President Obama said as part of his victory speech, “I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that.” Voters waiting in long lines will be one of the enduring symbols and legacies of this year’s presidential election. How the government seeks to redress this problem will say a lot about the commitment to protecting the voting franchise.
Florida Governor Rick Scott has said he'll conduct a review of how the state can avoid long wait times for voters in the coming elections. Florida voters waited in line for periods of up to four hours in some locations. A heavy turnout and lengthy ballot, with 11 constitutional amendments, contributed to the long lines. WPTV Florida said that 8.5 million Floridians turned out to vote this year, exceeding 2008’s turnout of 8.3 million voters.
Florida was not the only state where voters waited for hours in lengthy lines. In Ohio, in some precincts, voters waited for up to six hours to vote. On the East Coast, voters were queued for up to two hours, some of it related to the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Virginia voters were still in line after the polls officially closed at 7:00 p.m.
Unexpectedly high voter turnout was cited as the primary reason for the long lines, but other failures also contributed to the delays. Across the country, problems that ranged from insufficient supplies, inadequate staffing, and faulty and malfunctioning machines contributed to the confusion during the election, and left many voters frustrated with elected officials. In Hawaii, voters were delayed in casting their ballots after two dozen precincts ran out of paper ballots.
Not surprisingly, urban, heavily populated areas experienced the longest waits. These areas — traditional Democratic strongholds — experienced wait times that in some cases were twice as long as other areas. A poll of early voters conducted by Hart-Research and sponsored by AFL-CIO showed that "wait times were disproportionately longer for Democrats and Democratic-leaning demographics," i.e. minorities in 2012, according to Talking Points Memo.
That poll is consistent with one conducted in 2008 by MIT. The MIT poll found that "African-American voters waited twice as long as others to cast their votes," according to USA Today. The Hart Research poll said that minorities were more likely to experience voting problems, including longer lines than white voters.
The obvious solution to alleviating the long lines is to extend early voting availability and to extend voting hours. The states that had the most liberal early voting hours and the longest voting hours had the least amount of problems on election day. For example in Nevada, the Washington Post reported that early voting accounted for 70% of the total votes cast, and voting lines were noticeably short, according to the Washington Post.
Indiana has leveraged a combination of common sense and technology to address its long waiting lines. Seven Indiana counties used vote centers in the general election. A vote center allows voters to cast ballots at the location of their choice regardless of residence. The Indy Star said that "long lines were a headache" on election Tuesday and vote centers give voters more flexibility and convenience.
The voting centers also act as satellite locations for absentee voting. Start-up costs for vote centers seem to be modest. The Indy Star further reported that Johnson County spent $128,000 to implement its system which included the purchase of 60 electronic poll books. The poll books "link with state voter registration databases, printers, scanners and support services" according to their reporters. The investment allowed Johnson County to deploy 22 voting centers this year.
Interestingly voting centers in Colorado contributed to the long waiting lines. The Denver Post explained that "voters flocked to the high-profile voting centers and ignored other centers with little traffic."
Finding a solution could come down to just finding the money to upgrade the infrastructure. InsideNova, a Virginia news site, said “The oft-criticized approach of merely 'throwing money at the problem' actually could be the answer here. Namely, the allocation of more county funds to buy more voting machines and to keep existing machines (minus the antiquated ones) in optimum working order.”
In Iowa heavy turnout for same day registration caused some people to wait up to two hours to vote. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported “the computer systems designed to speed up the voting process actually wound up taking longer when information had to be entered for those registering.” Officials in Iowa are looking at ways to speed up the process by doing things as simple as using two lines, one for registered voters and one for those registering that day.
Any solution that would alleviate the long lines and cater to increased voter turnout has to include electronic /online voting. There is no technological impediment to supporting online voting. Banking and tax file preparation and submission are two highly private and secure processes that are routinely done electronically.
In 1999, Joe Mohen created a start-up election.com that bills itself as "the world's first global internet election company." Election.com conducted the "world's first legally binding elections over the internet, including the Arizona Democratic Primary." Election.com was eventually purchased outright by its partner Accenture and merged into Accenture’s eDemocracy Services business.
Estonia allows its citizens to vote via the internet. Estonia implemented the system in 2005, and by 2011, 25% of the votes in their national election were submitted electronically. The Associated Press reported that “the key to the system's success in Estonia is citizens' wide acceptance of a digital identity and electronic chip-enabled ID card.”
Implementing such a system in the United States would have to clear multiple hurdles. Voters’ rights advocates have campaigned against photo ID requirements. There are also manyopponents of a national ID law. Countries as diverse as Tunisia, Ukraine and the Palestinian Authority have expressed interest in adopting internet based voting.
The Swiss have been selectively using it for over a decade, and this year included federal elections. Resistance to internet-based voting stems from security concerns, (in Washington, D.C., hackers compromised the test system in 2010), to user acceptance issues (users in Britain found the website not user-friendly).
Other problems like forgotten login IDS and passwords, duplicate voting, have been solved by technology already in the fields of online purchasing and banking. However, voters remain wary. Liia Hanni, program director at Estonia's eGovernance Academy told the Associated Press that “initiating internet voting is a complex project. It's not an easy task. You need to build trust, solve constitutional issues and [preserve] the secrecy of voting.”