Did Florida have enough capacity to deal with the crush of voters who showed up on Election Day? In the following posting, I take on this question by performing a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the ratio of turnout on Election Day to the number of voting booths reportedly deployed in the various counties. The short answer is that it looks like the number of voting booths was sufficient for keeping the lines short in Florida. The cause of the lines must lie elsewhere. One very interesting paper helps us to think about this. Presented at the 2010 Electronic Voting Technology Workshop/Workshop on Trustworthy Elections (EVT/WOTE), a paper by Edelstein and Edelstein proposed a rule about the minimum number of voting booths (or electronic machines) that would keep long lines from forming.
Edelstein and Edelstein propose something called the “Queue Stop Rule.” Stated simply, the Queue Stop Rule calculates the number of voters who can be expected to use one voting station in one day without causing lines to form of people waiting for a voting station to open up. The formula is ½ x TD/TV, where TD equals the number of minutes on Election Day allocated to voting and TV is the average number of minutes it takes a voter to cast a ballot. In the case of Florida, with a twelve-hour voting time on Election Day, TD is equal to 720. If it takes an average of 5 minutes to cast a ballot, then no voting booth should handle more than ½ x 720/5 = 72 voters per day. If it takes 3 minutes to cast a ballot, then a voting booth should be expected to handle 120 voters per day; if 7 minutes, then the voting booth could handle 51 voters.
How many voting booths are in Florida’s counties? We can find this answer in the Election Administration and Voting Survey, administered by the EAC after each federal election since 2004. Among the 400+ items in the survey, counties are asked to report how many voting booths — which is the relevant statistic here — they possess. Counties by-and-large failed to report this in 2008, but there was much less missing data in 2010.
But, we do have to deal with missing data. In 2010, one county (Duval) did not report how many voting booths it possessed, and 11 others reported they had precisely zero booths. This takes us down to 55 Florida counties with plausible, non-missing values. In addition, seven counties reported a number of booths that was so much below that of the remaining counties that we have to rule them out as possibly erroneous. (These seven counties reported, on net, one voting booth per 1,434 registered voters, compared to 163 voters per voting booth in the remaining counties with usable answers.)