WASHINGTON -- Nearly half of Americans live in precincts where long lines at the voting booth were a problem in the 2012 election cycle, according to a survey conducted by President Barack Obama's Presidential Commission on Election Administration.
The survey of over 3,000 local elections officials also found that on average, poll workers received far less training than the eight hours most elections experts recommend. First-time workers in smaller jurisdictions received an average of just 2.5 hours of training, while workers in larger jurisdictions received an average of 3.6 hours of training, according to the survey.
"It looks like there's not a whole lot of training going on, and my question is, what is the quality of that training?" said Charles Stewart, a professor at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology who presented the results of the survey during the commission's final public hearing on Tuesday.
The survey received responses from 41 percent of local election officials contacted, with the make-up of the respondents skewing slightly toward southern states. It found that larger jurisdictions were much more likely than smaller jurisdictions to have problems with long lines. While 84.2 percent of workers in smaller jurisdictions said there were no long lines on Election Day 2012, just 27 percent of those in larger jurisdictions said the same thing.
"Long lines keep cropping up where there are a lot of people, and for the larger jurisdictions this is clearly an issue," Stewart said.
It went unsaid during the meeting, but larger precincts are of course typically located in urban areas, where voters generally skew Democratic.
Some of the other concerns elections officials mentioned were the availability of poll workers, lack of voter education, lack of funding and resources and postal service issues, according to the survey.
Obama announced the formation of the bipartisan commission, chaired by former Obama campaign general counsel Bob Bauer and top Romney campaign lawyer Ben Ginsberg, during his State of the Union address in February. It was originally supposed to issue a report in December, within six months of its first meeting, but the White House granted it an extension until January due to this fall's government shutdown. The commission will dissolve next month following the publication of the report, which will contain recommendations to improve voting in the U.S.
Stewart said that the logistics of conducting the survey -- accounting for jurisdictions where separate officials handle election administration and voter registration, for example -- demonstrate how difficult it will be to enact the commission's recommendations.
"I think the analogy of herding cats only begins to get to the issue of how to turn some recommendations into concrete actions going ahead," Stewart said.