Even Wal-Mart opens up an extra line when the wait gets too long. But on election day 2012, voters from Ohio to Florida reported waiting for four, five, six, even seven hours to cast a ballot.
One Miami-area voter told me she felt lucky because, even though she had a five hour wait at the poll, the election workers handed out water and allowed voters to use the restrooms. She felt lucky.
Many of this year's long lines were reported during early voting. Imagine what the lines would have been like if everyone had tried to vote Tuesday.
And it's only going to get more crowded. The population will probably get bigger between now and the next election. Among young people alone, the number of eligible voters has grown by 16.8 million people since 2008.
Besides the long lines, other local issues also point to a national election problem. According to the Associated Press:
- Some California polls didn't open on time because the poll workers overslept.
- Some Ohio and Florida counties didn't have enough voting machines. The ones that were available sometimes jammed or malfunctioned.
- At least 19 polling places in Hawaii ran out of ballots.
- Poll workers in Pennsylvania got confusing information about whether they needed to check I.D.'s or not.
Should we accept that elderly people and working people—and people with kids, pets, or any other obligation—should have to stand in line for four hours to exercise their most basic American right? And if we refuse to accept it, how do we fix it?
Election-law specialist Rick Hasen told The Atlantic, "If Florida 2000 was not enough of a wake-up call, it is hard to imagine how much worse things would have to get before they get better." Hasan suggests Congress should pass a "Voters' Rights Act." The law would give voters a mail-in option and provide early-voting hours for the ten days leading up to the election. Only 35 states offer early voting, which right now is not mandated by federal law.
Hasan also suggested President Obama appoint a commission to reform federal election law. The panel could investigate unfair voter ID laws, random purge lists, and limits on voting hours.
These reforms are unlikely if voters simply accept the election headaches and move on with their lives. But how long with the lines be in 2016?