I spoke to Melvin Williams, a Roanoke lawyer and member of the city’s electoral board, about voting machines and pollbooks.
We’ve heard about waits of up to two hours at polling places — due at least in part to a lack of pollbooks and voting machines.
Williams told me the General Assembly banned local governments a few years ago from buying any new voting machines.
“The only option that a registrar has is to try to purchase voting machines from another locality that believes they have extra,” Williams said. “And you can imagine how reluctant they were to sell machines, wanting to hold them for a day just like today.”
Probably the bigger issue, however, is a limited number of pollbooks. Those books used to be kept manually. These days, however, pollbooks are essentially refurbished computers packed with security features and used exclusively for elections. But “budgetary constraints” and a limited supply means a limited number of pollbooks at precincts, Williams said.
“I just left the Villa Heights precinct,” Williams said. “We’ve only got two pollbooks there. The ladies there are working as fast as they can, but they’re at about a two-hour wait right now.”
It’s not just a matter of buying as many pollbooks as you can, though. Williams points out that elections with turnout this high come only every four years at best.
“It works out the only time you would need them is in a big presidential election every four years,” Williams said. “The rest of the time they’d just be sitting idle. So there’s a struggle in how much do you need to get through the big elections and not just have a bunch of equipment sitting around.”
Williams, who is moving around the city today to make sure things are going smoothly, said that turnout seems to be very high. And “where I’m seeing the most congestion is in precincts that I’d consider to be heavy Democratic,” he said.
Williams said that observation is purely anecdotal; certainly the 10 a.m. turnout figures from the city registrar don’t seem to bear it out.
– Mason Adams