On Monday, the first day of early in-person voting in Georgia, a state where polls show competitive presidential and U.S. Senate races, people had to wait for as long as 10 hours in seemingly endless lines. Vast numbers of voters stuck it out in an inspiring display of determination, but others understandably gave up, we hope to return another time. Hopes that this would be a one-day phenomenon were dashed when wait times again stretched for hours on Tuesday. Meanwhile, some Texas voters faced three-hour waits Tuesday, the first day of early voting in that state. Also on Tuesday, Virginia’s voter-registration system collapsed on the last day to register.
There is good news behind the bad: massive interest and turnout. Georgia’s secretary of state reported that a record 128,590 people voted early on Monday. This is a positive sign for democracy — but voters should not be punished for their enthusiasm.
Technical glitches played a part in the delays, and social distancing requirements meant fewer voting machines could be fit into polling locations. But these factors were predictable. The states should have been better prepared. There is no excuse — none — for hours-long waits at the polls. Georgia in particular should have been ready after it struggled through a similarly disastrous primary election in June.
While celebrating high voter interest, Georgia’s deputy secretary of state, who is responsible for administering elections, pointed out that her office had asked the legislature to expand the number of polling locations. Obviously, the legislature should have listened. And Republicans in Congress should not have blocked additional aid to states for running elections during a pandemic.
Yet, even now, it is not too late for states to devote more resources and change procedures in order to reduce the burden on staff and voters. Additional polling sites can be set up. More poll workers can be recruited. Existing polling locations can be expanded. More ballot drop boxes can be established, so people who distrust the U.S. Postal Service have more ways of casting their ballots — except, of course, in localities where Republican officials continue to try to suppress the vote. A prime example is Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) just restricted counties to a single drop-off location each. States that have not already done so should change their rules to allow election officials to process mail-in ballots before Election Day to avoid a crush of paper as officials try to tally votes.
Along with a redoubled effort to make voting easier, states must intensify efforts to educate voters on how they can cast ballots. At this point, we can only hope the spectacle of 10-hour lines has not discouraged too many voters from even trying to turn out.