Election Day 2008

The Chronicle spends the day reporting from the city's polling places

To capture the experience of Ann Arbor voters today, The Chronicle is tagging along with city attorney Stephen Postema as he drops by polling places around the city, filling his role as one of three election commissioners. The Chronicle won’t be given special access to areas reserved for election inspectors, but we will be covering a lot of territory. Check back for periodic updates throughout the day – with the most recent posts at the top of this article – and add your own observations in the comments section.

9:30 p.m. Still at Slauson, where results from Ward 5, Precinct 4 have now come in. The 15th District Court judicial race remains tight: Easthope 623, Gutenberg 648. For city council, Hohnke drew 1,259 votes to Floyd’s 248. And with that, The Chronicle is ending our day in the field.

8:45 p.m. At Slauson, polls workers have finished their tallies in Ward 5, Precinct 5. In the nonpartisan 15th District Court judicial race, Chris Easthope received 500 votes; Eric Gutenberg got 482 votes in that precinct. In the race for Fifth Ward city council, 964 votes were cast for Democrat Carsten Hohnke, compared with 249 for Republican John Floyd.

8 p.m. An election worker announces: “The polls are officially closed.” Unofficial voter tallies are 1,500+ in Ward 5, Precinct 4 and 1,200+ in Ward 5, Precinct 5. Easthope left about 10 minutes ago to head to the poll closing at Haisley, a tradition that he follows every election. It’s been a long day – the first voter in line at Slauson was here at 4:45 a.m.

7:30 p.m. We’re back where we started the day, at Slauson. We’ll stay here to watch the polls close at 8 p.m. and the election workers shut down the operation. Outside there’s quite a gathering of local pols: Easthope and Gutenberg, joined by Rebekah Warren, the incumbent Democrat state representative for the 53rd District, and her husband Conan Smith, a county commissioner. Barnett Jones, the city’s police chief, is here, too.

7:07 p.m. Not much happening at Haisley. Some canvassers – including Judge Libby Hines, who was passing out literature for Eric Gutenberg – had been told they couldn’t call out to people who were within 100 feet of the polling place. Turns out, they could. Postema set things straight.

6:56 p.m. Very slow at Abbott. Karen Sidney and Robert Pasick are working the Democratic Party table here. We don’t stay long before moving on to Haisley Elementary on the city’s northwest side.

6:55 p.m. The woman who walked to Cobblestone Farm emails The Chronicle to report that she made it to the correct polling place, walking there with a friend. “It was a long walk,” she writes, “but well worth it to exercise my vote!”

6:30 p.m. At Lakewood Elementary, south of Jackson Road on the city’s west side, there’s just a smattering of voters. Poll workers report they’ve had 800 people vote so far.

It’s dark when we leave the school. As we drive through the Lakewood neighborhood on our way to Abbott Elementary, we pass by some people hoisting a big slab of sidewalk, doing repairs under flood worklights.

6:18 p.m. Very quiet at the downtown Ann Arbor library. Next stop: Lakewood Elementary.

6:06 p.m. Just a couple of people are voting at Angell Elementary. Susan Baskett, a school board member, is working the polls here. Postema thanks her for closing the schools today – teachers had an in-service day, but students were off.

5:50 p.m. Just over two hours until the polls close. We broke for dinner, and are back on the road to Angell Elementary School on South University. Postema had suggested going to Big 10 Burrito, but his daughter Tess – one of the day’s chauffeurs, along with her twin brother Jake – voted for Qdoba Mexican Grill, where there was no line or polling controversy to be addressed. 

5:11 p.m. We’re now at the UM Sports Coliseum, on South Fifth near Fingerle Lumber. Two people are in line. A Head Injury Fact Sheet is posted on one wall, and the venue has music: ACDC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.”

4:50 p.m. The polling place on Mary Street is in a house, in a neighborhood where houses are close together. This poses a problem for an Obama canvasser who’s trying to work the street. How do you reach the houses that are located within 100 feet of the poll? The final ruling: Yes, you can canvas the houses, but you can’t talk to voters on the sidewalk within that range.

4:40 p.m. We find short lines at Tappan Middle School on East Stadium, and spot two volunteers handing out literature for Chris Easthope: His sister, Tracey Easthope, and his nephew, Luke Desprez.

On the way to the next polling place, Postema checks in by phone with his father, who gives him an update on the national scene. Poll workers at some small town were handing out ballots to voters lined up outside in the rain, and the wet ballots were snagging on the voting machines. Postema tells his dad: “If I had been there, that would have never happened.”

4:15 p.m. We’ve arrived at Cobblestone Farm on Packard, and so has a young woman who thought it’d be fun to walk to her polling place. Unfortunately, she’s now discovered that this isn’t it – she needs to be at Scarlett Middle School. Postema called his office to confirm that she in fact must vote at Scarlett, and it’s true.

3:50 p.m. At Scarlett Middle School just south of Packard, the line is about 15 people deep. One person got on her cell phone to reschedule an appointment – she was going to be late – when a poll worker shut her down. No cell phone calls allowed.

3:32 p.m. We’re now at Temple Beth Emeth on Packard, where eight people are in line. So far today, 750 people have voted here.

Postema talks to Mary Fales, one of his staff attorneys, by phone about the situation at Clague. Unlike other polling places that have seen an afternoon lull, the Ward 1, Precinct 9 line is quite busy. Another city attorney, Kristen Larcom, is on site there and plans to stay.

3:20 p.m. Lines at South Quad on UM’s central campus are minimal, maybe 30 people deep. A guy emerges wearing a T-shirt with the same font and styling as the McCain/Palin shirt, but this one says “McSame/Failin’” – Postema says this one also shouldn’t be allowed in the polling place.

3:05 p.m. Heading back into town on Fuller, we pass a bike accident near Cedar Bend – the cyclist is on the grass and an ambulance has arrived.

3 p.m. At St. Paul’s Lutheran School north of Geddes, we see former mayor Ingrid Sheldon handing out literature for Eric Gutenberg. Bonus trivia: Postema when to elementary school here.

2:30 p.m. Arrive at Thurston Elementary just north of Plymouth Road, where Chris Easthope’s mom is handing out campaign literature for him.

A guy named Warren emerges from the building then realizes he forgot to fill out the back side of the ballot, even though he’d done research on the various proposals. He goes back in to see if he can retrieve it, but finds out that’s not possible.

We also see a poll worker named Laura again – we’d met her early this morning at Slauson, when she was dropping off her daughter to vote.

2:20 p.m. There’s almost no wait for Ward 2, Precinct 6 voters at Clague, but the line for Ward 1, Precinct 9 voters is long-ish.

Outside, Tonya and Angela from Carson’s American Bistro are giving out free cider and baked goods, including pumpkin and white chocolate cookies. Chef Janey thought it would be a good way to support voters and promote the business – the restaurant made 2,000 cookies this morning for several polling spots on the city’s north side, where Carson’s is located. The Chronicle suggests that their signature corn chowder would have been a good giveaway, too. Tonya and Angela say, “Everybody tells us that.”

As we depart, Ann Arbor police chief Barnett Jones and Brian Mackie, the county prosecutor, are overseeing remeasurement of the 100-foot zone of inactivity. It appears the Carson’s folks might have to relocate.

2 p.m. What’s in Stephen Postema’s election bag? 1) blank paper, 2) markers, 3) a list of contact information for city police, attorney and clerk offices, 4) a book of notices to voters specifying what forms of ID are acceptable, and 5) an election inspectors manual.

1:45 p.m. At Northside, 588 people have voted so far today. This morning there were waits of over an hour, but things have slowed considerably.

1:30 p.m. We drop by city hall. A sign on the second-floor clerk’s office window provides this tally: Number of absentee ballots distributed – 15,070; number of absentee ballots returned before election day – 13,625; number of absentee ballots delivered for processing – 13,611.

We run into Jayne Miller, who is acting city administrator while Roger Fraser is out of town today. This is standard procedure.

We’re off to Northside Elementary and Clague Middle School, where we’ve heard reports of long lines.

1:10 p.m. Arrive at Forsythe Middle School on Newport Road – hardly any voters here.

12:45 p.m. Back on the Postema poll-hopping trail, now at Eberwhite Elementary on Soule Boulevard. Volunteers are passing out campaign literature for Eric Gutenberg and Chris Easthope, who are both running for 15th District Court judge. We spot Easthope, who’s there to vote.

12:30 p.m. Eric Gutenberg’s parents are tag-teaming it outside of Bach. While his mother hands out campaign literature, his father takes a lunch break at Jefferson Market.

12:23 p.m. City workers are just now painting the 100-foot mark and putting out a yellow sign to indicate the no-campaigning zone at Bach. Previously the spot was marked with a length of string.

11:35 a.m. Back at Bach Elementary, this time to actually vote. While standing in line, someone emerges from the polling area and says, “Is there a doctor or nurse in the line?” A voter had passed out – 911 was called and Huron Valley Ambulance arrived minutes later.

11:25 a.m. Driving past Liberty Lofts on First Street, saw Fifth Ward city council member Mike Anglin, who was riding his bike.

11:11 a.m. At the Michigan Union, Postema asks an election inspector if he’s from the UM Law School. “No,” the guy responds, “I’m a civilian.”

Overheard in line: “Purdue – I thought we were really going to win that one.” Many students who aren’t bemoaning Michigan’s football record are reading the Michigan Daily.

In Ward 1, Precinct 1, 435 people had voted in the poll’s first three hours. In 1-2, the tally was 336.

Coming out of the union, Postema talks to a videographer from the Michigan Daily, who’s interviewing people after they voted. He reminds the guy that the media needs to stay at least 20 feet away from the building.

Walking back to the car, we see that The Cube in Regent’s Plaza has been plastered with Obama signs. A guy walking past is wearing a McCain/Palin T-shirt. Postema asks if he’s going to vote. Yes, the guy says, and he plans to put on a sweatshirt before he does. “I don’t care how you vote,” Postema says, “just understand that you can’t wear that inside.” No campaign signs, including on buttons or clothing, can be visible in a polling place.

10:35 a.m. Arrive at Mack School on Miller Avenue. The mid-morning lull has hit, and the line is comparatively light – about 40 people. 

10:20 a.m. Still at Lawton. Someone’s killing time in line reading “Salt: A World History.”

There’s a short line from the time you get your ballot to the time a voting booth frees up – about a minute and 15 seconds.

A poster for a school election hangs on the wall: “Matilda has perseverance. You don’t need a book or a calculator when you have Matilda.”

10:10 a.m. More line management at Lawton. Voters now funneled into four lines: A-F, G-K, L-P and Q-Z.

10 a.m. We’re now at Lawton Elementary on South Seventh. When we show up, a man says, “Hi Stephen – good to know you’re here.” The wait for voters is 45 minutes to an hour.

9:45 a.m. Part of the action at Pioneer involved line management. The check-in lines had originally been divided alphabetically A-L and M-Z. Based on Postema’s experience, that’s not the practical reality of how names are distributed. He switched the lines to A-G and H-Z.

Additional chairs and tables were also added for poll workers and election inspectors, with help from Pioneer principal Michael White, who asked some teachers there (they were in school for in-service training today – students are off) to wrangle furniture. An historical factoid: Postema and White were fierce rivals as cross-country runners back in the day. Postema competed for Pioneer, while White ran for a high school in Jackson.

9:40 a.m. A happy ending for Jonas Mouton: he just emerged from the Pioneer High polling place and has cast his vote. The poll worker had made a mistake in initially turning him away. Mouton’s situation was resolved after calling in to see if he was listed in the qualified voter file. He was. 

9:20 a.m. Postema is looking into the situation for Jonas Mouton and got on the phone with Mary Fales, one of his staff attorneys: “He was turned away at the polls, and I’m not sure that that’s correct.” Mouton’s voting status is still unresolved.

A voter emerges from Pioneer carrying a lawn chair, which he said he didn’t need to use. He arrived at 8:35 a.m. and left just now. He also is donating a box of Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Nut granola bars, peanut flavor, to the Democratic Party table. He had tried to give them to others in line to vote, but nobody wanted them. He reports that the counter on the voting machine he used had a tally of 300.

9:10 a.m. Outside the Pioneer High polling place (beyond the 100-foot mark), Jonas Mouton is seeking help from the Democratic Party voter assistance staff because he’s just been turned away from voting. At the poll, election staffers had told him that he hadn’t registered to vote 30 days in advance of the election – he registered on Oct. 9 as part of a UM campus registration drive. Mouton, a Michigan linebacker, is calling some help-line numbers for clarification.

Volunteers at the Democratic Party table say that at least three people so far have left without voting because of the long lines. One was a mother with three small kids: “They just can’t take it,” she said. “They’re tired.” She said she planned to return later.

8:50 a.m. The wait at Bach Elementary is 1.5 hours. Volunteers at the Democratic Party table, where cider is being served, pointed out Eric Gutenberg’s mom, who is handing out literature. All of this activity is taking place outside the no-campaigning zone, which is marked by a long string running from the polling place door to a stake at the 100-foot mark.

Now we’re on the road to Pioneer High.

8:30 a.m. Other activity at Dicken: Postema moved the table for people filling out their applications to vote into the hallway, so it wasn’t blocking the check-in line.  

Someone Postema knew came up and asked where he parked. “I have a pass,” Postema said. “I can park wherever I want.” Just for today, though – the temporary permit is a blue sheet placed on the dashboard.

Another voter came up and asked Postema if he was the guy taking suggestions. He was. The suggestion? There should be fewer lines and more explanation of which line to be in. Maps would have helped, the man said (they were put up later). When Postema asked how long it took to vote, the man answered, “Way too long.” But part of what he meant was the time spent filling in the actual ballot. He thought the ballots were too long and there were too many candidates he didn’t know. The voter said he’d like to have Internet access in the voting booth so that he could use Google to look up information.

Postema told a Pioneer High student who’s serving as election inspector: “Talk to everybody and make everybody feel good about voting.”

8:15 a.m. We’re now at Dicken Elementary in the neighborhood west of Stadium Boulevard. An election inspector here is wearing an American flag tie. There’s a line at least 100 deep. Postema asked one of the inspectors doing line management how long it was taking voters to get through. Someone standing in line answered that it’s running around 45 minutes to an hour.

Postema got a call from someone at Bach Elementary on the Old West Side. There are also hour-long waits at Bach, which is perceived as a problem. We’re headed there next to help them “split the book” – adding another person to the staff and dividing the alphabet listing of voters from two to three sections.

8 a.m. Voter and local musician Dave Boutette borrowed The Chronicle’s pen to fill out his ballot application. Outside, Eric Gutenberg is handing out literature now, keeping well outside the 100-foot no-campaigning zone. He plans to stay there all day. Poll workers were raising the flag on the flagpole as we departed.

7:45 a.m. Still at Slauson. Announcement made over PA system: “The coffee is made. It just needs to be plugged in.”

7:30 a.m. The major challenge at Slauson is getting people into the right line for their precinct. Maps of precincts 5-4 and 5-5 have been taped to the walls. They’ve also added a third person to check IDs and hand out ballots at the 5-4 precinct table. It takes about a minute from the time people hand over their ID to the time they get a ballot. So if you want to estimate how long you’ll be standing in line, count the number of people ahead of you and divide by the number of people checking – that’s the number of minutes you’ll have to wait. 

7:10 a.m. Eric Gutenberg, candidate for 15th District Court judge, just walked into the Slauson Middle School polling place on West Washington, then walked back out. Said he figured he’d come back a little later, when the line was not as long.

Section: Govt., Neighborhoods

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  1. By Eby
    November 4, 2008 at 12:26 pm | permalink

    For the length of ballot issue, if your not able to vote absentee then I’d highly recommend using something like the gannett michigan voter guide to work through and get a cheat sheet to take with you into the polls. Much easier to do research before hand then inside the polling station.

  2. November 4, 2008 at 9:03 pm | permalink

    Great work Dave, it’s been a lot of fun riding along with you all day…

  3. November 5, 2008 at 1:05 am | permalink

    Great coverage Dave, and good to see you and Mary at the county building tonight.