Early Voting Taxes Library Polling Places

Early Voting Taxes Library Polling Places

Record early-voting turnout for the 2008 election may bode well for civic involvement, but libraries across the country that serve as early voting sites are facing unexpected pressures—and opportunities—providing service to the throngs of early voters coming through their doors.

Broward County (Fla.) Libraries may have taken the most extreme step: closing the Davie/Cooper City, Tamarac, and Pompano Beach branches to everyone except early voters from October 30 through November 2. Libraries Manager Peggy Davis told American Libraries that two of the closed libraries are smaller branches with relatively small parking lots and little available street parking. “Because of the high number of voters, it was very difficult for all of them to be served.” The Tamarac branch, she added, is a larger library, but the “huge turnout” there made it equally difficult for everyone to gain access to the building.

Twelve of the county’s 17 early voting locations are in libraries. “All of the library locations have been very busy,” Davis said, with people often standing in line between one and three hours. Wait times shortened after Florida Gov. Charlie Crist extended early voting hours by four hours a day October 29, but that required library staff to provide building access to election staff well outside the library’s normal 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. hours.

Susan Herzog, senior manager of the Main Library of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenberg County, North Carolina, told AL that early voting at the system’s libraries was steady but generally free of long lines until about October 28. Since then, it’s been “bananas,” with waits often reaching 2 hours. “We’ve never had anything like this before,” she said.

“It’s been kind of fun for us having so many people through the door,” she added, although she noted that the burden is easiest at the main branch, which has the space to accommodate the crowds. Among the smaller branches, “At least one branch has lost almost all daily use because of difficulty parking and then the long lines to get into the building,” Herzog said.

Davis said library staff is taking the opportunity to promote the system and distributing library card applications. Also, branches with auditoriums are playing movies or music, and Friends groups are offering water and refreshments, which she said “makes the library system a very attractive place to be.”

The Charlotte library is taking similar actions, Herzog said—chatting with voters, offering library brochures, literature, and card applications, and bringing children’s books to the main branch to entertain voters’ children. (Children’s services are centered in the ImaginOn facility several blocks from the main library.) Television crews from CBS, as well as local stations, also visited the library to get footage.

“I’m glad we’re a part of it,” Herzog said. “I hope it will bring people in.”

Posted on October 31, 2008. Discuss.