Friday, January 4, 2013

Bringing Facts to the Polling Place Line Discussion

Last month, I wrote about the national outcry about lines at polling places.  I don’t think there’s a Republican officeholder in America that doesn’t agree that long waits to vote are unacceptable.  However, as a party, we’d like to get our facts straight before we plunge headlong into bad policy proposals.

Judging by a few news stories and columnists, you’d think that most of America spent hours in line on election day.  But as I noted last month, we had little actual data about lines.

To his credit, Charles Stewart III, Professor of Political Science at MIT, is stepping in to answer the question.  Last month at electionline, he previewed the report he’s going to issue next February.  What he discovered, from his scientific survey of over 10,000 voters from this last election is that the average wait time for this election was actually less than the average wait in the 2008 election.

This shouldn’t really surprise.  The hope in any election should be that it runs better in successive years.  His survey tells us that on the whole, election administrators are doing a better job of moving voters through the voting process faster.

Of course, there are problems out there.  The pictures of long lines and interviews with voters who waited over two hours are real.  But in no way is that the norm, and treating it as such is dishonest and a disservice to voters.

So why all the hue and cry over lines this election if the situation is improving?  There are two possibilities, both of which can be true.  The first may be that there indeed were more excessively long lines.  We don’t know that, and my gut tells me not.  But it’s certainly a possibility that there were more outliers in the process this year than in 2008.

But the more likely case is that the large group of election “reformers” see those pictures as their angle to radically change elections in this country.  “Never let a crisis go to waste” comes to mind with a new corollary, “Create a crisis where none exists!”

With limited resources in our country, the first order of business in looking for ways to improve our election process ought to be an honest assessment of problems.  Kudos to Prof. Stewart for leading the way in that effort and a pox on the legions of Democratic elected officials who jumped the gun in proposing misguided and ill-informed “solutions”.

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