One of my major, if not primary, political motivators is limited government. I’ve worked as a government contractor for years and while I respect the mission and responsibility of many government agencies, I’m often appalled at the inefficiency. I voted on my way to work this morning and the experience was notable enough to warrant a post.
I live north of Colorado Springs in a rural area. My polling location was the activity center of a small church. Polling started at 7 am and not wanting to deal with long lines I showed up at 7:05. I enter the room and there’s a table to my right with 3 longs lines stretching right to left already. (For those looking good Romney signs I can say it was crowded in a completely red county at opening. However, this was my first time voting there so I have no idea how it compares to previous elections. That’s why anecdotal accounts of “the lines are HUGE!” are so meaningless in my opinion.)
I wander to the left, to the end of the lines, but there is no real indication of which line I should be standing in, or if there is even a difference in the lines. This one volunteer, a very energetic gentleman, yelled out “If your last name starts with A you wanna be in this line. *points* If your last name starts with Z you wanna be in this line. *points* If you are in the middle, be in the middle.” Last name starting with ‘K’ I moved to the middle line.
At this point I noticed that everyone had a green slip of paper. Turns out there was a table, buried between lines 1 and 2, that had these green forms on it. I guess that you needed to fill one of these out before getting to the front of the line–no one told me this of course. So I leave my line, fill out a green form at the table, and head back to my line. By this time, it has grown, and is now smashed up against the voting machines, which are aligned all along the left wall. So I’m standing in line about 6 inches from 2 people voting. I was under the impression that the booths were there to provide privacy but oh well…
The line moves very slowly. Then a woman volunteer spoke up. The lines were in fact more specific. Line 1 was A-G, line 2 was H-P, line 3 was Q-Z. There was some shuffling–thankfully I was already in the correct line–but apparently most people had figured this out already, somehow. The woman explained to the first volunteer that he needed to be more specific. He tried to memorize the line breakpoints out loud but clearly didn’t know his alphabet. No, I’m not making this up. There was some good spirited laughter from the room.
As more people were processed, there became a need to have lines behind the voting booths. There was no room for this, as the lines to sign in were smashed up against the booths already. Trying to help, some of the volunteers grabbed some spare tables and set them up on the far side of the room. They handed out pens and invited people to fill our their ballots sitting around a table, wedding reception style. Not surprisingly some people didn’t object, others wanted the privacy of the booths. The people waiting for the booths couldn’t form a line so every time a booth opened up, it was somewhat of a free-for-all as people standing in random locations would converge on the booth. Thankfully everyone was super polite and there were no issues besides the general chaos.
I get near the front of the line. This woman in the line to the left was trying to vote but she already had a mail-in ballot. She was confused that her “but I decided I don’t want to use it” explanation wasn’t enough. She was shuttled off to a special table, as was her daughter behind her who was in the same situation.
The woman in front of me tried to sign in only to be told that she had already voted during early voting. I don’t think she was trying to actually vote twice she just seemed very confused by everything.
Eventually I sign in, get my ballot, and find an empty booth. After voting, I slide my ballot in the privacy cover and go to deposit it in the ballot box near the exit. The box is electronic and must scan the ballot on the way in, pulling it from the privacy cover. The man in front of me was having the hardest time getting the box to accept his ballot. A volunteer was struggling too, giving him instructions such as “hold it near the bottom” and “try an angle like this”. I was laughing to myself until it became my turn and it took me a couple of minutes to get the box to accept my ballot, too.
As I sit here now with my “I VOTED” sticker I can’t help but think there has to be a better way. I know the controversy with voter ID laws. I hear crazy reports that states such as New Jersey are working on plans to allow voting by email–that seems a recipe for disaster. But there has to be a better solution than confused lines and paper registration books and attempts to vote in person and by mail.
I am not sure what the solution is. I do know that I just got one more data point that the government solution is once again the inefficient one.