Election officials around the country are nervously planning how to avoid long lines at the polls this year, after voters waited for hours at some Wisconsin sites earlier this week. That came after voters in Maricopa County, Ariz., had to wait up to five hours last month, in part because the county cut back on the number of polling sites. Those delays led to raucous protests at the state capital and a voting rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. This year’s unusually large voter turnout in the primaries has caught a lot of people by surprise, according to Tammy Patrick of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. “I think most election administrators worry about this, and are staying awake at night thinking about it,” she said.
Patrick is a former Maricopa County election official, who also served on a presidential commission appointed after the 2012 elections to try to eliminate long lines at the polls. She’s now working with election officials across the country to help them do that, and says one challenge is that voting can be unpredictable.
“You’re never sure what you need to plan for. So what you need to plan for is to be able to turn on a dime, and try and mitigate any issues that can arise,” Patrick said.
In Arizona, the surprise was that thousands of voters showed up at the polls who weren’t registered with a particular party and were therefore ineligible to participate. They were offered provisional ballots instead, which take a lot longer to cast, and slowed down the lines.