Published February 13, 2013
Complaints about long lines marred the November election for some. So at the State of the Union, President Obama announced a new bipartisan commission to try and make voting easier.
He cited the case of a Florida voter, 102-year-old Desiline Victor, whom Obama said waited in line for hours.
"They can't wait for five or six or seven hours just to cast their ballot," the president declared. "We are betraying our ideals."
But while Florida was considered the worst state for waiting times, with one study estimating that 200,000 people gave up because of the wait, another study questions if there really was an intractable problem across the nation.
"Over a third of voters in 2012 said they didn't wait at all to vote," said M.I.T. Professor Charles Stewart, III, during a presentation in December, of a Pew-funded study examining waiting lines in last November's election.
"Only about 13 percent of voters said that they waited more than 30 minutes in order to vote. So while there were in fact, cases of really long lines, people waiting until two in the morning, waiting until midnight to vote or to close precincts -- the bulk of the experience of folks was not long lines.," he said. "So really, obscenely long lines were an unusual occurrence in (2012)."
He said that the average wait time in Florida was 45 minutes. Voters in five states reported waiting more than 20 minutes. Six states notched an average of less than five minutes. Los Angeles County voters waited only three-and-a-half minutes, and Vermont voters were the luckiest. They reported only a two-minute wait.
"Large states with large numbers of people in precincts, with long ballots, don't have to wait a long time to vote,' said Stewart. "The states that had long lines in '12, had long lines in '08."
Florida Republican Secretary of State Ken Detzner told Fox News he is working on ways to fix wait times in his state. He wants early voting days increased, and more polling places staffed and opened for longer hours.
"Voting behavior is changing and our laws need to be changed," Detzner told Fox News. "The administration of our laws need to change, and we need to keep up with the pace of the demand of the voting public. Florida is prepared to do that."
He notes that "it doesn't take but one small precinct for a county to have a problem, before the national spotlight is shined on Florida."
Despite that, a new bill called "The Line Act," is being introduced in the Senate by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and California Sen. Barbara Boxer to try and limit wait times. Its goal is to keep wait times under one hour.
"For most Americans, election day ran smoothly," said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law. She notes that "millions of Americans, a real sizable minority of the electorate, experienced unacceptably long lines."
Weiser says the nation could "modernize our voter registration system ... we can upgrade using digital technology and dramatically alleviate the lines, all while actually making our voter registration system much more accurate and bringing as many as 50 million voters into the system."
"There is overwhelming support in the public among Democrats and Republicans alike for basic national standards for voting to minimize long lines -- this is not a partisan issue. All Americans had to wait in line of all political backgrounds."
Detzner said, "Florida has a good election system, we had a good election. There were isolated problems, and we're focusing on that. We're not looking to blame people, we're looking for solutions."
He also said it is an issue that should not be partisan.
"I get the feeling that people are coming together because whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, or no party affiliation, we still all serve our voting constituency and we all need to solve this problem together."