Long lines on Election Day in Florida and elsewhere spurred a call from President Barack Obama Tuesday for a bipartisan commission “to improve the voting experience” and drew new support for federal legislation aimed at cutting wait times. In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama said that five-, six- and seven-hour voting lines – seen in Florida during the Nov. 6 election and detailed in an Orlando Sentinel analysis – “are betraying our ideals.” He said he has asked experts from his and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns to jointly lead the voting commission. Also Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida declared that he is joining fellow Democrat Barbara Boxer of California as lead sponsors of a bill that would establish a goal that “no American voter has to wait longer than an hour to cast a ballot” in a federal election.
Boxer and Nelson cited the Sentinel’s reports published last month revealing that many precincts in Florida had to stay open past midnight for the Nov. 6 general election to accommodate long lines. The Sentinel teamed with an Ohio State University professor to estimate that 200,000 voters likely left in frustration before voting.
“People should not have to stand in line for hours to exercise a basic right, not in a democracy like ours,” Nelson said in a statement.
The bill by Boxer and Nelson seeks to establish new standards for polling places, including the minimum number of election workers and voting machines. States that had major problems in November, including Florida, also would have to develop plans to improve performance.
A Nelson aide said some federal money could be made available to help states, though exact figures were not immediately available.