The Tyranny of Voting Queues
Picture a line of frustrated and footsore citizens stretching around a city block on a cold autumn evening. Some people see that line and head home, realizing they can’t afford to wait hours just for a chance to vote and let the government hear their voice.
This is not a scene from some former Soviet dictatorship, but a look forward at the upcoming United States Presidential election. The choice that America makes this coming November is an important one, yet some of the citizens making it will spend hours waiting their turn to vote.
The average wait time in Florida was 90 minutes in 2012, scaring more than 201,000 Florida voters away from the polls. Florida is a crucial swing-state – far less than 201,000 Floridian voters determined the direction of the nation in the 2000 Presidential election.
The difference that hundreds of thousands of voters make in any state could be profound, but that’s how many people stayed home in the last national election due to long lines. This state of affairs is unjust and undemocratic, but more than that, it’s embarrassing to have citizens of the most technologically advanced nation on earth waste hours just to exercise their constitutional rights.
So what is the solution to this seemingly intractable problem? It may actually be a technological fix, not a structural one. Online voting may be decades away, if it ever comes to pass, but there’s a solution out there that is already helping people avoid standing in lines. Don’t believe me? Just go to Disneyland, where tens of thousands of people a day get to enjoy the attractions until it’s their time to ride Pirates of the Caribbean. 20 years ago all of those people would have spent hours in lines (like voters today) getting more and more frustrated with every wasted minute.
Why am I so passionate about this? Because I founded QLess to help eliminate lines in a number of industries, from retail stores to ports to state DMVs to community colleges, and I’ve seen what happens when physical lines are eliminated. People get better service while the number of “renegers” – people who leave before making a transaction – plummets. It really works, and there’s no reason why elections can’t take a similar approach.
It’s rare that a complex issue can be solved quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively, but the folks at Disney might be onto something. After all, if a theme park could fix its biggest problem, why can’t the Federal Election Commission? Especially when there’s a lot more at stake than getting “It’s a Small World” stuck in your head for a week.