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Anna Karenina and Elections: Pew's New Dispatch on Long Lines

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[Image courtesy of thelexicinema]

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

There has been lots of focus on the issue of long lines on Election Day, but much of this discussion so far has overlooked that the root causes of the problem differed greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

As usual, the folks on Pew's elections team didn't overlook it and use their latest Election Data Dispatch to take a look at the "Many Reasons for Lines at the Polls:"

Long lines at the polls have gotten plenty of attention since November 6, and while people are clamoring for solutions, there is still much to learn about why these lines occur. Some of the reasons people waited for hours this most recent Election Day include:

  • + Confusion over voter registration. Reports emerged about voters checking in to vote only to find they were not on the rolls, causing backups and delays while poll workers tried to assist.
  • + Ballots running out. On the island of Oahu in Hawaii, more than half of the 140 polling places needed to be resupplied with ballots with dozens completely running out of ballots at some point during the day. This left voters waiting for new ballots to arrive or leaving without casting a ballot. The state elections office said they miscalculated how many ballots would be needed.
  • + Not enough/malfunctioning voting machines. In Richland County, South Carolina, some voters faced lines of six hours after voting machines broke down and others questioned whether there were enough machines in use. The chair of the Richland County Elections and Voter Registration Board of Commissioners said 703 of the county's 930 voting machines were deployed. She told WLTX it is not clear why the more than 200 additional machines were not used.
  • + Not enough poll workers. In Rhode Island, the State Board of Elections said that lines in some part of the state were due to not having enough people to work the polls.
  • + Long ballots. Florida saw some of the longest lines, and this was in part due to an incredibly lengthy ballot with 11 statewide initiatives.
  • + Fewer polling places. To save money, some jurisdictions have consolidated precincts and reduced the number of polling places--meaning fewer places to rent and fewer poll workers to pay. While Johnson County, Kansas voters did not face the very long lines others across the nation did, election director Brian Newby noted he wasn't happy with the 45 minute lines voters faced most of the day. 12,000 more people voted at the polls this Election Day than in 2008 and did so at 221 polling places compared with the 284 in use in 2008.

These are just some of the reasons lines can form at the polls. So while calls for reform are already being heard, it will also be helpful to see more in-depth research in this area to provide policymakers and advocates with more guidance in how to best address these problems.

This is a really important observation; to paraphrase Tolstoy, every jurisdiction without lines is happy in the same way - the challenge is to determine why each unhappy jurisdiction (i.e. those with long lines) are unhappy and strive to "lighten the mood" by addressing the root causes of long lines in each community.

[And here you thought I'd never find a way to work in that undergraduate concentration in Russian Studies.]

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