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electionlineWeekly — November 19, 2015

Table of Contents

I. In Focus This Week

Editor’s Note: Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, electionlineWeekly will not publish next Thursday, November 26 and electionlineToday will not publish on November 26 and 27. Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving or something in between, we hope you have a safe and happy holiday weekend.

Report: Managing Polling Place Resources
Existing tools might help prepare for November 2016

By Charles Stewart, III
Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science, MIT

We are now in the one-year countdown toward the 2016 presidential election. With the election in mind, the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project (VTP) has just released a new report about managing polling place resources, entitled “Managing Polling Place Resources.” It can be downloaded from the VTP website.

This newly issued report serves as a companion to a set of Web-based tools that the VTP developed and posted at the request of the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA), to facilitate the recommendation that local jurisdictions “develop models and tools to assist them in effectively allocating resources across polling places.”

The new VTP report takes several new steps in the effort to spread the word about the usefulness of applying queuing theory to improve polling place practices.  It contains facts about where polling place lines appeared in 2012, updating some information from the 2014 election. It then proceeds to explain how queuing theory — which is the science that addresses how to handle lines in settings like supermarkets amusement parks — can be applied to polling places. (There is also a reading list, for those who want to dive in and learn more.)

Finally, the new VTP report uses data from two actual local jurisdictions to demonstrate how the Web-based tools can be used to analyze whether the allocation of resources (such as voting booths and poll books) are adequate to meet Election Day demand.

In the process of writing this report, we have also updated two of the online tools, based on feedback from users over the past year. The updates have not only refreshed the user interfaces, they have also made it easier to analyze hundreds of precincts simultaneously.

In the coming weeks, we will also be adding some simple video tutorials to help make these tools even more useful.

With the one-year countdown to Election Day 2016 already underway, some might say that it is too late to make use of such analytical tools to make a difference in the next presidential election.  However, my experience is that most election administrators are always looking for ways to improve the experience for voters; thus the publication of a report that highlights how existing tools might help them prepare for November 2016 comes at the right time for those election administrators who are looking to fine-tune their plans for next year.