Minutes after he was re-elected in November, President Obama vowed to fix the long lines that many voters faced at the polls. He mentioned the problem again in his inaugural address. And now, the president is expected to raise it once more in the State of the Union address on Tuesday — this time with some possible solutions. When Obama made his initial vow after midnight on election night, some Miami polling places had just closed — after voters stood in line for six, seven, even eight hours to cast ballots. There were similar waits at other polling sites in Florida and elsewhere. “For me, who voted in the state of Maryland, I was in line for seven hours,” says Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project, a leading voting-rights group. Today, not all Americans have equal access to the polls, she says. “We have 13,000 election jurisdictions that run elections 13,000 different ways,” she says. “That is what we have to fix.”
So her group and others hope the president, in his State of the Union address, will push for some national election standards — things such as a minimum number of early-voting days and rules on how to count ballots.
The White House and the Justice Department have been studying the options, which also include improving voter registration systems.
Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center in New York, which has been working on the issue, says 1 in 8 registration records is inaccurate.
“Registration doesn’t follow people when they move, even though a lot of people think it does,” he says. “And the result of that is people show up to the polls and poll workers can’t find their names in the poll books.”
That can lead to confusion and delay. Norden notes that by one estimate, 200,000 Florida voters, discouraged by long lines, didn’t vote last November.
“Obviously, in close elections that can have a real impact,” he says.
But some proposed solutions are already facing strong Republican opposition. Legislation introduced by House and Senate Democrats last month would require states to provide at least 15 days of early voting, to register some voters automatically, and to allow voters to register on Election Day.