Hourlong waits prompt Democrats to bolster Fargo caucus site

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Democrats moved Tuesday to bolster staffing at the largest of North Dakota’s 14 caucus sites after heavy turnout forced some voters in Fargo to wait in line as long as an hour.

The party was expecting a big surge in turnout due to a revamping of the state’s caucus system and high interest in the presidential race. North Dakota shifted this year from traditional caucuses to so-called “firehouse caucuses” that function largely like a typical election, with voters able to show up, cast a ballot and leave.

The process is run by the parties. Democrats set up 14 voting sites around the state, with voting from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The lines were longest in Fargo, the state’s largest city and home to North Dakota State University. The party said wait times in Grand Forks, home to the University of North Dakota, were about 40 minutes. Lines were shorter in Bismarck and Minot.

“We’ve seen an exciting number of new voters and many people who need help looking up their voting districts, which adds some time to processing,” said Alex Rohr, state Democratic Party spokesman. “When we saw long lines, we activated additional volunteers, staff, and equipment.”

To speed the process, workers were handing people in line a form to fill out with information to determine their voting district in order to get a ballot. As the post-work rush began at the Fargo union hall, the party had set up five propane heaters to warm people in line outside, and traffic was growing with cars waiting to get into the hall parking lot or find a place to park. Volunteers were serving coffee in the parking lot.

The limited locations and window for voting meant increased pressure on the caucus sites. Rohr said both were based on the party’s “volunteer force.” He pointed out that the party gave voters a mail-in option for people who didn’t want to or couldn’t travel significant distances to vote, or otherwise had problems.

Despite the lines in Fargo, voters didn’t seem upset.

“This is the way to do it,” said Debra Nelson, 68, of Fargo. She said the long lines at the F-M Labor Temple shows that people want a chance in Washington.

Inside the building, which contains the offices of several unions, volunteers tried to speed up the process while people were waiting in line by handing out forms to previous voters asking for information including voting districts. The new format allowed all residents to vote, no matter where in North Dakota they live, and the party said that took time.

Rick Gion, a longtime North Dakota Democrat, said he received an “all hands on deck” call from the state party chair shortly before noon on Tuesday, asking for volunteers to help with the Fargo caucus. Gion spent much of his time helping handicapped people, families with babies and other people who may not have dressed for the occasion get moved inside.

“People are so excited about getting President Trump out of office,” Gion said. “The lines are long and people are being so patient.”

Billie Lentz, 20, a North Dakota State University student, said the wait in Fargo was worth it.

“I am honestly blown away. I couldn’t be happier with this turnout,” said Lentz, originally an Amy Klobuchar supporter who switched her allegiance to Joe Biden. “I was happy to see this many people taking time out of their day making sure this was a priority.”

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