by Jacob Derr, Editor
One of the biggest stories talked about in the wake of Election Day 2012 were the long lines at the polls. As Election Night played out in real time on television, people were able to see firsthand–or not see, as the case was–the votes come in from districts in states that had closed their polls hours ago. Jump over to any local station in these areas, and you could probably find a local reporter talking to prospective voters, many of whom said they had been waiting in line for hours. President Obama, speaking the day after, declared: “we have to fix that.”
Some states have already started to address these problems. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner filed a report earlier this month with his findings as to the best ways to reduce long lines and streamline elections. Florida saw some of the worst lines last year. Chief among Detzner’s proposed solutions include requiring county commissioners to pay for technological upgrades, giving election administrators greater leeway to make decisions that will shorten lines, and requiring that legislators have a word limit for the constitutional amendments they place on the ballot. He also suggested that, besides unpreparedness among election officials, one of the greatest problems leading to Election Day lines was the cutback passed by the state legislature on the number of early voting days and locations. He says that, despite the budget concerns that led to these being cut back after the 2010 election, they remain a pivotal reason why lines were so long.
In fact, many states cite increasing polling locations and early voting days as the best ways to cut down on Election Day lines. In Minnesota, the Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl says that early voting should be used to alleviate the delays, as it is best able to protect the balloting process from fraud. Other officials have suggested putting voter rolls online to streamline the process poll workers have to go through on Election Day.
Some states, despite delay concerns, appear to be stepping up requirements of voters on Election Day. The Virginia State Senate recently approved a bill limiting the forms of identification voters may use when appearing at the polling place. It remains to be seen whether, if such a measure passed, it would increase the wait at polling places or not.
The federal debate over this issue has already become a politicized quagmire. Some Democrats see it as a wedge issue with which they can combat Republican calls for increased voter identification and other measures calculated to reduce fraud. Republicans, in responding to calls for a national standard for election requirements and administration, have argued that it is not the national government’s job to administer elections. These legislators encourage state by state review.
Senator Barbara Boxer introduced the Lines Interfere with National Elections, or LINE Act, which would require the Attorney General to consult with the Election Assistance Commission in the run up to Election Day. He would then require that a certain number of machines, poll workers, or other resources be utilized by each state in administering their elections. However, it is unlikely such a measure could pass without Republican support.
In the President’s State of the Union Address, he spotlighted a 102-year-old woman who had waited in line for nearly 3 hours to vote, and he hit the issue several times. In establishing a bi-partisan commission to address voting delays, he intends to address the issue on a national scale. There is hope, but there is also skepticism, both that the commission can get anything done and, again, whether it is the federal government’s job to do so.
The Seventh Annual Election Law Symposium at William & Mary Law School will delve deeper into these questions. Leading election law scholars, practitioners, and experts will speak about what needs to be done, not only in this next election cycle but into the future, so that we may have a sustainable and stable election environment. The event promises to be an in-depth examination of the toughest of these issues so that our elections can hew closer to the democratic ideal. We invite you to join us today at William & Mary Law School to participate in a dialogue about how we solve these issues from both sides of the aisle.