Dane County residents who report to polling centers Tuesday may be surprised to find officials timing voters as they cast their ballots for the Supreme Court primary.
But voters need not worry — officials will be timing voters not to instill a sense of urgency, but to collect data for a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-designed computer program, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell said.
The program will help Dane County polling centers optimize the voting process in the future, McDonnell said.
Dane County Clerk’s Office and University of Wisconsin’s political science department proposed the data collection initiative amid concerns that Wisconsin’s voter ID law may cause longer waits at the polls, McDonnell said.
“With the voter ID law changes, there’s going to be changes in how the polling place works,” McDonnell said. “The ID-checking process will make voting take more time, obviously, than in the past when that wasn’t one of the requirements to vote.”
Dane County’s primary goals in this initiative are to optimize future polling in the county and to enable polling centers to foresee delays so voters can plan ahead, McDonnell said.
McDonnell said the virtual model will help mitigate uncertainty surrounding new challenges the voter ID law may cause.
“We’ve run plenty of elections under the previous rules, so we kind of had a feel for that — now we don’t have a feel for it,” he said. “If we know it’s going to take longer to vote and we can predict that with some certainty, then we want to let voters know to plan ahead.”
After researchers collect the time-data Tuesday, UW staffers will input it into the MIT computer model, McDonnell said.The model will allow Dane County to experiment with different parameters on a given voting day and predict delays and line-length, he said.
“We’ve asked the UW political science department to run some data modeling and basically create a virtual polling place where we can try different number-loads as far as voter turnout, and then be able to see how that affects the lines and how long it takes someone to vote,” McDonnell said.
In addition to concerns regarding longer wait-times at the polls, there is also a possibility the voter ID law will cause lower turnouts at the polls, Steven Wright, clinical instructor at the Wisconsin Innocence Project, said.
Three hundred thousand voters, roughly 9 percent of all voters in Wisconsin, lack the necessary ID to vote and would be turned away, Wright said.
“It could result in a lower turnout at the polls,” Wright said. “If you want to vote but you don’t have the ID, then the law says you may not necessarily be able to vote.”
Though originally enacted in 2011, Wisconsin’s controversial voter ID law only officially came into effect this month.
McDonnell said the Supreme Court primary will be the first election held since the voter ID law took effect.
“This is the first election since then that it’s been in full force and will be for the foreseeable future,” he said.