I voted this morning at Wilson Elementary School on 88th & Orchard. I got in line at 6:40 AM and was about 30th in line. By the time 7:00 rolled around there must have been 150 people in line. I got out of there by 7:15, and the line was even longer than it was at 7:00.
I was 12th in Ward 20, I told the lady my name, and she wrote a "12" next to my name. Then she found the page for the other book guy and waited for him to also write "12" next to my name. God bless the election workers, but this elderly gentleman should have been nowhere near an area where speed would have been an asset. I'm not trying to be mean, but his fingers weren't turning the pages well, and his hand was shaking when writing the "12" next to my name. Notwithstanding the old guy trying to help America vote, but neither of these two did anything to check my address, nor did they hide the book from me. As these two were getting their "12"s straight, I could have easily - easily - taken mental note of other people's last names and gotten back in line to vote. I am sure they wouldn't have recognized me. I also could have come back later when recognization would have been even more remote.
I look at the rest of the volunteers at the polling place and think of how much more organized and efficient it could have been. For example, the line was single file on the school's playground until the doors opened at 7:00. Then a worker came out and said that Ward 20 should use the left door and Ward 19 should use the right. However there was no map available, and lots of people didn't know where they should be. Nobody seemed too concerned about being shuttled from one line to the other or "skipping" somebody else in line, but the dual lines should have been set-up (with a ward map handy) at least 15 to 30 minutes before the polls opened.
Now picture a double door, with lines going into both doors. Do you see this in your mind? Do you now see people trying to EXIT the polling place? I didn't have to picture it in my mind. I did get the honor of squeezing my svelt 300ish pound frame past a lady of equal carraige through a door that she was in no hurry to vacate. And with the speed of the checker-inners, that line wasn't moving really quickly to assist my egress.
I see the aging-but-trying-hard set running the polling place like it is an episode of The Wonder Years set in the early-70s. But this is 2008. Let's work smarter, not harder. The whole set-up is due for a massive overhaul. (Side note; please people, I am not picking on the workers. Don't post comments that I don't want to see the old guy with shaky hands. Don't tell me that seniors have a right to volunteer. I get it. But I think the entire idea of a quaint, small-town, everybody knows each other, "Gee, isn't the right to vote swell?" set up of Election Day should be abandoned at once. I read JSOnline's accounts of long lines at the polling places, and know this can be improved.)
Let's start at the location. Wilson School is nice, but the actual part of the building has a major bottleneck at the doorway. If there isn't a different part of the school that would allow for exiting a different door than entering OR if there isn't a part of the school to allow the lines to be inside the building, then another location is needed. Think big and use the State Fair Park Expo Center. Certainly the room is available for many, many wards from all over West Allis and even Milwaukee, and there wouldn't be problems both entering and exiting. And nobody can complain about a lack of parking.
Next are the workers. Maybe seniors can be used like a Wal-Mart greeter, but what kind of workers get excited about American civics and can also be motivated in non-financial ways? That's right, high schoolers that can get a day off of school, earn a higher letter grade and also extra curricular credit on college applications. Lots of high school students - pumped full of Mountain Dew and Rock Star Energy Drink - will have the energy to work at a high pace all day long. When a voter comes to his place in line, the voting log (hidden by the counter that would be there) would be out of site and the voter should have to state his name and address to get a ballot.
Now, about segregating the wards (or even the cities). Think of the type of business that might have many people looking for something. How do grocery stores do it? Right. Big ol' signs suspended from the ceiling or on a pole. At Sentry, when you know exactly what you want (bread, peanut butter and milk), a quick look at the aisle listings get you to the areas you need to be. And at checkout time, that "Express Lane" is pretty easy to find, isn't it? Apply that logic to the polling place, and nobody should be confused about where to go to check-in.
Then we get to the on-site registration. The fact that Wisconsin allows it is a joke, but the way it is administered is even worse. At my site this morning, new registrants went to the front of the line. I understand that the process takes longer, but even if you register them right away, then they should go to the back of the line. However, in a larger venue with a clearly distinguished location for new registrants to apply, not only would they be "cutting" in front of people, but upon completion of the process the line in that person's ward would be quite short.
Vote fraud is a constant concern, and one of the objections is that there aren't enough officials to be stationed at all of the polling places. But having many wards in one large venue would not spread election officials out too thin.
Another problem that we hear about on days with large voter turnout is in hardware... the lack of booths themselves, runing out of ballots, ballot reading machine fails, etc.. Having one large venue would certainly require numerous machines, so if one or two breakdown there would be many others on the same site so that the outage would be barely noticable. And when it comes to reporting the precincts at the end of the day, one location reporting would allow for one large block of returns instead of having them trickle in.
Now, if the large venue couldn't be "donated" for the couple days, how could we pay for this? Concessions! Most polling places in schools already have bake sales so people are trained to buy brownies upon the completion of voting. If the Expo Center won't allow their equipment to be used, you can still set up stands in many locations within the Expo Center for food, drinks, merchandise (what die-hard lefty wouldn't want to buy a donkey-logoed baseball cap?)
I realize that some of my ideas would need some fine tuning, and may not work in other parts of the city (I am thinking that the main concourse of Miller Park could be used, as could the east and west atrium of the Bradley Center, large hotel ballrooms, etc). But overhauling the entire Election Day Experience is an idea whose time has come.
And I have two teenagers who will be
told to happy to volunteer.