Long lines at early voting sites in Florida? A possible unintended consequence of voting equipment switch

The move from touch screen voting technology to printing paper ballots on demand could potentially lead to long lines of voters at early voting sites in Florida, according to a recent report researched and written by Conny McCormack, an elections consultant to the Pew Charitable Trusts and JEHT Foundation’s Make Voting Work initiative.

McCormack, who from 1995 until her retirement at the end of 2007 served as the chief elections official for Los Angeles County, CA, the largest election jurisdiction in the country with over four million registered voters, visited two large Florida counties, Hillsborough and Miami-Dade, during the early voting period in conjunction with their August 2008 statewide primary election.  Her objective was to observe how the transition from direct record electronic (DRE) touch screen voting technology to the newly instituted optical scan “ballot on demand” paper ballot printing technology would impact the early voting environment.

Ballot on demand, according to McCormack, is a complex system requiring several additional steps for voters to interact with both the equipment and the election clerks.   McCormack made direct comparisons to the voter processing time needed when utilizing a ballot on demand system to generate each voter’s ballot compared with the previous system.  She found that the new ballot printing system requires as much as 10 times longer to print the correct ballot for the voter than when processing voters using touch screen voting technology.

McCormack writes about the potential impact to the November 2008 election in Florida:

“The additional time needed to print up to four op scan ballots, coupled with the expectation that the volume of early voters will increase sevenfold or more compared with the August primary election, is a cause for concern that voters may encounter long waiting lines as a result of the equipment change.”

The full report is available at http://earlyvoting.net. McCormack can be reached at connymccormack@gmail.com