Managing Long Lines

May 2014

Managing Long Lines, Tips and Best Practices

A long line at your Polling Place shows that citizens want to participate in our great democratic republic – greeting your voters with a smile will make the experience even better.

Voters are often a patient bunch, typically willing to tolerate a bit of a wait to exercise their most important patriotic duty.  However, even the most agreeable of voters might become a bit unhappy if required to wait in a long line on Election Day.  We can’t do much to lower the temperatures on a hot day, but there are a lot of simple things you can do to speed things along, relieve tensions and promote harmony.

The Registrar of Voters has studied how other organizations manage long lines and has incorporated some of their best practices into our training.  For example, everyone who has been to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm or other theme parks in Orange County has probably endured long lines before getting on the best rides.  Another example that many of us have tolerated are the security lines at John Wayne International Airport.  Thank goodness for the opening of the new Terminal C, which has helped to alleviate the problem!  But at the busy times of day for each of these businesses, long lines can persist.

Whether it is a theme park or the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), these folks are proactive in managing their lines.  After all, they want their customers to be happy and return again and again.  How do they do it?  First, they have an employee walk the line and greet the customers in a friendly manner.  Sometimes, admittedly, the TSA is not as friendly as we would like.  But it is amazing how far a smile and a personal greeting will go in improving a customer’s attitude.

At our Polling Places, we have an advantage over these businesses.  After all, we are the voter’s friends and neighbors!  Voters recognize that Poll Workers are volunteers.  Let’s use that to our advantage!

Secondly, business employees will give those in line an estimate of how long they will be waiting in line for the ride or the security checkpoint.  Although someone flying that day will have no choice at that point but to wait in the line, someone waiting for a ride with an hour wait time may decide to do something else in the park and then return to the ride when the lines may be shorter.

  For voters, most will undoubtedly choose to just wait in the line until they can vote.  However, some voters that live nearby may choose to leave and return during our traditionally slow periods of the day.   The period when we see the shortest lines, or non-existent lines, occur during mid-morning and mid-afternoon in our typical Polling Place.  Both logic and our experience tell us that the busiest periods at the Polls are in the early morning, the lunch hour, and after normal work hours until closing at 8pm.  So informing the voters in line of this information may be helpful to them in making their decision.  And just hearing about the choices will increase their tolerance of the wait.

Third, park employees help those in lines by reminding them of the requirements for the security check or the ride.  Just imagine someone’s anger from waiting in line for over an hour for a ride only to find out that they cannot enjoy the ride because of age, height, or some other requirement.  Better to know right away.  Or for the TSA, workers remind passengers of the most current security requirements.  Since these seem to change practically every time we fly, it is helpful to know how laptops, liquids, jackets and other items are currently handled.  By knowing well ahead of time, passengers can be fully prepared to go through the luggage inspection and personal scanning in the least amount of time.

In addition to a Poll Worker flashing a smile, greeting the voters and estimating the time to vote, we can do several other things to make the process go more quickly.

1.      Voters in line who have forgotten to mail in their Vote-by-Mail ballot may show up at the polls to drop off their ballot.  There is no need for them to wait in the line.  Simply have them follow you to the ballot box, and after inspecting the envelope to ensure that it is for Orange County is and correctly signed and addressed, you can have the voter watch you place it in the ballot box.  Give them their “I Voted!” sticker, thank them for voting, and they can be on their way.


2.      Using the Voter Directional List, Poll Workers can verify with voters that they are in the right Polling Place.  Occasionally the boundary lines for precincts may change, or for other reasons, voters may not be in their assigned Polling Place.   We give these voters the choice of going to their Polling Place, or staying and voting provisionally.  Many voters may choose the former because ballot choices may be different in their assigned Polling Place. 


3.      Another tip is to identify provisional voters while they are still in line by asking if anyone has changed their name or address since last voting.   Or, ask if anyone is a Vote-by-Mail voter, but has lost their ballot.  Or ask if anyone is a first time voter in Orange County? If so, do they have a “proof of residence” to show? There is a list of acceptable proofs in the Operations Manual.  If for some reason a voter does not have any of the proof of residence items, or have their Sample Ballot mailed to their residence, then they will be a provisional voter. By identifying provisional voters, the process of filling out the provisional envelope can begin while in line and the process streamlined.


4.      Finally, and most importantly, ask voters in line if they have their Sample Ballot that was mailed to them.  If so, now is a good time for them to go through the ballot and make their choices.  In that way, their time in the voting booth, whether it be electronic or paper ballot booth, will go much more quickly and consequently the lines will move faster.  In addition, it will give the voter something to do while waiting in line and make the time pass more quickly.  If voters to not have their sample ballot with them, you can provide them with a copy to review. But, you will have limited copies of these at your Polling Place, so voters should not mark on your Sample Ballots and you should retrieve them from the voter before they are greeted by the Roster Clerk. 

So remember, a long line at your Polling Place is a good thing because it shows that citizens want to participate in our great democratic republic.  But too much of a good thing can have negative consequences.  Let’s take charge.  Be proactive and manage the lines in the best manner possible.  Your voters will love you for it!