President Obama in his election night victory speech and again in his inaugural address brought up the lengthy wait some voters experienced when they tried to cast their ballots on Election Day.
Now, he and congressional Democrats are preparing legislation that would impose federal mandates aimed at reducing waiting times. While voters had to wait for hours in a few locations among thousands of voting precincts nationwide, federal legislation is an overreaction to a problem if there is one that could be resolved at the state and local levels.
The extent of the problem is exaggerated by focusing on the most egregious examples, particularly in Florida. Critics most commonly cite Miami-Dade County, where angry voters stood in line an intolerable eight hours. No one should have to wait that long to exercise their constitutional right, but is that a pervasive problem or an exception? Where else did it happen?
An analysis by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology political science professor Charles Stewart III found an average wait nationwide of 14 minutes with Florida topping the list at 45 minutes. The frustrating wait deters many voters.
However, the issue has been politicized; Democrats see the waiting lines as a Republican conspiracy to discourage Democratic voters.
As an indication of the partisan nature of the issue, Professor Stewart broke it down by party affiliation, income and race. Democrats, he found, wait longer than Republicans and minorities longer than whites. Were they in separate lines? Did the Romney Republican standing in line behind the Obama Democrat wait any less?
The problem could be one of demographics. Mr. Stewarts analysis found that in counties with more than 500,000 voters the 18 minute wait was twice as long as that for counties with 50,000 voters. Waiting times can also be affected by the number of voting precincts, which are determined by state and local officials often based on available locations and cost.
New requirements for voter identification and voter unfamiliarity with new voting systems could cause hold ups. Then, too, presidential elections tend to draw more voters than gubernatorial or other off-year elections.
Complicated ballots can create confusion and take time to complete, although that is not always the case as Mr. Stewart reported. Voters in California with the longest ballots in the Western world had one of shortest waits at an average six minutes.
Proposed congressional solutions could require states to allow online voter registration and mandate at least 15 days of early voting.
No one should have to wait seven or eight hours to vote, but the problem has to be kept in perspective. There are solutions that can be undertaken by the states that do not require federal intervention.