filed under elections

M-Z? Step Right This Way

1:25PM ON 11/07/2012
BY Beth Comery

BoE You have four years to change your last name to Zazzle (might as well have fun with it). The following discussion is anecdotal in the extreme with a sample size of four. It involves four separate voters, voting in three separate polling places in Rhode Island, at four completely different times of the day. At each polling place people were divided into two separate lines based on the first initial of a voter’s last name, and what all four of us observed was that the A-L line was often about 100 people long with roughly a one hour wait, while the M-Z line was usually completely empty. And the M-Z people strolled right in as if they owned the place, voted, and sashayed out past the alphabetically-impaired hordes. There was even a rumor that the M-Z people were being given mints and a moist hand towel. Smug bastards.

But I can’t even make sense of this. Why would it be this way? Here are some possibilities:

1) The demographics in this state just happen to favor the beginning of the alphabet.

2) People from M-Z have been at the end of the line their entire lives and by age 18 most have just given up trying to do anything ever.

Maybe the Board of Elections (after it buys itself a new awning) can look into this mysterious phenomenon.

11 Comments on “ M-Z? Step Right This Way ”

  1. When I went to vote last night in Warwick there was one enormous line that everyone, including me, queued up at the end of to hunker down for a long wait. Within a minute I noticed two people standing in front of the front desk, but not in the enormous line. I took a chance and left the enormous line to talk to the these stray sheep. Turns out this is the M-Z line – a fact not discernible until you arrive at the head of the enormous line due to the layout of the room – and I am now third in line to vote. After I submit my ID and get my ballot I mention to the voting staff that no one in the enormous line knows that there are two distinct lines and I walk over to a booth to vote. The head staffer yells out that everyone whose last name is M through Z should come to her side of the front table. Half the people in the enormous line rush over and queue up again.

    This same thing happened to a friend of mine who voted in Providence and I heard the exact same story from a woman that WRNI spoke to on my ride home last night.

  2. I noticed the same ‘M-Z effect’ in PVD on Hillside. The signs were handwritten with a pencil on 8″x11″ paper and were placed outside (it was dark when I voted) so no one saw the instructions. On a related note, I overheard some people discussing the reasons why there are such high numbers of A-L voters. The oddest reason: ‘because there are so many Portuguese in Providence’.

  3. Funny. Voting in South Providence the reverse was true. A-L was empty while M-Z had a long line. I suppose the queue advantage is geographic.

  4. There are 30 death notices today on the ProJo website. 23 are A-L. 7 are M-Z. There have to be more A-L’s in RI!

  5. we had the same problem in North Providence. the poll workers even tried to fix it by making a separate line for those with names starting with A-B which didn’t even help solve the problem. now, it’s my understanding that poll workers are volunteers, and if this is true, we can’t place the blame on them as much as the state for not having a better plan to deal with situations like this. that said, why didn’t the state election board do anything, like bring in extra poll workers and voting machines, to the South Providence polling place that had such long lines? it was widely reported, but nothing seemed to be done about it, except for appearances by a few elected officials . . .

  6. Beth Comery

    Yes, I hope it is clear that I am not really complaining about my one hour wait. But that situation in South Providence was very bad. I know there has been redistricting, but surely the elections officials have a formula for how many people are in a district and how many machines are required. I am embarrassed to admit, I did not know about the additional Providence referenda (yellow sheet). Was that well publicized?

  7. The M-Z line in Wakefield at South Kingstown High School was much longer than the A-L (which really didn’t appear to exist as a line at all since there was no wait time for this grouping).

    Also, a co-worker who polled in the Summit neighborhood on Providence’s East Side had similar experience with regard to the alphabet split.

  8. The distribution of names in the alphabet was a minor problem where I was. The issue we has was that there was a line to get a ballot, a LONG line to get a booth, and then an even longer lone to scan your ballot.

    Frankly, it doesn’t matter how long the ‘input’ lines are if there aren’t enough booths and only one scanner.

    It took me ten minutes shy of two hours to vote in Pawtucket. I’ve never waited longer than a minute or two before.

    One problem I noticed was that the poll workers reacted to the lines by adding workers to the ‘get a ballot’ line, they got those people by taking them OFF the Scantron assistance line, which only exacerbated the problems.

  9. Reverse was true in East Providence. A-K, i was second in line, L-Z there were about 30 people in line. I heard that was the case all day.

  10. At Hope H.S. in Providence, it was the opposite. As I waited in the hourlong M-Z line, new entries would walk into the room. The woman behind me in line at one point explained to one of these newbies, “If your last name starts with M-Z, get in the back of the line. If it starts with A-L, we hate you.” I looked at the two books, and it didn’t look to me that the M-Z book was that much larger. So I don’t think the problem is quite as easily solved as some here might think. The problem of course is that no matter how even the books are, there’s no accounting for which of the registered voters actually show up that day…

  11. Sounds like ethnic variations by neighborhoods might effect alphabet proportions. In East Greenwich the A-L was very long, and the M-Z had no line.

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