Voting Issues in the 2012 Election

By Kim Smiley

Prior to the election on November 6, 2012, some reporters were predicting that the results of the presidential election, which was expected to be nail biter, may not be known for weeks . While this was obviously not the case, there were a few real  hiccups in the voting process.

The voting issues of the 2012 election can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, an intuitive, visual format for performing a root cause analysis.  The first step of the Cause Mapping process is to create an Outline that lays out the basic information of an issue and also lists the impact to the overall organizational goals.  In this example, the general public is considered the “customer” and the voting issues were an impact to the customer service goal since anything that makes it difficult for eligible voters to cast a ballot means the government is not providing adequate customer service to the public.

The next step is to ask “why” questions to understand the different causes that contributed to the problem.  Why were there issues voting?  Part of what made this specific election difficult was the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  Areas in the northeast were still without power.  Temporary polling locations had to be established and the change in the normal process was confusing to voters.  Just providing information to voters was complicated because many homes were still without power or damaged and some residents were displaced.

There was also confusion over changes to voter laws prior to the election.  The most publicized example of this is the voter identification laws passed in Pennsylvania.  A law was passed in Pennsylvania that required all voters to show an official form of photo identification, but the law was challenged in court.  Advocates of the law say that it will prevent voter fraud.  Opponents of the law say that it will prevent eligible voters from being able to cast ballots because not all voters have photo identification, a particular issue for the elderly, poor and minorities.  A judge ruled that the law would not apply to the election because voters didn’t have enough time to acquire their photo identification.  This new law and subsequent ruling confused some poll workers and there have been cases reported where voters were turned away for not having identification when it was not yet required.

There were also very long lines reported at some polling locations.  Some voters in Virginia and Texas waited four hours to vote.  This was caused in part because this was a presidential election and predicted to be very close so there was higher than normal voter turnout.  Long lines tend to happen near the end of the day after the traditional workday ends.  Some polling locations also had problems that slowed the process like broken voting machines or staff that didn’t show up.

Luckily, the voting issues didn’t delay the election results and any voters that were mistakenly turned away because of new laws or unable to vote because of the impacts of Sandy would not have changed the overall result of the election.  But officials could certainly use the lessons learned from the 2012 election to help ensure a smoother process for the next presidential election.