Polling places crowded as Oklahoma begins early voting

Saturday, October 30th 2004, 3:56 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The general election is still a few days away, but long lines were reported at polling places across the state as Oklahomans took advantage of early voting.

Sheriff's deputies stood guard at the polling room and parking lot in Oklahoma County Friday to direct a flood of traffic that sometimes stretched onto a busy boulevard nearby.

In Tulsa County, an election worker described the parking lot as a ``scene of chaos'' as about 400 people cast ballots each hour.

``Everybody has huge lines,'' state Election Board Secretary Michael Clingman said.

Strong interest in this year's election has led to large numbers of Oklahomans taking advantage of traditional absentee voting and the early in-person option. In Oklahoma, elections for president, U.S. Senate, state Legislature and a number of state questions crowd the ballot.

As voters piled up in front of the Oklahoma County Election Board, surprised workers stared out the window. Some voters came alone, others came as a family _ and a bus was seen unloading seniors from a retirement community.

Even Oklahoma County Election Board Secretary Doug Sanderson was surprised by the turnout of 3,791 voters.

``We've never seen anything like this before,'' Sanderson said, looking out the front windows. ``This is unprecedented.''

Outside the Oklahoma County voting rooms, Gary Jones, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, talked on his cell phone as he waited in lines that averaged about a half-hour.

Jones planned to campaign on Election Day and wanted to make sure he voted.

Martha Dannenbaum waited in line in Tulsa County on Friday because she didn't want to risk missing the opportunity on Election Day. Her motivation is the close presidential race.

More than 1,000 people had cast ballots in Cleveland County by 2 p.m. Friday, Election Board Secretary Paula Roberts said.

A line formed before 8 a.m. when the office opened, she said, and people still were arriving Friday afternoon.

``They are having to wait in line 15 to 20 minutes at times,'' Roberts said. ``But no one seems to mind. We give them copies of the state questions to look at while they are waiting so by the time they get their ballots they are ready.''

Logan County Election Board Secretary Dondee Klein said there was a record number of early voters. Just after noon on Friday, about 300 ballots had been cast.

A brisk pace of voting also occurred in Muskogee County, the election board secretary there said.

``We have been running slightly more than 100 voters an hour,'' said secretary Bill Settle. ``That kind of level of turnout for us is unusual.''

Early in-person voting resumed Saturday and will continue Monday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during Tuesday's general election.