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WHNT News 19 taking action: Why are voting lines so long at some Madison County polling locations?

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — There were more than 163,000 votes cast in Madison County Tuesday, but for some voters casting those votes took lots of time and patience.

WHNT News 19 is investigating  why some precinct lines, especially at Oakwood Church, seem to take longer than virtually anywhere else in the county. Voters encountered lines during the day that sometimes stretched beyond two hours.

It was a problem in 2012 and elections officials vowed to fix it but it was a problem again Tuesday.

Election results show from Tuesday show the Alabama A&M and Oakwood precincts have the largest numbers of registered voters of the county’s 93 precincts.

Madison County Elections Administrator Frank Barger said that reflects the number of students who come through the school over the years, but he said the turnout figures don’t ever match the registration totals.

The two precincts are also likely to produce heavy straight Democratic ticket voting. According to Madison County’s vote totals released after Tuesday’s election showed more than 3,300 ballots were cast at Oakwood and 2,100 were straight ticket votes for the Democrats.

Alabama A&M vote totals included 1,280 ballots cast and 1,061 straight Democratic ticket votes.

Barger said that reflects the number of students who come through the school over the years, but he said the turnout figures don’t ever match the registration totals.

The two precincts are also likely to produce heavy straight Democratic ticket voting. According to Madison County’s vote totals released after Tuesday’s election showed more than 3,300 ballots were cast at Oakwood and 2,100 were straight ticket votes for the Democrats.

Alabama A&M vote totals Tuesday included 1,280 ballots cast and 1,061 straight Democratic ticket votes.

Madison County Probate Judge Tommy Ragland, whose office oversees countywide elections, said the Oakwood and Alabama A&M gym precincts historically have long lines. He said changes included more training for poll workers.

“The inspectors set up the flow better. We had extra training for our inspectors and we tried to have some experienced people there. And it did actually go good.

Ragalnd said part of the problem is many college students who want to vote locally aren’t registered locally, which requires the process of assigning provisional ballots, which slows the lines.

Another challenge, he said, are voters who aren’t sure of their polling place and poll workers have to help them find the right location.

Tuesday’s vote was also marked by very heavy early voting, Barger said.

Voting was also slowed, Ragland said, because voters had to contend with 14 constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Precinct locations are determined by the Madison County Commission not the probate judge’s office.

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong said Wednesday that he was open to splitting precincts to reduce the number of voters per precinct. He said increased use of technology – iPads were used in a pilot program at some locations to help log voters in Tuesday — could also reduce the lines voters face.

“Splitting polling locations, in most cases, is a good thing, the big thing you have to have,  a polling location that is a building of public assembly, and is able to handle ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements,” Strong said. “We’re open, the probate judge has always been proactive, he and his elections team.”

Ragland said his elections staff always does a critique following elections to see what can be improved.

Ragland said he favors a practice now being adopted in some states: voting by mail.

“Now some people say ‘you’re going backwards voting by mail,’ I say ‘no,’ that would be the way to do it,” Ragland said. “You get the ballots in here and they wouldn’t be going, standing in line, waiting.”