THE UNSUNG hero of election night may have been a two-word website: polls.pizza. As the name suggests, it sends pizzas to polling places with long queues. On November 6th it dispatched 10,000 pizzas to 576 polling places in 43 states. And queues were indeed long. In New York people waited more than two hours; in metropolitan Atlanta the average voter waited around three. If the first reaction to such news is gratitude for the generosity of strangers, the second should be bafflement. Why, in one of the world’s richest, oldest democracies, should it take that long to vote?
One reason, says Lawrence Norden, a voting-technology expert at the Brennan Centre at New York University Law School, is that most states are using voting machines at least a decade old. “These are computers,” explains Mr Norden, “and after ten years, you should be looking to get new machines.” Forty-three states are using machines so old that spare parts are no longer made.
Across the country, equipment malfunctioned. Scanners failed. Alarmingly, some electronic voting machines changed people’s votes. Precincts ran out of ballots and were unprepared for the relatively high turnout. In Phoenix one polling place was foreclosed on the night before the vote, leaving ballots and voting machines locked inside.
Some see a dark purpose behind the chaos. In Georgia the Republican nominee for governor was also secretary of state, charged with overseeing elections, in which capacity he faced multiple lawsuits and allegations of attempted voter suppression. On election night the longest queues were said to be in the part of the state friendliest to his opponent. Voter suppression need not entail, as it once did in the South, naked intimidation. Capricious enforcement of otherwise pointless rules leading up to a chaotic election day can do the trick, too.
Attempted voter suppression can also backfire. North Dakota passed a law requiring voters to present a street address, which many of the state’s many Native Americans do not have. Critics said it was intended to keep them from the polls. On November 6th they turned out in record numbers.