Pain at the Polls

by Prince Of Petworth — November 8, 2016 at 12:45 pm 74 Comments


“Dear PoPville,

Not sure what the story is here but was pretty shocked this morning to get to the polls at HD Cooke school with my updated registration card (that I received last week and sent the paperwork for prior to the deadline to do so), only to be told by the polling staffer that my file in their registration file had my old address and that I would have to get in line with a special ballot pass and refile my registration information. When I showed them the card that clearly stated my updated address, they said there was nothing they could do and that this had happened already many times today.

The line for special ballots was twice as long as the election line and took about 90 minutes just to get to a table where I had to fill out paperwork that I had already filled out online months ago. The three women behind me had similar stories and we all were holding updated voter cards. While voting, I overheard other women in the same situation.

I reached out to Brienne Nadeau who told me to call DCBOE. When I called them, I was told that my information in the BOE system was up to date, and the staffer didn’t know why the polling workers would have the different information that she saw. The person behind me literally handed her phone to the poll worker who spoke with BOE. The BOE staffer and the poll worker couldn’t figure out why their information didn’t line up. This voter said she submitted her registration in July and received her card in August but was also forced to stand in the special ballots line for 90 minutes.

I was pretty upset at this point – I’m lucky enough to be able to come to work late but I’m sure that a 90 minute line was enough to dissuade some people from voting which is one person too many. I spoke to “Paul” who is the poll manager at that location. He told me that this happens every election – basically BOE prints out cards but doesn’t update the files, rendering the cards completely worthless, meaning that hundreds of people people come to the polls only to be told they have to re-register all over again.

I’ve brought BOE and Mayor Bowser’s attention to this, but they seem like they couldn’t care less. I thought it was just at my polling location but I’m hearing from another voter this is the case at another location. What does BOE do all year that it can’t get the basic information it needs to to poll workers? I know DC votes don’t matter, but we don’t need another reason to keep people at home.”

  • Trinidaddy

    Shocked that Nadeau passed the buck on to someone else. Shocked, I tell ya.

    • LL2727

      OP here – she definitely didn’t pass the buck. She worked on this all morning with me and called BOEE herself multiple times. She continued to work on this after I left the polling location too. But having me call with all the details was much faster than having her call.

      • artemis

        Thank you for being so persistent in demanding your right to vote.

  • This doesn’t surprise me one bit. DCBOEE exhibits a similar level of incompetency to other DC government agencies. During this year’s primary, I witnessed multiple broken voting machines.

  • Piper

    This happened to several voters, including my roommate, at Eaton Elementary in Cleveland Park this morning too.

  • HaileUnlikely

    That blows. Sorry that happened to you. That also happened to me in the last two primaries, but they had it right today. In the last primary, the poll workers had the correct addresses (my address) for my then-fiance and then-tenant, both of whose proof of address for their driver’s licenses had been my signature on the DMV address certification form, but they had my old address that I had updated two years prior. They told me I could either go to the “correct” polling place (the one corresponding to where I used to live) or else vote by special ballot. I took the special ballot.

  • Get out and vote!

    This actually really surprises me! I moved at the end of September, and updated my drivers license and voter registration using the online system. When they scanned my DL this morning, there was no problem and the address was updated. Very shocked that you had this problem considering you did it so much earlier!

    • SkalleyKaye

      I’m surprised as well. I also moved in mid-September and updated my address online with DCBOE. I did early voting at One Judiciary Square, and my updated address came up.

  • BK2H

    DC is definitely ready for statehood.

    • textdoc

      It’s ridiculous to justify denying D.C. residents the right to vote just because incompetence exists in the D.C. government.

    • alurin

      Really? You think all the other states “earned” statehood by having efficient bureaucracies?
      If this incident disqualifies DC from statehood, shouldn’t Florida have had its statehood revoked in 2000?

      • FridayGirl

        +1. Remember all the people in NY and other states that showed up to the polls during the primaries only to be told they weren’t registered when they should have been? States don’t do it any better, unfortunately.

  • textdoc

    “He told me that this happens every election – basically BOE prints out cards but doesn’t update the files, rendering the cards completely worthless, meaning that hundreds of people people come to the polls only to be told they have to re-register all over again.” That is really alarming. DCBOEE needs to get its act together.
    I had also heard that when they switched from printed voter rolls to electronic voter rolls on iPads, there were problems. (I don’t remember specifically what the problems were supposed to be.) Way to “fix” what isn’t broken!

    • HaileUnlikely

      I think the printed voter rolls were plenty broken, the “fix” just didn’t work (the incorrect information that they used to print is now loaded onto iPads instead).

      • textdoc

        Fair enough. Yeah, if the underlying information isn’t correct, it doesn’t matter what form it’s presented in… though if that’s the case, seems like the old-school version would at least be cheaper.
        Whenever I see new and shiny technology being used in cases where the cheaper old-school version seemed to be sufficient, I have to wonder who got the contract (campaign donor?) and whether someone is getting kickbacks in exchange.

        • ZetteZelle

          But the printed voter rolls were broken. The problem was that only one person could use each book at a time. So if there happened to be an unusual number of people with surnames starting in a particular section of the alphabet all at the polls at once, they had to wait in line for the book to be free. In 2004, my polling place in Mt. Pleasant had an hour+ long line for one section (I think E-G?), while folks from other parts of the alphabet could just walk up and vote.

          • textdoc

            Thanks — that is a helpful illustration of one problem with printed rolls that could be solved with electronic rolls.
            (Well… as long as they don’t have “E-G” signage directing everyone with a last name in “E-G” to one volunteer with one iPad. Then it would be the same problem, just snazzier-looking.)

    • Anonymous

      “Way to “fix” what isn’t broken!”
      Well, maybe. I doubt the printed voters rolls were problem-free, and if they were still using printed voter rolls they’d get criticized for being decades behind the technological curve. I’m inclined to focus on the underlying problem.

      • textdoc

        “if they were still using printed voter rolls they’d get criticized for being decades behind the technological curve” — I never heard any criticism of DCBOEE’s use of printed voter rolls.
        From what others are saying, it sounds like DCBOEE has a history of giving people plenty of substantive things to complain about, so I doubt anyone was complaining about the lack of new/shiny technology. (And “decades” behind the technological curve? That’s a stretch.)

        • Anonymous

          See? ZetteZelle has a criticism of the printed voter rolls just above. I’m sure that’s not the only one ever.
          And yes, “decades” is a stretch in this particular scenario, but I am of course suggesting that such a complaint would be an unreasonable one so “decades” seemed to fit.

  • B

    Happened to both me and my husband this morning. We registered online, but we weren’t in the system at all at Truesdell. Luckily the special ballots line wasn’t that long and the poll workers were very helpful, but it was frustrating.

  • anon election protection volunteer

    This is not uncommon, and not limited to DC. Please call 1-866-OUR-VOTE to let the Election Protection Hotline know. They track these kinds of incidents nationwide… In fact, everyone should call the hotline if they experience any difficulties today, including being given a provisional ballot, not being on the rolls, etc.

  • Liz

    This happened to me 4 years ago at Goodwill Baptist Church in Kalorama, so it’s not a new problem and not limited to your polling place, unfortunately. I waited 2+ hours despite having changed my registration months before (and having an updated registration card). It was infuriating.

    • JCo

      This happened to me there this morning! 🙁

  • Sara Ainsworth

    Call Election Protection at 1-866-687-8683 to report this. They’re a non-partisan, non-profit that works on election issues.

  • DM

    Yet you get a parking ticket, and watch them put together a dossier on your distant family members and former acquaintances within 24-48 hours.

  • alurin

    My wife had a similar problem. The BOE didn’t get her card to her until yesterday, and when she showed up to vote, they said they had not updated the database in six weeks! However, they did let her vote on the basis of the card.

    • Anon

      Interesting, did she not have to fill out a new form?

      • alurin

        No. It just took her longer to vote, apparently.
        I don’t understand why no one at the BOE has a calendar reminder popping up on November 7th to update the database.

  • andy2

    GRRRR This same thing happened to me. I have fixed it two times before. Thankfully I have 3 hours of leave to vote. But I’m calling BOE!

    • Anon

      Please do! I doubt it will make a huge difference but the more callers the better chance people MAY look into it.

      • andy2

        Emailed Mary Cheh!

  • NH Ave Hiker

    I forgot my card at home. Do you need the registration card to vote or not?

    • anon election protection volunteer

      No, in DC you don’t need any ID to vote.

      • Anon

        But you do have to show proof of identification to register if you aren’t already, correct? I definitely saw two people get turned away from Special Ballot line because they didn’t have anything with their current address on it.

        • Anonymous


          • Anonymous

            Actually I may not be precisely right about that. You need to show proof of residence to register, which I’m not sure is exactly the same thing as proof of identification. Check the DCBOEE website.

        • anon election protection volunteer

          (disclaimer, this is not legal advice)
          Correct, if they were attempting to register today or during early voting, BUT they should have been allowed to vote using a special ballot even without that information. Someone who registered by mail and is voting for the first time would need additional proof too. This is assuming that people are at their correct polling location. If you have any questions, even while in line to vote, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE and they can provide immediate guidance!

          From Election Protection State Guide:
          If it is your first time voting in federal elections in the district and you registered to vote by mail, you must present proof of residence, either at the time of registration, at the polling place, or when voting by mail. Additionally, if you will be registering during the early voting period or at the polls on Election Day, you will need to provide proof of residence. Individuals who fail to present this identification may vote by special ballot.
          Valid forms of proof of residence include:
          a copy of a current and valid government photo identification
          a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, or pay check that shows the name and address of the voter

          • anon election protection volunteer

            Anon above asked about ID, but my answer is speaking to proof of residency, which is not the same. You need proof of residency for the scenario described above.

          • Sam

            I had an issue where I wasn’t in the system and had to fill out a special ballot. Still only have my VA ID, but they let me use my online Pepco bill to verify my address.

    • textdoc

      You don’t need to bring the card to vote.

      • NH Ave Hiker

        that’s what I thought, thanks!

      • wdc

        I presented my registration card when I voted last week, and the poll worker was sure to tell me “It’s not required, but it does speed things up!”

  • Amanda

    That’s weird, I recently changed my address- right before the deadline and did not have any issues when I did Early Voting last week. When I voted, I verified my information with the poll worker that had my up to date address…. is it possible the poll workers today had an old database? (which is terrible)

    • mtpresident

      There are fewer early voting locations, so it probably matters less (if at all?). On election day, you have to vote at your singular polling place, whereas that restriction either doesn’t exist or is ward-specific.

  • Chad Hang

    There was someone in line near me for early voting and she said she had attempted to register on two occasions and both times she was not put into the system.

  • The King Ad-Hoc

    Last time I stood in line to vote was 2008. I signed up for absentee ballot and now I vote by mail.

  • M

    I experienced this, too. I registered a couple months back and got my Voter ID card in the mail. Took it to Columbia Heights this morning, and much to my surprise, it showed that I wasn’t registered. I waited a hour and a half in the special ballots line (in addition to one hour waited in the main line.) I’m lucky that I could stay, but I did notice a couple people that left without voting which is really unsettling and quite frankly, terrifying.

  • Glover Park Voter

    My ballot had the DC statehood question on the back. Very easy to miss! Make sure to look at both sides! I asked the election official who put my ballot through the reader (that looked oddly like a shredder) if there is a notification if any part of the ballot is undervoted, and she said yes. However when my ballot went through, there was no “alert” (I generally don’t vote for uncontested candidates) for not submitting a complete ballot.

    Also, you don’t need any form of ID to vote in DC if you are already registered and at the correct polling place. Just tell them your name and address and they will check that against their record.

    • AMDCer

      Yeah – some of the election workers at my polling place made a point to say “fill out both sides,” and I’ve seen the tv ads for the DC election which tell people to “turn it over” to mark the back of the ballot, but I’m sure some people didn’t know that.

  • anon

    “I know DC votes don’t matter.” That is never true, and it’s especially not true in this election. The general election number matters, symbolic or not.

    • T


  • Petworther

    Everything went smoothly for me, but the woman helping at the scanner at Barnard very aggressively stood there while I scanned it and clearly looked at my vote. Kind of creepy.

    • nevermindtheend

      That doesn’t count as going smoothly to me. I’d report the poll worker.

  • Brightwooder

    This happened to me, sort of, last time I voted! They said someone must have made a typo when entering my name and they couldn’t find me, oh well, sorry. I was SO frustrated. Dreading tonight b/c I am voting and doubt they fixed it.

  • Sam

    Same thing happened to me this morning at Friendship Baptist Church. Received my new DC voter card last week and they couldn’t find me in the system today. The special ballot line cost me an extra half hour, made me late for work, and was just an incredibly frustrating process all around. I was told the same thing, that it had happened many times today. I also wasn’t able to choose a party when I had to re-register this morning so I guess I’ll have to fix that.

    • James

      Not sure if you will see this since I’m replying to nearly 29 hours later, but I was one of the Special Ballot Clerks at that location. A lot of people had the same issue (registered within the last 6 weeks or so, but not in the system) city-wide – I’d say at least 50 people at that location alone.

      The Voter Registration Update Form (the yellow one) that you filled out included a section to check your party. After myself or the other Special Clerk used the poll pad (the iPad) to fill out the info and spun it around to make sure everything was correct, the political party field was empty.

      There isn’t an option for us to fill out a voter’s political party and is part of the reason why the voter fills out the yellow Voter Registration Update form. The form that gets filled out by the voter is sent to the BoE and the party is added by them once they verify that the yellow form and the info that we (Special Ballot Clerk) entered on the Poll Pads matches up to each other.

  • lebro

    I had no issues early voting. BUT, when I tried to change my registration to a new address this summer (June) I never heard back. I had to send the form in 3 times before I got a new card in September.

  • Anonymous

    This seems to have more of an effect on the local elections, especially for ANC when it can easily come down to only a few hundred votes. Ironically, it seems to me that the current powers-that-be don’t seem too concerned with the mess that is DCBOEE….good way to enforce the status quo. My guess is that areas with high turn-over of transient residents have most of these problems; areas with old timers probably have less.

  • EJ

    This happened to my husband. Thankfully, we did early voting at Turkey Thicket last week and the line was not too bad.

  • also anon

    “I know DC votes don’t matter, but we don’t need another reason to keep people at home.”
    What? Why would you even say this? I don’t even understand what this means. DC has electoral votes in the presidential election so those votes do matter AND there are other issues on the ballot where a small number of votes could make a huge difference- like ANC races and maybe even the at-large council seats. Saying something ridiculous like “DC votes don’t matter” is a totally unfathomable way of dismissing yourself and your vote along with all the other people who do care about making sure their vote is accurately counted.

    • anon7

      I think what they’re saying is that there’s a possibility that Trump might not win in DC.

      • also anon

        Yes I understand that but what I’m saying is that it is a dumb thing to say. Saying “DC votes don’t count” because we know Hillary is going to win is ridiculous because a) there are other things on the ballot and b) all electoral votes matter.

      • Anon

        Yes. This. Thanks.

  • Curious

    Are two election machines per precinct normal? That was the case at Walker Jones this morning – curious about other locations in the city.

    • James

      Two election ballot machines (i.e. electronic) are typical. Everyone can use them, but they geared towards people with disabilities.

      Early voting only has electronic ballots and there about a dozen machines in each early voting center.

  • JCo

    I had the same experience this morning, and it was SO frustrating! I brought my new voter registration card and they told me that my up-to-date address system was not in the system although I did everything correct, on time, as evidenced by the card itself! Thankfully I had a utility bill and proper ID with me, just in case. The special ballot line took twice as much time — I spent nearly two hours at the polls in Kalorama this morning! There were other people in the special ballot line who had the same issue. It’s so frustrating to see this on Election Day. I’m fortunate to have an understanding boss — I know that’s certainly not the case for other folks with other obligations. I’d hate for this to translate to people leaving the polls and not having their voices heard today.

  • nonner

    They had me under my maiden name, though I changed my name three years ago including with SS and DC DMV. Adddress remained the same {correctly}.
    If I was supposed to do something additional regarding my name change for voting I was never made aware.
    I was still able to vote, but I was surprised.

    • James

      A lot of the time the DMV doesn’t send over the info to the BoE.

  • Anoooooooon

    This happened to my husband at the Raymond Rec Center this morning. Between that and waiting in line generally, it took us an hour to get out of there this morning. My address somehow updated, but his did not? Very strange.

    Agree with the person that said the statehood question was easy to miss! I did not get any alert about undervoting either when submitting my ballot, and I didn’t hear anyone at my polling place reminding people to vote on the back. I wish I had been more coherent, but all the standing in line early in the morning…

  • KellyB

    This has been my experience with every election in which I’ve participated in DC! I was VERY frustrated today given that I updated my information and checked the website before going to the polls to make sure it was up to date and I went to the correct location. When I arrived, my information had not been updated. The poll workers were nice and sympathetic. I knew there was nothing they could do, but follow the process they were given. My line wasn’t nearly as long as OP, but was hosed up due to people who didn’t have proof of address changes.

  • boybert

    Not a solution to the underlying problem, but if your old polling place is nearby, you may be able to vote regular ballot there since they’ll have you on their rolls. May not be more timely than waiting 90 minutes for a special ballot at your new precinct though.

  • Otoko

    I voted at 2 PM at this same polling place (Cooke Elementary), and there were no lines whatsoever. If there had been any irregularities with my registration, there would’ve been a host of poll workers to zip me through.

    Moral of the story:
    either vote during the off-peal hours
    back those who want to make election day a holiday or to move it to a generally more convenient (generally more non-work) day like Saturday or Sunday.

  • Anonymous

    Same thing happened to me during Early Voting. I checked the DC BOE website before I left and they had all my information on there as “registered.” Then I showed up and they had no record of me. Luckily I was able to fill out a special ballot and re-register (?) on the spot, but it took me an extra 30 minutes. Very disconcerting that this is such a widespread issue…


Subscribe to our mailing list