[Image by via electionline]

Long voter lines have been in the news lately – and are on the minds of election officials everywhere as turnout surges around the country. Offices nationwide are looking for ways to help voters navigate Election Day, and the latest electionlineWeekly has a story by Mindy Moretti looking at a resource from Collin County, TX (suburban Dallas, Plano) that can literally fit in the palm of a voter’s hand:

Everyone knows that the waiting is the hardest part and with work, family and other responsibilities many voters don’t have time to wait in the lines they are sometimes greeted with during high profile elections or peak voting hours.

Election administrators too admit that they lose sleep worrying about election-day lines and from resource allocation to polling place relocation, work hard to make sure that if there are lines, they are as short as possible.

One county in Texas has done something about election day lines with the Voter Line Wait app.

In 2009 Collin County became part of Texas’ vote center pilot program and have been a successful addition to the county’s elections arsenal.

“One of the biggest challenges is that voter turnout is not equally distributed between vote centers so the number and placement of locations is critical,” said Bruce Sherbet, administrator of elections for Collin County. Also, providing sufficient equipment and supplies to handle heavier turnout in certain vote centers can be a little challenging.”  

Following the mid-term elections in 2010 when vote enters faced many lines, the county’s GIS Administrator Tim Nolan created an app to help voters find the vote center with the shortest lines closest to them.  

“The EA [at the time] asked all the interested parties to come up with suggestions that might alleviate long lines – think outside the box,” Sherbet explained. “The GIS representative, Tim Nolan, thought we could do something with mobile device mapping and QR Codes. They took the idea and ran with it.”

The original version was done completely in-house (no additional money) for the 2012 presidential election. Following that, the county enlisted GIS Incorporated (GISi) to help the county build a new version of the app that incorporated routing and directions.

The app is a web application.  If your device supports web-browsing then you can run this app.  No downloading from the various app stores. You do, however, need to download a QR Code reader to scan the codes. The single app performs three functions –

  1. Route to the closest polling location based on a typed address (website)
  2. Find the closest polling location based on my current location (mobile device)
  3. Scan QR Code and let me choose another polling location with route direction (mobile device).

There is a polling location map layer on the app that reveals real-time line waits (Green < 20′, Yellow 20′-40′, Red > 40′) that corresponds to the Elections dashboard. The Dashboard has been around since Nov 2010 and has a listing of all polling location with line wait colors.

The app was incredibly useful during the March presidential preference primary which, according to Sherbet, was the busiest day ever recorded on the county election website.

While other localities, like the District of Columbia, allow voters to check vote center wait times online, the GIS system in Collin County is the only app of its kind that we know of that can let you know, based on your current location, where the shortest lines are.

Sherbet said the GIS app is pretty easy, however there are some things an elections office would need to have in place before taking on such project and that he and his staff are happy to share any information that other elections officials might find useful.

“I think it is an outstanding app especially in jurisdictions using vote centers,” Sherbet said. “I am certain it has helped route many of our voters to voting locations and it has definitely been instrumental in re-routing voters to locations with lower wait times.”

As voters’ Election Day choices become more varied – and complex – tools like this will be invaluable in helping voters choose a polling location that’s the most convenient even if it’s not necessarily the one closest by. Kudos to Collin County for developing and sharing this app – and thanks (as always) to Mindy and electionline for being on the story!

Stay tuned …