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Making long lines at the polls a distant memory

The Virginian-Pilot

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

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Keeping lines shorter during presidential election years might be as simple as alerting voters that early morning hours are typically like a traffic jam. If people can vote later on Election Day, they’re likely to get through the polls more quickly.

That’s one of the insights the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based nonprofit think tank, and the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project discovered during last year’s presidential elections.

Folks from the 10-year-old think tank met in Richmond last week with state election officials to discuss preliminary findings on wait times in 2016. More people vote at the start of the day, they found, and there’s little evidence of a surge late in the day. 

The groups studied more than 80 jurisdictions nationwide, including 17 in Virginia. Hampton Roads localities that participated were Chesapeake, Williamsburg and Isle of Wight and York counties. Other states that took part included North Carolina, Texas and California.

The big value was the data collected at voting precincts, Donald Palmer told me. He is a policy center fellow and former secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections. Researchers looked to find how many people were in line, how many poll books were used, the number of voting stations and other details.

I learned about the study from an op-ed Palmer and a colleague wrote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Collecting the data, the bipartisan center said, will help diagnose causes of lengthy queues and help election officials deploy resources better.