Hourlong traffic jams frustrate voters in Derry amid likely-record voter turnout

Nov. 9—The top election official in Derry said town leaders are in discussions with Pinkerton Academy to hold future elections there after voters suffered through a traffic jam Tuesday that at some points lasted more than an hour.

Intermittent delays of more than a half-hour were also reported at the Hudson Community Center polls because of parking, and in Durham, where same-day voter registration led to delays, said Myles Matteson, head of the Attorney General's Office's Election Law Unit.

Derry Town Clerk Christina Guilford said some voters told her they waited in line for an hour to park at the Calvary Bible Church, the sole voting location for the town of 34,000.

More than 12,000 residents cast votes on Tuesday, compared to 4,600 in the September state primary and about 3,000 for town elections.

On social media, some Derry residents said it took even longer. One said it took 1 hour, 45 minutes to vote. Another said 90 minutes.

"I don't know if (town officials) expected the turnout," Guilford said.

Matteson said problems got worse in Derry with the end-of-the-workday crunch. "There was traffic from all directions," he said.

"Talk about voter suppression," Joseph Cataldo wrote on social media, saying he waited an hour in his car to go a half mile, turned around and went home without voting. "Town of Derry, you failed your citizens BIG TIME!!!"

Guilford said voters were in and out quickly, once they were able to park. But parking at the church, which is located on Hampstead Road, was the problem.

To make sure everyone could vote, Derry town moderator Lisa Hultgren said, the polls didn't close until 9 p.m. — an hour later than usual.

Between the late closing time, about 1,500 ballots that had to be hand-counted and a large crop of first-time election volunteers, counting all the ballots went late. Hultgren said election officials finished counting all 12,034 ballots around 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Hultgren said election officials had not planned for quite so many voters. In 2018, just under 11,000 people voted in person, according to the Secretary of State's office, and only 4,600 people voter in this September's primary.

She said she anticipated even more voters would turn out for the presidential election in 2024.

Guilford said the Town Council decides the polling locations, and the council is in talks to return the location to Pinkerton Academy for future elections.

Matteson said his office will seek to review plans with Derry town officials to make sure future polling locations are correctly sized and can handle traffic volume.

Pinkerton, which is located on Route 28 Bypass, hosted voting in 2020, and it went smoothly, she said. The school was closed for the day, and police altered the traffic pattern in the area, Guilford said.

Derry has vacillated in recent years between one, two and three polling locations. Guilford said she favors having a single location, even though that makes the one polling place the largest in the state. Doing so reduces confusion about where people should vote.

In Salem (population 30,000), moderator Chris Goodnow said the town's five polling locations keep traffic manageable for voters.

"I've examined trying to bring it into one location," he said, but while a single polling location would make life easier for election officials, there's no location in Salem that could really handle the traffic and parking for thousands of voters. "You'd have to have an extraordinarily accessible site."

More than 13,100 people voted in Salem on Tuesday, he said, an increase of more than 1,000 from the 2018 midterms. Almost 787 voters registered tat the polls, he said, though registrants included both first-time voters, and voters who had not turned out for several years.

Londonderry moderator Jonathan Kipp said traffic is always a challenge at his town's single polling place — the gym at Londonderry High School — but staff and volunteers managed the approximately 12,000 voters. Of those voters, 729 registered to vote on the same day.

Kipp said Londonderry (population 25,826) likes to celebrate the 18- and 19-year-olds casting their first ballot to weigh in on state and federal officials.

"We ring a bell and say, 'First-time voter!" Kipp said. "Most of them are deathly embarrassed, but some appreciate it."

College towns also saw significant turnout, with NextGen America, a progressive youth voting advocacy group, working to get students to the polls.

Activists and volunteers working with the group were stationed on college campuses around the state over the last week, making sure students knew there were elections, said NextGen state director Will Winters.

"Young people had a lot of issues but we hard about abortion rights, we heard about democracy, we heard about an economy that's going to work for young people," Winters said of students' motivations to vote.

NextGen rented 15-passenger vans to ferry students from the University of New Hampshire, Keene State College and Plymouth State University from campus to polling places. For students who don't have cars, getting to a distant polling place can be a challenge.

Shelby Purdum, a spokesperson for NextGen, said states including Texas, Wisconsin and Michigan have located polling places on or near campuses for their largest universities.