Cnadian asks: What is wrong with the US voting system?

Please understand this is not a dump on America. I admire the US as an advanced and innovative country. What I can’t understand is people having to wait 3 hours to vote.

In 40 years of voting in Canada, I have never had to wait more than 5-10 minutes and that was during the 5-6 p.m. rush of people voting on their way home from work.

In Canada, there is a single national organization, Elections Canada, that runs national elections and referenda. You tick off your desire to be on the permanent voter’s list on your income tax form, and they take care of the rest. A few weeks before the election you get a card in the mail stating the people at your address who are on the list. If a person is missed, the card and TV, radio and newspaper ads tell you how to get on in time for the election.

What the heck is wrong in the US? Are there not enough polling places? Do the states not hire enough poll workers to reduce waiting times? Making people wait three hours is an outrage. Has anyone ever figured out how many people get pissed off and leave the line?

Ongoing thread on topic in GD: Local v. Federal Voter Regulation/Management

Stories of people waiting in long lines to vote are unusual, that’s what makes them newsworthy. I’ve been voting for twenty-five years and never had to wait more than five minutes.

I think you may have a misperception of American elections due to the news coverage. The vast majority of voters have no delays in voting. I have never had a delay personally.

I’ve had to wait a bit right when a huge bunch of people go in, at the peak times of the day.

In my American voting experience, I’ve never had to wait more than 5-10 minutes to vote either, usually a couple minutes or less. Long lines of the duration you mention are a marked rarity.

There is also greater early voting now. In some states like Florida, close to a third or more of registered voters have already cast ballots for the current election.

I think you are inaccurately generalizing from a few highly publicized but unrepresentative examples of voting delays.

I am proud of myself for answering factually without snarky references to Canada’s population and the relative excitement factor attending elections in the two countries.

My understanding is that people vote on all sorts of local, regional, and state-wide things at the same time and on the same ballot as their federal votes. These other choices vary by state and county and maybe even city. Since the elections are run from the local level, ballots change every time you hit the next county.

Separating local, state, and federal voting would go a long way towards making things a lot easier, I suspect.

Actually, some of the improvements lately will definitely improve the voting speed, once people get used to them.

Here in Connecticut, we always had lever machines to vote. These are huge refrigerator-sized metal booths. It’s a big capital investment to buy more, and generally you would only have one or two to a polling place. This is the backlog when there are delays… if people start taking longer to vote than the interval in which they show up, there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no easy way to adapt, since you probably don’t have any more lever machines, and you need serious trucks even to move them around. If a machine breaks down, which is not that rare since they date to the 60’s or something, it gets very bad.

But recently they switched to paper ballots where you fill in circles, then you them in a centralized electronic reader. To actually fill out your ballot, all you need is a cheap little folding desk with a privacy shield. We had four of these desks at the last election, the first with the new system. So that doubles the throughput, if the voting takes the same amount of time. And adding additional desks for a high turnout election would be a minor problem since they’re cheap and easy to setup.

Why? You’d need three times as many pollings, then, wouldn’t you?

So, three days for polling places to be open. Three times as many days when the machines had to be up and running. (Though, after this election that should be less of a challenge, locally.) Three times as much commitment from election workers…

And no savings that I can see for printing costs, and maybe even losses there.

“What the hell does a jellyfish care about US elections?” Oh, Canada.

US has a rich history of one group trying to disenfranchise another, whether it be sharecroppers, tenant farmers, freemen, carpetbaggers, blacks, women, immigrants, et al. It makes the whole registration system rather arcane due to accreted layers of built-in exploits and armoring against manipulation.

The final e-voting specification will probably contain a variety of provisions for dealing with the shortcomings of the Diebold machines, for example. In all probability, these provisions will make existing secure voting systems less secure or at least more difficult to implement.

The “early voting” that you see only occurs in limited locations. On the real, constitutional election day, there will be vastly greater amounts of poll locations available, and hence only special, isolated incidents of people having to wait hours.

I’m not sure what the advantage of early voting is for people that have to wait hours and hours when they could just show up on the real election day and vote in a couple of minutes, or get an absentee ballot and vote at their leisure.

Not everybody can get an absentee ballot for the asking, and I would surmise that people think there will be worse lines on the 4th.

Maybe it is just my perception from what I see on CNN since I have never voted in a US election. If so, I sit corrected.:slight_smile: If the majority of Americans can vote easil and quickly, wonderful!

It is just that two commentators yesterday on CNN were discussing voting and one said they had waited 3.5 hours. The other said she was off to vote “no matter how long it takes”.

Then today, I saw a young woman on CNN who said she had gotten tired of waiting yesterday, had come back today, and had now been waiting for a couple of hours. If that is the exception and not the rule, so much the better for our good neigbour the USA.

But that said, would someone explain to me how the registration system works? Is it a hassle as some have alleged? Does it discourage people from voting? Would a national elections organization and a permanent voters list maintained through income tax returns, like Canada, make more sense and work better than 50 systems in 50 states? Or is your present registration system not really a problem?

I think this is just a result of underestimating the demand for early voting. Only a few states have early voting, and it’s limited to a select number of places. Most polling occurs in schools, town halls and other public places, and it would be unreasonable to interrupt their business for more than one day. On Tuesday, all the polling places will be open and especially long waits will be uncommon.

Oregon switched to all mail voting years ago. Maybe they have the right idea.

I seriously doubt it. It’s hardly onerous. You fill out a form, send it in ahead of time and you’re registered. If you live in a state with closed primaries, you pick a party if you want. You only have to register once (and again if you move to a new district.) In most states, you don’t even need ID to go to the poll. In New York, for example, you just state your name, they check the list, and you sign the book. They then check that your signature looks like the one on your registration. Takes ten seconds.

Problem is every state runs their own elections. They all have different rules about primaries and caucuses, party registration, districting, voter eligibility, etc. It would also take a Constitutional amendment to give that power to the federal government, and that’s assuming they even wanted to deal with it, which they don’t.

In NYS, in response to the Motor Voter Act, one can register to vote at the same time that one gets one’s Driver’s License or State ID. Updating one’s registered address little more difficult.

Of course some of the problem comes when we’re talking about people who don’t drive and are reluctant or unable to afford the fees for the State ID. And, while it’s easy to tick off the box on the license renewal form, it’s not in huge bold print, either. So if someone isn’t looking for it, one might miss it.

I don’t know that registration has ever been a hassle. I had registered to vote in two different states (sequentially, not concurrently) before the Motor Voter Act passed, and never found it particularly onerous. Of course I was solidly middle-class at that point, and had easy access to my birth certificate, and SS card. And this was in the days when ID theft wasn’t even a term. I don’t know how hard or easy it might be, now with the various requirements for more scrutiny that have been growing up in response to the various illegal alien witch hunts.

Voted in New York (both the city and upstate) many times. Now I’m in Oregon. I LOOOOVVE the mail-in ballot. Freaking fantastic. So much easier, and I actually feel like it makes it easier for me to research the issues. I was able to go through and check off the races/ballot measures I already knew about, and then still had several days to sit down with the ballot and figure out what I wanted to do for the more obscure races or hard-to-parse measures.

And the distribution of the voting machines. If you have to wait at all, it’s because the machines are all in use, and some people–for whatever reason–need a lot of time in the booth. (In my experience, the volunteers are usually not all that busy, even though they are sometimes a little slow at finding a name on an alphabetical list.) The high volume of early voting in places like Florida is a result of long lines in previous elections on election day. This time, there probably will be fewer problems, even where the proportion of machines to voters is low.

They didn’t send you information or a sample ballot in advance on all the races and candidates? Or couldn’t you find it in the media? Before, when I went to the polling place, I had checked all the votes on a sample ballot long before going in. It took less than a couple of minutes in the booth, because there was no need to look at the actual ballot.

I have not been sent a sample ballot for this year. They are available to see online, if I want, and I have looked at mine. But while that’s fine for those of us with internet access, it’s not much use for people who don’t have it. I don’t believe that such is required for the local Board of Elections to put up online, either.

As for media information, it’s mostly about the strongly contested race this year. Not about things like the ballot initiative, nor the other races. Again, using the Web and some Google-fu one can get a some information about the candidates and issues, but that’s hampered because the local paper doesn’t believe in free online archives.
BTW, Toadspittle, in my experience it only took being disenfranchised by lack of mail delivery once to get really excited about voting in a polling place. It’s completely an emotional response on my part. Not the Postal Snail’s fault - it was the uniformed helpers in the then new unified military mail service that kept me from getting my ballot until three weeks after the election.

I think people are underestimauing the voter registration hassle. A bunch of service people stationed overseas were taken off the roles because inquiries sent to their stateside homes were returned. People who have defaulted on their mortgages were taken off the roles even though they hadn’t yet been evicted. Students who gave their dorm as their address were also sent postcards that if they didn’t return resulted in their registration being revoked. In Florida people with similar names to felons (but different birth dates) were removed from the roles.