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First day of on-campus voting sees record numbers

BY HAYLEY BRUCE | SEPTEMBER 28, 2010 7:20 AM

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Hundreds of voters crammed into the entrance of Phillips Hall on Tuesday to mark their ballots, which included a referendum on the 21-ordinance, resulting in one of the busiest early voting days at a campus location in recent Iowa City history.

As the crowd of mainly students grew throughout the day, the cramped polling place proved to be understaffed, and along with a statewide computer malfunction that required votes to be counted by hand, the first day of on-campus early voting did not go as smoothly as some had hoped.

"We've never been so busy at a class location before," said Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett. "It was busier today than in any previous election at a campus location."

Officials had to use two extra computers and increase the number of poll workers from four to 15 to accommodate all of the voters.

As a result of the computer failure, Slockett could not provide statistics for the number of people who voted Monday, and he did not expect to get them until the system is fixed in the next few days.

However, he said, turnout at Monday's polls trumped those in 2007, when a 21-ordinance was also on the ballot. On the first day of voting that year — on Oct. 22 at the UI Main Library — 444 people showed up to cast their votes.



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On Monday, students scattered throughout the entrance filling out registration forms and fighting for wall space in line.

UI senior Kellie Rogers, who went to vote shortly after 10 a.m., said she waited in line for 20 minutes before deciding she didn't have time to wait in line.

"I stood in line, and it wasn't moving," she said. "It was kind of an inconvenient place outside a lecture hall — traffic was a problem."

Adding to the chaos, many students said they were confused about the ballot's wording on the 21-ordinance. Opposite from 2007, voting "yes" means being in favor of repealing the ordinance, and voting "no" means keeping it in place.

UI freshman Thomas King said he had to read the ballot several times before figuring out what he wanted to vote for.

"I read it at least 10 times," he said. "I was getting really aggravated with they way they worded it."
Upperclassmen also struggled with the unclear wording.

"It was confusing … I just guessed," said UI junior Kaylee Williams. "I feel pretty confident that I figured it out, but it could have been a lot clearer."

Campaign groups said they have been working to educate people about the ballot language.

Nick Westergaard, the campaign manager for pro-21 group 21 Makes Sense, said the group provides sample ballots on its website so voters can become familiar with the language before showing up to the polls.

Matt Pfaltzgraf of the anti-21 group Yes to Entertaining Students Safely said confusion is to be expected on any ballot, and he did not expect the wording to cause a large problem. He said his group will also continue to distribute orange fliers saying "Yes=19" to make it clearer.

Campaign leaders also were not surprised by today's large turnout.

Leah Cohen of the anti-21 Iowa City Safety Committee said she had anticipated Monday's turnout to be high.

"It's not a surprise they came out," she said. "I'm more surprised that the auditors weren't prepared. I'm kind of shocked."

But Westergaard said he wasn't concerned about the large student turnout and believes the pro-21 ordinance supporters will show up.

"The other side has always said they were going to work hard on early voting," he said. "The community votes differently from the students, so it's not surprising given the location."

All campaign leaders anticipate turnout today at Burge Residence Hall to break 2007's record of 945 voters on that year's third day of on-campus early voting.

Slockett said he hopes the computer system will be fixed to speed up the process and handle the expected masses.


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