Things will go wrong on Election Day: voting machines malfunction, polling places lose power or flood, voting equipment is inadequate to handle the volume of voters, or a state’s voter registration database becomes inaccessible, rendering it difficult to check-in voters, among many other potential issues. No matter the cause, each potential issue risks tilting a polling place or an entire jurisdiction into crisis that results in longer lines to vote. In order to effectively address problems on Election Day, administrators must be able to receive communications from the field about issues affecting voting, assign remedies, and track their resolution.
On Election Day 2012, in a handful of jurisdictions, things went very wrong. During his victory speech in 2012, President Obama noted the millions of American voters who were forced to wait to vote for extended periods of time. “We have to fix that,” he said. Those five words led to the creation, in 2013, of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA).
The PCEA’s mission was to identify best practices in election administration and to make recommendations to improve the voting experience. Commission co-chairs Robert F. Bauer and Benjamin L. Ginsberg, formerly the general counsels for competing presidential campaigns, brought bipartisan leadership to the commission, which was also comprised of distinguished election administrators and representatives of successful customer service-oriented businesses.
In January 2014, after six months of public hearings and consultations with state and local election officials, academic experts, and organizations involved in various aspects of election administration, the PCEA presented its findings in a report to President Obama and Vice President Biden.
One of the main focuses of the report was reducing lines at polling places on Election Day. On this, the PCEA found that, as a general rule, no voter should have to wait more than half an hour to vote. The commission believed that this 30-minute standard was achievable if election administrators planned and allocated resources appropriately. It also recognized, however, that even with extensive preparation, there will be processes that break down during voting and lead to lines at polling places.