Last month, more than 120 million Americans participated in the orderly and peaceful selection of the country’s leaders. But, as the thousands who had to wait in freezing, hours-long lines can attest, the process wasn’t as orderly and peaceful as it should be.
Voters at polling places across northern Virginia were among those who suffered. In Fairfax County, Va., the last voter to cast a ballot did so at 10:30 p.m. on Election Day — 3½ hours after the polls were meant to close. The chairman of the Board of Supervisors in Prince William County, Va., said that he had to wait two hours to vote. Others found their names missing from voting rolls, maybe because they forgot to update their registrations after moving.
Richard H. Pildes, a senior legal adviser to the Obama campaign, has identified some of the biggest sources of Election Day misery, particularly in Virginia. Local control over election procedures leads to too little money spent on voting machines. Poorly trained poll workers get confused by constantly changing laws and procedures. Voter registration and record-keeping are getting more high-tech, but there are still many kinks. Many states lack policies that could take some of the pressure off, such as early voting.
One response is for Congress to mandate policies such as online voter registration, early voting and minimum numbers of machines and staff at every polling place, as a bill from U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., would do. That should begin a bigger debate about setting more stringent national standards for national elections.
They can also try more ambitious reforms, such as universal registration and online voting. They should be doing all that without congressional interference, but many have not. A strong, careful federal push could help.