Colorado's longest wait to vote? Reports of three-hour delays at Aurora's CentrePoint Plaza

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Some Arapahoe County voters who wanted to cast their ballots today had to wait in a long line for several hours at one vote center -- prompting some of Colorado's top politicians to visit the site and assess the problem.

At CentrePoint Plaza in Aurora, voters said they had to wait up to two hours, and this morning, according to some elected officials and watchdog groups, there were reports of three-hours-plus delays.

On his way out this afternoon, Nate Danh, 37, said that people were starting to get pretty frustrated inside.

"A lot of people in there are mad," he said. "They're trying to be calm, because they have no choice. But a lot of people don't have time, because they are working and they may only get an hour off from their boss."

Danh, who works in construction, voted after about an hour-and-a-half, and it wasn't too much of an inconvenience for him, because he had the day off.

But he expected better.

"Four years ago, it was fast, maybe thirty or twenty minutes," he said. "I expect it to be faster. I hope next time, it's better."

He added, "I'm just so happy I'm finished."

At around 2 p.m., Governor John Hickenlooper showed up to the polling site to assess the problem -- and shortly afterward, so did Senator Michael Bennet.

Part of the problem is that in this election, officials in Arapahoe County decided to run 32 vote centers instead of hundreds of polling locations, as the county has in the past. That means voters today could vote at any of those sites, which had more machines -- but at CentrePoint Plaza, it created quite a bottleneck. And while voters do have many different options under this system, it also becomes a bit more complicated, because each site must be able to process ballots for many different local races.

"Obviously, you can't expect people that are working to spend an hour-and-a-half in a line," said Hickenlooper, after surveying the scene. "We had the same thing in Denver in 2006, and it was one of the longest days of my life in public service. People were furious. You can't expect people to wait.

"It is a huge room and it is jammed with people," Hickenlooper added. "We heard stories that there were two-hour waits here."

Some people may leave without voting, he added.

"Both Republicans and Democrats...who's gonna wait? People have jobs," he said. "Hopefully it will resolve itself.... I'm sure they're doing everything they can."

For Democrats, get-out-the-vote efforts today are essential, given that the Republicans have a lead in the early vote period. The latest turnout statistics from the Secretary of State's office show that 670,355 Democrats have voted, compared to 705,085 Republicans.

Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Nancy Doty, who chatted with the governor about his concerns, said that from her perspective, things were running very smoothly.

"I expected a high voter turnout, but we have over 80 percent of our voters voting by mail," she said. "We have plenty of machines, but it's just people coming on the last day. They can expect that there might be a wait."

Doty said she heard reports of voters in line for ninety minutes to two hours this morning, though we've heard reports of longer waits.

"I don't want people to wait, but we did have early vote locations and vote-by-mail. There were alternatives. If people come on election day, they may encounter lines," she said, adding, "But some of our locations have no wait times at all."

She said that changing from polling places to vote centers was a move that had a lot of support.

"I worked with the parties and the public prior to making this change, and there was total buy-in," she said.

She also said there are around sixteen vote centers in Aurora alone, so people have options -- and this afternoon, she and her staff were directing voters to other centers that had reports of shorter or no lines.

There haven''t been any tensions, she maintained. "Everyone's been very cooperative."

This afternoon, the Secretary of State's office sent out an alert about wait times at CentrePointe, noting that voters should consider casting ballots at these nearby locations, or any of the other sites in the county:

Aurora Professional Learning & Conference Center at 15771 E. First Ave., Aurora, CO 80011

Faith Presbyterian Church at 11373 E. Alameda Ave. Aurora, CO 80012

Aurora Hills Middle School at 1009 S. Uvalda St. Aurora, CO 80012

Continue for more photos and comments from other elected officials and voters. Representative Rhonda Fields, a Democrat in Aurora, showed up this afternoon and said she was very worried about the calls she had received at her office -- one even saying the wait was close to four hours.

"It's very unsettling...especially knowing Arapahoe County is so important in this election," she said.

In Colorado, the race will be decided by a small margin of voters and Arapahoe is very evenly split. The latest turnout data shows that of those who have cast ballots so far in the county, 84,568 are Democrats, 84,486 Republicans and 67,394 are unaffiliated.

"I think we need better planning," Fields said. "People who are working today, middle class [residents]...only have a certain amount of time they can take off.... People are going to have to get out of line, because they have things to do."

She doesn't want to see anybody not voting because they just don't have the time.

"I'm very worried, because the authority we have as citizens is the power to vote, and I appreciate the people standing here to exercise that power. It should be easy and it doesn't seem that way here," she said.

Vanessa Johnson, 27, who came with her sister and father, said she visited three separate sites in Aurora where the lines seemed too long and finally settled on CentrePoint Plaza, since it looked like she could at least wait inside. She said her wait was more than two hours.

"Some people were leaving here to find other places where they don't have to wait," she said. "But there ain't no excuses. You've gotta vote."

Johnson, who works in insurance, added, "You think it'd be a little bit easier to vote, but as long as my vote counts, I'm happy."

Her father, Michael Shoates, 57, who took the day off from his job at the post office, said that he worries about people giving up.

"People just don't have the patience and some may not vote," he said. "But I would vote if it was 36 degrees below zero."

His other daughter, Amanda Shoates, 23, said she understands she could've voted early, but she just feels more confident when she casts her ballot on election day.

"People aren't patient, but no one believes in mail-in-ballots," she said.

Her father chimed in, "I don't want mind ending up in the trash."

Senator Bennet said the situation in at the Aurora center was a concern, but voters will stick it out.

"I just think it's so important for Colorado not to be a source of controversy here. We need to make sure that everybody that is taking the time to come out to vote gets a chance to vote. Of course, you like to see the lines moving along," he said, adding, "Nobody should give up. Everybody needs to vote."

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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