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Many people are familiar with the old saying that when one door closes, another door opens, but the expression took on a whole new meaning for Bill Allen on Monday.
Stationed at one of the Lancaster County Administration Building’s two main entrances, Allen watched a constant stream of voters file into the building, flinging open the doors every few seconds.
Though not a member of the county’s voter registration and election commission, Allen, a public works employee was one of several county workers who volunteered to help manage the droves of voters casting absentee ballots the day before the general election.
For every voter who came through the door, Allen was ready with a small piece of green paper with a number on it.
“You’ve still got to have this number,” Allen warned one woman who almost bypassed him.
With numbers in hand, he directed people upstairs to Lancaster County Council chambers, where they could sit and wait until their numbers was called.
“Hour-and-a-half wait. It’s an hour-and-a-half wait,” he repeatedly yelled to those in a line that stretched out the door at 2 p.m. Monday.
With a nod and point, he deftly directed one woman to “keep on going” as her number was called downstairs, where she could stand in a shorter line outside the voter registration office.
Despite manning the door since about 8 a.m., Allen planned to remain at his post until 5 p.m.
“I come up here all the time to help them anyway,” he said. “I don’t mind coming up here and mingling with people.”
With that, the doors in front of him opened again, revealing Jane and Arnold Kosofsky, whom Allen directed upstairs to wait.
The Indian Land residents quickly grabbed a few seats on the top floor as they waited for their numbers to be called, though neither was intimidated by the wait.
“I think it’s great because this shows that people are interested in voting,” Arnold Kosofsky said.
“Tomorrow we would have to vote at Sun City and that would be a zoo, so that’s why we’re here,” Jane Kosofsky said. “But he’s got his phone, I’ve got my book and he’s got his book on his phone, so we’ll be fine waiting.”
A few rows over from the Kosofskys sat Theola Hinson and her husband, Roy, who said the idea of not having to stand while she waited for her turn was a welcome change.
“So far, so good. The chairs are a good idea for me, especially being a senior,” Theola Hinson said. “It’s very nice to sit and it’s comfortable, too.”
Nearby, Dub and Geri Simpson, who live in Indian Land’s Blackhorse Run neighborhood, wondered if they made the right choice.
“We figured there would be bigger crowds tomorrow, but now I’m not so sure,” Geri Simpson said.
Dub Simpson scanned the crowd and shrugged his shoulders.
“I ain’t got nothing to do but wait, I guess,” he said.
Even though the crowds continued to swell late into the afternoon, most voters’ demeanors remained pleasant, said John Lane, the county’s register of deeds, who managed the line outside the voter registration office.
“People have been happy so far,” Lane said. “We’ve seen a lot of people. We have 150 numbers and we started on the fourth round of them at 2 p.m., so we had seen 600 at least by then.”
Lancaster County Voter Registration Director Mary Ann Hudson said the crowds have been surprising.
“All I can say is I knew it would be busy, but I didn’t expect this much of a crowd. Everybody’s doing absentee ballots,” Hudson said.
Compared to 2008, Hudson has seen a marked increased in absentee voters.
“We’re way over who voted in ’08 as far as absentee goes,” she said. “It’s moving along a lot quicker in our new space, but with 2,000 to 3,000 people coming in, it’s still busy.”
From 7 a.m. to noon Monday, Hudson said 200 people had already cast absentee ballots in her office. Even more astoundingly, she said, a total of 6,018 people had voted absentee in her office during this election cycle, as of Monday night.
As for absentee ballots requested by mail and returned either by mail or in person, Hudson counted 1,280 through Monday night, which meant a total of 7,288 voters had cast absentee ballots by then.
“But we will continue to get absentee ballots back Tuesday, so who knows how those numbers could increase?” she said.
Rick Crimminger, chairman of the Lancaster County Election Commission, said the number of absentee ballots received had increased to more than 9,000 by 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Hudson said the most common reasons people have used for absentee voting include being out of town or having to work on Election Day, though many voted early because they were seniors or physically disabled.
“I think people think the crowds on Tuesday will be bad, but I’m not sure, it may be worse today (Monday),” she said.
Hudson thanked the many employees who hail from other county departments for helping to manage the crowds.
“When we had all these people show up this (Monday) morning, I sent out a county e-mail, and we had all types of employees show up to volunteer,” Hudson said. “We are trying to do the absolute best we can to help these people vote.”
She said the support during her office’s busiest time of the year meant a lot to her.
“We’ve got county employees handing out numbers, county employees helping move voters along and county employees volunteering to drive here and just really help us out,” Hudson said. “I want people to know that the county’s employees have to care to do something like that. You just don’t know how awesome it is.”
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416