When 14 states held their presidential primaries last Tuesday on so-called “Super Tuesday,” overall voting went smoothly. There were, however, a number of notable election administration problems that election officials can learn from as we look forward to likely high turnout during the general election this fall. Electionline summarized the serious problems, the most serious and pervasive of which were long lines in California and Texas (emphasis added):
While the counting goes on in elections offices statewide, the Monday-morning quarterbacking continues. Like Texas, while there were issues throughout the state on Election Day, most of the headlines came from the state’s population centers and especially Los Angeles County which is largest voting jurisdiction in the country with 5.5 million registered voters, it was also launching a new voting system and vote centers. . . .
In Fresno and a handful of other counties voting was slowed because of issues with accessing the state’s voter registration database. Some vote centers across Fresno County had connection problems. The issues were reported shortly after 9 a.m. By 11 a.m. all 53 vote centers were up and running as normal, Clerk and Recorder Brandi Orth told the Fresno Bee. . . .
In Dallas County, where the turnout was 23.6 percent most of the issues came from lines at countywide vote centers. Election Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole apologized to voters and said that she and her staff were already working on remedies, including a lot more voter education, for November.
Harris County, which was using countywide polling places for the first time in a presidential primary may have suffered the most visible issues on Tuesday as the hours-long lines to vote and one voter not casting his ballot till Wednesday made national and international headlines. So what happened on Tuesday? First of all, turnout was way higher than expected. 271,354 voters cast ballots on Tuesday which was almost 40,000 more than in 2008. Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman also blamed long lines on a large number of last-minute voters, a long ballot and unpredictability from a new countywide voting system, which let voters go to any polling site rather than just their precinct. . . .
For voters in Travis County, the day got off to a rocky start when several polling sites did not have enough poll workers because some called in the day before or simply failed to show up citing concerns about the coronavirus. Although those staffing issues were quickly sorted out, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir noted that lines persisted throughout the day because voters chose to go to vote centers in grocery stores that had fewer available voting machines than going to one of the megacenters. “Voters are causing these three-hour lines,” DeBeauvoir told The Statesman. “There are so many places where they can walk right in and vote easily, and yet they still create these monster lines at the grocery stores. I don’t know exactly what we are going to do about it,” she added. And although it may have felt like to some voters, the wait times really weren’t 100 hours, which is what a glitch on the county’s website said. The issue on the site was quickly repaired.
Tuesday’s issues highlight two phenomena seen in the past – elections with new elections systems and vote centers (where voters do not vote in a designated precinct but can choose among a number of voting locations) lead to glitches, long lines, and other election administration issues for both officials and voters. As several states, such as Michigan and Nevada, have new systems such as same-day voter registration that are being implemented this year, this perennial problem of issues with new systems could lead to lines, delays, and voter headaches in November.
After deadly tornadoes devastated Tennessee overnight Monday, election officials had to scramble to reassign some polling places and extend polling hours to ensure that people could vote. By all accounts, despite the extensive damage, voting went relatively smoothly and voters still turned out to exercise their important rights.
Also noteworthy on Super Tuesday was a problem that seems to get worse every election: the media calling a winner in a state while voters are still in line to vote. This practice discourages voters and undervalues the votes of those who are still waiting to cast their ballot, often because they are enduring a long line after the official close of the polls.