Long Lines


It’s worth saying that I do think this Corner reader is on to something — long lines can be a sign of extraordinary voter enthusiasm, but they can also be a sign of all kinds of other things. The line at my polling place was tremendous. But in part that was because the process moved very slowly. When you got to the front of “the” line, you were split into several separate lines according to your place in the alphabet. Then when you got to the front of that line, your name was checked on the rolls and you were given a little card indicating which ballot you should have (we have some hyper-local races such that even within the same precinct different people are in different areas). Then you went and stood on another line. At the front of that line were two people accepting cards and handing out ballots — either a paper ballot or else an card to use the voting computer. Then you either had to stand on another line to use the single computer in the precinct, or else fill out your paper ballot and then stand on another line to put the ballot into the scan machine.

I wouldn’t say that any of the election workers were “incompetent,” but several of them could have been more efficient. Had they been, the line would have been shorter. And if the precinct had two computers, two scan machines for paper ballots, eight people handing out cards and four people handing out ballots (instead of one, one, four, and two) the lines would have been much shorter.

That said, none of this is a coincidence per se. We just have a crappy, hyper-localized system of administering elections in this country. The result, as Drum and Klein observe is longer lines and underresourced elections at low-income and minority precincts, and short lines in more affluent ones.