Shortage of pens leads to long lines at one Richmond polling place

On-site inspector Sedalia Wesson (far right) leads her team of poll workers at the Veterans Memorial Hall polling place on 23rd Street, where a misunderstanding about pens stalled voters earlier today. Photo by Catherine Schuknecht.

On-site inspector Sedalia Wesson (far right) leads her team of poll workers at the Veterans Memorial Hall polling place on 23rd Street, where a misunderstanding about pens stalled voters earlier today. Photo by Catherine Schuknecht.

Voters at the Veterans Memorial Hall polling place on 23rd Street in Richmond found themselves facing a long wait this morning—because of a misunderstanding about pens.

Sedalia Wesson, the on-site inspector at the Veterans Hall polls, said she’d been trained to ensure voters use only felt-tipped pens to fill out their ballots. So when she received only one felt-tipped pen and 20 ballpoint pens from the Contra Costa County Elections Division, voters had to wait their turn to use the one felt pen.

“I’m trying to do what I was trained to do,” said Wesson.

Voters “waited out the door for that one pen,” she added. “That’s how dedicated they are to voting.”

Wesson said they switched to using the ballpoint pens after about an hour, after one voter pointed out that mail-in ballots can be marked with regular pens at home.

But the 20 ballpoint pens still weren’t enough to accommodate the large volume of voters, said Wesson; Veterans Memorial Hall is one of Richmond’s largest polling places.

In response, Wesson said several people went to a nearby dollar store to purchase more pens. City Council candidates Melvin Willis and Ben Choi brought three pens each, “which helped,” said Wesson with a chuckle.

After that, she said, the line reduced substantially.

Sara Brady, Election Services Manager for the Contra Costa County Elections Division, said the division received a call about the issue and followed up with Wesson to confirm that both ballpoint and felt-tipped pens could be used. Brady said those who voted at Veterans Hall have no reason to worry.

“Maybe folks got used to the felt pens, but the ballpoint pens do work, and are read by our ballot machines,” Brady said.

When asked whether instruction about pen types is included in the training of poll inspectors, she said, “It was probably not covered.”

Back at Veterans Hall later in the afternoon, Wesson pointed to a pile of ballpoint pens behind her.

“Now, we’ve got too many pens,” she said.

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