Can Early Voting Fix Long Lines?


President Barack Obama lost out on hundreds of thousands of votes in the 2012 election because of long lines at polling places. 

The president will weigh in on the issue during his State of the Union Address next week, but gave a taste of what is to come in his Inaugural Address late last month:

Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.

The longest lines are generally found in cities and urban dwellers tend to vote Democrat, so the issue of long lines for voting has become a partisan flashpoint.

Democrats suggest that the way to eliminate wait times on Election Day is to expand early voting. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, took a lot of flak for cutting early voting back from 14 to eight days in his state this cycle. Indeed, Florida voters suffered through the longest lines in the nation during early voting. According to The Huffington Post:

Lines were especially long in Miami-Dade County, where by 7:25 a.m. Saturday two of the county's 20 early voting stations were already suffering 5-hour wait times. Six of the locations listed wait times of six or more hours on Saturday afternoon, hampered perhaps in part by a hefty ballot that was 10 pages for most voters.

But early voting may not solve the problem. Fewer than 25 percent of voters chose to vote early in 2012. A few states—notably Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada—saw more than 50 percent turnout before Election Day, but they are the exception.

The focus of reform should be on making Election Day—and early voting—more efficient, not dragging it out.

Nobody should reading complex ballot questions for the first time inside the voting booth. Provide people in line with sample ballots and index cards so they can make their choices ahead of time. True, we send these to people's homes, but few remember to bring them.

And if we want to prevent people from turning away from polls in frustration, we need more transparency about waiting times. Ironically, Florida seems to be leading the charge on this by posting waiting times at polls online.