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Obama compromises on 2012 promised fixes to voting system

Tweets about illegal voting and hacked voting machines may grab headlines, but the average voter is arguably more disrupted by a breakdown in the boring mechanics of running the polls.

After long lines marred the 2012 election, President Barack Obama reassured voters that it would get better during his acceptance speech:

“I want to thank every American who participated in this election. Whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time — by the way, we have to fix that. … You made your voice heard, and you made a difference,” he said.

Obama created the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in 2013 by executive order, giving it the job of suggesting ways to make sure “voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots without undue delay.”

The commission delivered a report chock-full of practical ideas, such as smoothing out the voter checklist task and using early voting to take the pressure off polls on Election Day. It provided local officials a waiting time simulator so they could figure out where to deploy limited resources.

How well did it work?

On average, fairly well.

Charles Stewart, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, oversees one of the best tools around for measuring how well elections run, the Survey of the Performance of American Elections.

“Looking at state-by-state comparisons, average lines were down significantly in 2016 compared to both 2012 and 2008,” Stewart said.

The president’s commission uses a 30-minute wait as a benchmark. By that standard, the fraction of people who had to put up with that or worse fell by about a third between 2012 and 2016. This table comes from a presentation Stewart gave in December.

The states that had the most improvement were Florida, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Michigan, Louisiana and the District of Columbia. These were the same states with the longest average wait times in 2012.

Stewart said the commission’s guidance helped, but at the end of the day, the real credit goes to the state and local officials who actually run elections. And he cautions against declaring victory too early.

“It’s still the case that a significant number of voters in these states are still waiting longer than the 30 minutes set by the Presidential Commission on Elections Administration,” Stewart said. “The battle is not over, but the battle is going very well.”

Stewart also noted that African-American voters have longer waits than white voters. While that disparity fell since 2012, it still remains. The average African-American voter waited 16 minutes compared to 10 minutes for the average white voter

The country has made progress, but the problem Obama outlined isn’t fixed.

We rate this 2012 Obama campaign promise as a Compromise.

For the full promise see:

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