My 150-minute vote
by John Hilton
"I have no authority here at all," the Rev. Yolanda Whitten announced to the line of voters that snaked throughout the basement of the Ann Arbor Community Center and out the door. "But does anybody here object if this man moves up to the head of the line? He's running out of oxygen."
"Noooo!!!" we chorused.
A stooped, white-bearded man rolled his oxygen cart to the sign-in table, but it didn't look promising: at that point, no ballots had been given out for ten or fifteen minutes. The bottleneck appeared to be the single laptop a harried woman was using to verify voters' ID.
Though Whitten had no official role-the city rents the center's basement on election days-she'd been encouraging and accommodating the growing and increasingly restive crowd all morning. And she had no qualms about sharing their heat: she'd already given out the number of the city clerk's office to the hundreds of people waiting, and asked me to call anyone who could help. I'd tried the county clerk's office, got only voicemail, then emailed a photo of a dozen empty booths to John Hinchey at the Observer office and asked him to keep trying.
Almost imperceptibly, things started to move. The short-of-breath voter got a ballot, then, one by one, the rest of the booths filled up.
City planning manager Wendy Rampson had arrived and was double-teaming with the woman at the laptop, running drivers' licenses through a reader and confirming identifications--this is the first time Ann Arbor precinct workers have had to do that. She was soon joined by AAPD chief John Seto. Worried about the crowd's growing anger--"those people outside were cursing me out!"--Whitten had called him too.
I reached the head of the line at quarter past noon, two-and-a-half hours after getting on it. Pausing only to thank Rampson and the poll worker who reminded me to turn over the long ballot, I cast my vote.
As I headed out, snappily dressed man rushed
in. "I'm from the county clerk's office," he announced. "I heard there was a problem here."
"It was a bottleneck on the ID computer," I volunteered. "Wendy saved us."
Yolanda, too. On the way out the door, I gave her a hug.
When I got back to the office, Hinch told me he'd gotten a return call from the county clerk's office. A technical problem with the verification system, he was told, had flummoxed the person running the precinct. Tech support--and a new staffer--cleared the bottleneck.
Thank you for voting!
[Originally published in November, 2012.]