Among the guests at the State of the Union address was Desiline Victor, a Miami woman who waited in line for several hours on Election Day.
"Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her — because Desiline is 102 years old," President Barack Obama said as the TV cameras focused on Victor in the House gallery. "And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read &‘I Voted.'<TH>"
Not every would-be voter shared her resolve.
In Florida, more than 200,000 people gave up and went home without casting ballots because of long lines at the polls, according to data analyzed by an Ohio State University professor. Another academic study determined that Sunshine State voters waited an average of 45 minutes, with the last voter leaving one Miami-area polling station a few minutes after 1 a.m.
Voters also encountered long lines in the District of Columbia, Maryland, South Carolina, Virginia and a few other states.
Meanwhile, the average wait in California was six minutes, according to Charles Stewart III, a Massachusetts Technology of Institute professor who calculated Election Day delays around the country.
"Despite the fact that it's a very large state, a very complicated state, and has the longest ballots in the Western world — all these things that you'd think would complicate voting — they don't wait that long," Stewart told the New York Times.
There's no secret formula for the relative ease of voting in California. The Golden State has simply made casting ballots convenient with early voting, voting by mail and ample capacity at polling stations.
In contrast, some of the states with long delays tried to erect obstacles for voters, including efforts in Florida to outlaw early voting. Other states, including Virginia and South Carolina, didn't have enough voting machines or poll workers.
These failures need to be addressed before the next election.
One step is approving legislation sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida to set national standards for the number of voting machines, poll workers and other resources for a federal election. Their goal is to ensure no one waits more than one hour to vote.
The U.S. Supreme Court also should take note of these Election Day problems in deciding a challenge to a key provision of the federal Voting Rights Act.
The act, adopted in 1965, protects minorities from officially sanctioned efforts to keep them from voting. An Alabama county wants to end federal oversight, arguing it's no longer needed. The long lines and related problems suggest otherwise, especially given that the problems were often worst in communities with large numbers of poor and minority voters.
Some states also are imposing new photo ID requirements that disproportionately affect minority voters although there's no real evidence of voter-impersonation fraud in U.S. elections.
The State of the Union wasn't the first time Obama addressed long lines to vote. In his election night speech, he said, "We have to fix that." He's right. It shouldn't take all day to vote.