Despite lines snaking out of the Marshall Student Center, curving around the outside of the building and ending near Cedar Drive, voters remained positive as they waited for their chance to exercise their American right.
The wait lasted more than four hours for some voters at the voting center for precincts 352 and 353, where many voters were USF students.
The main thing slowing down the process were college students voting away from the city where they were registered. The law allows voters to change their address on Election Day and many students took advantage of this, said Buddy Johnson, supervisor of elections for Hillsborough County.
“The reason it takes so much time is because of address changes and verification calls back to other precincts,” Johnson said.
At 9 p.m., six people from the election center in Hillsborough County arrived to reinforce polling staff and set up a computer for faster address changes.
There was also a half-hour delay in the evening when more ballots had to be sent to the Marshall Center because the polling center had run out, Johnson said.
“Sure, we underestimated the amount of people who were coming out,” Johnson said. He said that the history of the precincts indicated that there would have been a much smaller turnout.
Johnson said students have usually used absentee ballots, but this year was different.
“The absentee tradition was not in play tonight,” he said.
Fred Evenson, a volunteer from voting-fairness organization Election Protection, said there hadn’t been many complaints from students, but the lines were longer than necessary.
“They have every right to complain — it’s one of the longest lines in Florida right now,” he said.
Evenson said the main issues were the wait and Johnsons’ underestimation of the voter turnout.
“With a transient population with students like at USF, they should have known they would deal with a lot of change of address forms,” he said.
Other reasons for the long lines included too few poll workers, not enough voting machines and a lack of space, Evenson said.
Johnson agreed with Evenson about the small room size and was working on ways to fix it.
“The room is very small, so we are taking more privacy booths out,” Johnson said. Marshall Student Center Director Joe Synovec said the room on the first floor was chosen for its proximity and accessibility.
The room is 524 square feet.
Johnson didn’t agree that more voting machines were needed, as they take only about a half second to scan ballots.
The mood outside the voting location remained upbeat as the line of voters wrapped around one side of the Marshall Center. Several students played guitars for the waiting crowd and food and beverages were distributed.
Samyra Safraoui, a freshman majoring in athletic training, said the long lines were bad, but she still enjoyed the process.
“It seems unnecessary when there are other places on campus to use like the Sun Dome, but the long lines made it more memorable and fun because I got to talk to other people about the issues,” she said after a two-and-a-half hour wait.
For some students, though, the long lines disrupted their schedules.
“I am worried that I’ll have to leave before I get to vote,” said Amanda Cash, a junior majoring in English education. She had already been waiting for about two hours, but said she would return after class and wait again if necessary.
“Fortunately, the students are very excited to be here and don’t seem to be leaving, but it is difficult to tell exactly how many votes this could affect,” Evenson said.
Polls were open until 7 p.m., and everyone waiting in line at that time was still eligible to vote. All votes were cast by about 11 p.m.