Politicians across the country and locally are lamenting the long lines that we saw at the polls on Tuesday and demanding something be done to fix it. That something to be done is, or course spend more money because no one ever seems to bother trying to figure out why the lines were so long. Throw money at the problem and it’ll go away. Right. That tends to work — never.
The actual problem, readily apparent to anyone who bothered to watch what was going on while they were waiting was that it took a long time for most voters to vote. Some voters, often ones that had a sample ballot in their hands and bothered to read it while waiting, got through a polling booth in well under a minute. Others — most voters from my perspective — stayed there far longer. It created a bottleneck, and no reasonable amount of extra voting machines could possibly fix that.
In my precinct 1347 voters shared three voting machines. Lines were consistent up until about 6:30. That averaged out to about 39 voters per machine, per hour or about 1.5 minutes per voter on average. Adding another machine would have made nearly no difference at all, but if we were able to reduce the amount of time to thirty seconds on average, what it usually takes when there are no ballot questions, there wouldn’t have been any lines at all.
The reason they took so long was entirely due to there being ballot questions these voters knew nothing about until confronted with the screen asking them to make a choice. We saw this in 2006 when the Marriage Amendment ballot question was asked, and lines were horrendous as voters tried to discern what the heck the explanation of that question meant. People left the lines to come try again later, and there were people waiting in line for several hours, just like this year. The the 2008 presidential election, with far higher turnout to deal with but with no ballot questions, had no lines to speak of. It was the same mess in 2012 as we saw in 2008, but we haven’t really learned anything from it. Elections that have ballot questions always have very long lines. Those that don’t aren’t really troubled with them.
The clear answer is to help voters make up their minds about ballot questions before they get in the booth. If all election workers did was hand out sample ballots and explain to those waiting in line that they were going to be confronted with these questions so they might as well figure things out while they’re in line, these lines would go a lot more quickly and be tremendously shorter. We know voters will show up not knowing what’s on the ballot. We know they’ll ponder over the legalistic wording of a ballot question for a while before they make up their mind. We also know we can choose when that roadblock is going to happen, and make sure it doesn’t throw the whole process into chaos.
So before we accept at face value Frank Principi’s dubious claims that there isn’t enough funding for elections operations, how about we figure out what the actual problem is and how it can best be addressed before we reflexively start clamoring for more money to be thrown at the problem, which almost certainly will do nothing to fix it.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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