Ohio escaped painful litigation over its presidential election results, President Obama’s re-election victory large enough to avoid challenges. What lingers are questions about long lines, during early voting and on Election Day. The problem was not uncommon. Voters in Florida and Virginia cast ballots at midnight, with long lines reported in many other states.
Lawmakers at the state and national levels would do well to examine closely the results of a new study by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. The report addresses in practical ways the pressing task of making access to the polls fairer and easier.
The center’s report focuses on three solutions to long lines. Improved voter registration, using modern technology to keep voter rolls updated with information from government databases, would help ease delays and confusion. Setting a fixed period for early voting across the country would prevent manipulation for partisan ends. Finally, the report recommends establishing minimum federal standards for polling places, such as the number of voters per voting machine, with the goal that no one wait more than one hour to cast a ballot.
Long lines affect turnout and election results, leading to the loss of tens of thousands of votes. In Ohio, according to one study, cutbacks in early voting hours led to waits of as long as four hours in large, urban counties. Other studies show that long lines disproportionately affect minority voters.
As the Brennan Center report notes, the nation’s patchwork voting system was designed for a 19th century society using paper records. Although advances have been made, more should be achieved to enter the modern era.