There were numerous reports of multihour long lines in the November 2012 Presidential Election in many states across the country. This problem was mentioned by President Obama in his acceptance speech. Long lines disenfranchise people who cannot wait and have to leave, for example, because of health issues, because they need to get to a job, because they have child care responsibilities. These are often poor people who don’t have a lot of control over their lives. Efficient elections are fundamental to democracy and not just “nice to have.” Lines form when there are too many people for the available voting means. The question is how to quantify this phenomenon and get the right amount of equipment for the expected number of voters, including the possibility that there may be uneven voter arrivals and surges that put even more pressure on the voting system.
We have studied this problem using statistical “queuing” computer simulations of elections and have developed a heuristic “Queue Stop Rule” to define the maximum number of voters served by each stage of the voting process and thereby avoid long lines. The details of our calculations are contained in our paper here and a video presentation explaining our analysis is here.
Queue Stop Rule: Divide the number of minutes in the voting day by the time for each process, and then multiply by 1/2, to get the maximum number of voters per voting station to eliminate long lines in an entire state.