Technology Reduces Long Voting Lines

When the Arlington County Board of Elections purchased electronic poll books for the 2008 presidential election, the goal was shorter wait times and fewer voter complaints.

What they didn’t expect was the elimination of the after-work rush of voters they usually encounter.

But that is exactly what happened on Election Day 2008. Unlike past elections, when the two busiest voting times were just before the morning rush hour and during the early afternoon, this year the afternoon volume virtually disappeared.

That was due, in part, to improvements in the county’s voter registration technology.

Before 2008, voters in Arlington County would stand in line according to last name, waiting while poll workers flipped through paper ballot books. Now the county is using electronic poll books for voting check in.

For example, Fire Station No. 10 had four poll books, six electronic voting booths and five paper ballot stations. Aaron Webb, the voting precinct’s chief, credits the county’s decision to allow early voting for helping to eliminate voter volume at peak times.

“We’ve been processing voters faster. We’ve been able to redirect voters in the wrong precinct to where they need to go quicker,” Webb said. “The A-G, H-Z lines created stress. Voters in the longer line often felt targeted just because their last name started with a certain letter.”

While general registrar Linda Lindberg said the county first tested the electronic poll books during the congressional primary in June, many of Webb’s fellow workers hadn’t had a lot of experience working with the machines.

“Three-fourths of our poll workers are new, but despite that we haven’t any problems using the new poll books. I got the chance to pioneer a prototype technology three years ago with a minor election, and it worked wonders, so I’m a big fan of the new technology. This is a new way to revolutionize voting and make people’s lives easier,” Webb said.

Arlington resident Julia Smith, 24, voted for the first time in person in a major election on Tuesday. “Being a military brat, I’ve done absentee ballots in the past. It felt nice that my first time voting in person took no time at all. I didn’t wait in a line; the whole process took maybe five minutes,” she said.

Although many Arlington residents chose to take advantage of early voting, Smith had another reason for showing up to the polls on Election Day. “I’ve been volunteering for the (Barack) Obama for two years and I wanted the special feeling of actually going to the polls on Nov. 4 and standing in the booth to vote for him,” she said.