The Inefficiency of the Vote

When you look at the very way we vote, there’s little question why we struggle to get anything done. The actual process itself is so inefficient that there’s little hope that the outcome has any chance of making a difference.

I’d imagine today’s voting experience was a familiar one to many:

Wait in a line, only to be told 15 minutes later that your district was going right in.

Chose between one of two unmarked lines for your district. Sure, you can guess that it’s split by the alphabet (which it was), but most just chose the shorter line.

Wait on another line for 30 minutes.

Watch a fight nearly break out when someone was on the wrong, shorter, unclear, line.

Watch the people behind the desk get frustrated by the people who are fighting.

Watch as no one gets or makes the “A to L” and “M to Z” signs that would resolve the issue.

Get a ballot.

Wait on another line for 15 minutes to go inside a voting booth.

Read instructions ala Ikea.


Wait on another line for 15 minutes to scan your ballot.

Get confirmation that it scanned with no confirmation that it was correct.

Wonder all day, month, year, term if your vote actually counted.

Leave feeling worse about our prospects than when you came in.

Half-heartedly remind others to vote. Mostly to affirm that you did.

It’s also not all that difficult to imagine what comes next:

Dread the rest of the day.

Get the results.

Be happy or sad.

Wonder if the outcome will actually make a difference.


Watch the people we elect fight like the people in the unclear lines.

Watch the people who voted get frustrated by the elected officials who are fighting.

Watch as no one, myself included, gets or makes the “A to L” and “M to Z” signs that would resolve the issues.

Wait four years to find that little, even the very way we vote, has changed.

Do it all over again.

Update: Some nice perspective from J.D. Bentley on the positive aspects of paper ballot voting.

3 Responses to The Inefficiency of the Vote

  1. Today is my birthday. I spent 4 hours on a line to vote. Given that I was born in Cuba where we haven’t voted in over 50 years, I’m willing to experience some discomfort for that right. It can, however, get better.

  2. Here was my experience:

    Get ballot in mail in mid-October.

    Peruse at leisure.

    Read endorsements and commentary on referenda and other ballot measures I wasn’t familiar with.

    Discuss some issues and candidates with my wife.

    Roughly a week later, while wathcing TV, start filling out my ballot. Discuss some candidates again with my wife. Take my time.

    Stop for a while about halfway through.

    Finish filling out my ballot.

    Seal and sign envelope, affix postage.

    Drop both ballots off at a post office.

    The most stressful part was (a) buying stamps, and (b) not trusting our local postal worker to pick up and deliver out ballots reliably.

    Now, I’ve lived in other countries that have some far more citizen-empowering democratic systems in place (95% voter turnout! Multiple viable third parties!), but voting by mail is a huge improvement for the American system, and it’s likely something that individuals can meaningfully push for in their own states.

    (And if you’re wondeing about how things could feasibly change to make your vote actually count, have a look at the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact —

  3. My experience: leave my home in comfortable, white middle class neighborhood. Walk two blocks. Vote. It takes me less than two minutes in line. Walk to my next appointment, half a mile away, in a building where there’s another polling place. Meanwhile, other people, often non-white and poor, are waiting six or more hours in line.

    There is no “voter fraud” that can be solved by voter ID, but there certainly is voter fraud that occurs by systematically starving some areas of polling places, staff, and voting machines.

    Time for one set of national voting rules, instead of thousands of fiefdoms, each one ruled by a politician.

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