manchester Township, and voters formed a line a quarter mile long throughout the day.

Hundreds wait in line to vote at Northeastern Middle School, Tuesday, November 3, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

York County Commissioner Julie Wheeler said she commended everyone who waited to vote and thanked them for their patience, adding that the voters she spoke with were in good spirits and seemed enthusiastic about exercising their rights.

"Certainly, if there was anything we could've done to shorten the line, we would have," she said.

There was talk Tuesday night that the district should have allowed the county to use the gymnasium instead, but Sidle said the district doesn't usually rent out the gymnasium because of the cost to refinish the floor and the potential wear and tear from extra foot traffic.

More:Election 2020: York County voters turn out in droves

Every person had to be filtered through a single doorway to the cafeteria, where a poll worker sat at a table and directed each person to write their name on a piece of paper before taking it to another table where they would check in and sign their name.

Sidle said she heard reports claiming the reason it took so long to move through the line was that the poll workers only allowed 25 people inside the cafeteria at a time, and that after accounting for election staffers, there were only about five or six people at the privacy tables at any given time.

York County spokesperson Mark Walters said he couldn't confirm that report.

"I'm just not convinced that it was because we used the cafeteria instead of the gym," Sidle said.

Hundreds wait in line to vote at Northeastern Middle School, Tuesday, November 3, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

Social distancing requirements, time-consuming ballot procedures and a generally robust voter turnout contributed to the long wait times, Wheeler said.

Voters who requested but never received their mail-in ballots had to go through a process to cast provisional ballots at their polling places, which will be counted after election officials can ensure they didn't vote twice.

And when voters brought their mail-in ballots to the polls and said they decided to vote in person instead, poll workers had to go through a process to verify the voter's information and spoil the mail-in ballot before giving the voter a regular ballot.

The county has to follow the appropriate checks and balances, Wheeler said.

"All of those things take time," she said. "It's a process set forth by the state that we have to follow."

Sidle said she and Wheeler have already spoken about how things went on Election Day and have meeting set up to discuss improvements for the next time around.

"To be fair, I do think it was probably the perfect storm," Sidle said. "Nobody really predicted that big of a turnout, either."

More:Big turnout: About 75% of York County voters participated in election

More:York County triples election workers, plans to scan all ballots on Election Day