OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Disperse the Queue - Update 2

Use ticketing to reserve a voters place in the queue. After that voters no longer need to remain "in line" but can find a more comfortable way to await their turn to collect a ballot and vote. Special needs voters can be accommodated too.

Photo of Paul Reader
30 14

Written by

Ticket controlled queues are a feature of some banks and supermarkets here in Australia. The principle is simple - issuing a number to a customer or client establishes their place in the queue for service.
In supermarkets it usually resolves issues between customers as to who is next in line. While the same may be true of banks some of them will take it a step further, offering seating, coffee machines etc. where clients can wait in a more relaxed way knowing their place in the queue is secured.

Voters are the clients of polling stations so providing them with a better experience, perhaps like that in the bank mentioned above, can encourage them to come back at the next election.
In particular people like Amy from the voting personas may find the experience less stressful as she is able to interact better with her child while waiting to actually vote.

What this process does is establish two queues - a relatively short queue for the tickets (at least compared to existing queues) and a dispersed queue to collect a ballot* and vote that is processed in approximate numerical order.
I say approximately because in fact the dispersed queue can be a variety of needs.

How the system actually works will depend on how sophisticated you want it to be.

At its very basic a polling station volunteer could hand you a ticket at the door, then clerks issuing ballots can announce the next client both audibly and visually.
On the other hand tickets could be dispensed through a machine that displays and announces numbers and additional information
With even a relatively unsophisticated system such things as wait times can be easily calculated and displayed.
If the waiting time is sufficiently long then people could choose to do other business and return to the building in time to vote.

What if you take your child to the toilet and your number is called?
Don't worry - after a little time (say 10 seconds) your number will be on temporary hold and will rejoin the queue perhaps 3 places down the imaginary line. When you return to the waiting area and you see (or hear) a number after yours you can be certain they will return to your number soon.

What if you have special needs?
There are several ways to handle this:
Because the 'ordinary' queue is dispersed this may make it easier to approach officials and seek assistance. In my experience most (but not all) people with a physical impairment rarely are embarrassed by it and will readily seek advice . I think this would be a preferred option in most circumstances.
but there are alternatives e.g.

For visually impaired people the machine could be designed to announce the number of the ticket on which the same number is embossed.

For the hearing impaired the visual (announcement) advancement of the queue could be sufficient.

What if instead of having to present identity to receive a ballot you presented it to receive the ticket & reserve a place in the queue, then presented the ticket in exchange for the ballot*?

Furthermore, if in presenting your identity you could establish special needs, the 'system' could allocate you a number already recently used to move you near the head of the line e.g.

I don't know real figures for US polling stations but, for example:
Suppose you present your ID to receive your queue ticket and the next number would normally be 157 but your record on the roll (or on your ID) indicates special needs - if, at that time, clerks issuing ballots are processing numbers 123 through 135 (and assuming all prior numbers have been processed) the 'system' could re-issue a number like 119 which would place you at the head of the queue to receive a ballot.

There are lots of variations that could be employed depending on circumstance and technology.

*Whitney's new concept for Mark Anywhere would in many cases obviate the need to collect a ballot so that would alter a few things - as hereunder

Presentation of ticket would be to be marked off roll - and go straight to a casting and counting machine to lodge a vote.

Voters would be able to bring their completed ballots, collect a ticket and wait comfortably.
Alternatively they could collect a ballot to complete as private booths are available, which should be easier as many/most voters will by-pass this, then collect a ticket.

Such a system would also help for those with special needs -
the advantages of Whitney's concept are explained there but with a dispersed queue and pre-marking of ballots you can develop a help desk that
1) supplies blank ballots;
2) provides general assistance for completing the ballot; and
3) provides assistance to those with special needs who don't already have obvious ways forward.
With the above three reasons to seek help it is no longer only those with special needs visiting the help desk and the availability of additional ways to complete a ballot at the polling place means more independence for those with confidence.

Update 1*

Dispersing the Queue and Priority Queuing are complementary.
On its own Priority Queuing provides better access for those with special needs and on the face of it dispersing the queue does not add to this. However it does assist in creating a less stressful atmosphere for all voters and as discussed in the scenario below some of the personas can happily join the general queue, if not the first time then certainly subsequently.


The (gymvote) diagram shows a stylised layout for conventional voting in a school gymnasium or possibly a cafeteria - a large open space. Utilising other building layouts may mean greater integration and concentration of actual voting facilities.

Entry and exit to gym/cafeteria is often through the same door(s) - this immediately poses a problem if the queue is long. One way to deal with this is to create queues like those for baggage check-in at airports, but ticketed queues are potentially at least as efficient and can certainly be more comfortable.

In this particular layout some ADA compliant signage provides disabled voters with the information that their waiting and voting area is immediately to the left, where they will find a clerk to assist them. Whether there is need for an issue of tickets to control voting order will depend on how busy the area is.
At the very least the clerk will have a roll, voting materials and instructional information on hand.

Addressing the Personas

Tasha will need to have her employee guide her to the ADA Concierge who either hands Tasha a numbered, embossed ticket if there is a queue to use the equipment, or immediately marks her off the roll and conducts her to the voting machine, setting it up for audio and then allowing Tasha to vote. The clerk will remain within earshot in case there is need for further assistance and to know when Tasha has completed voting. In the mean time her employee has said she will take the opportunity to vote herself. If Tasha has to wait the clerk will inform her of approximately how many are already waiting to vote. Tasha's employee has been to collect her ticket and returns to inform Tasha that there is about 10 minutes waiting time in the general queue - she can do this because her place in the general queue has been reserved and she is free to return to assist or chat to Tasha and the system will announce when she has to leave to vote herself.
Tasha has a seat before and after voting until they are both free to leave the polling place

George arrives while Tasha is voting and approaches the ADA Concierge who verifies his ID provides him with a ballot and conducts him to a screened booth with a chair where he can vote privately. As there are no other priority voters there at this time a ticket is not necessary. George is happy that he can sit and arrange his notes then take his time voting.

Tasha is still voting when Angela arrives immediately after George. Because the equipment is still in use the clerk verifies Angela's ID then affixes a ticket to her wheelchair where she can see it, explaining that she is next in line for the machine. He indicates the spaces available for her to park her wheelchair and wait for the equipment to become free. When Tasha completes her vote and sits to wait for her employee the equipment becomes free but Minjun has just arrived.

The notice board at the entrance has informed Minjun that instructions are available in his native language at the concierge desk immediately on the left and that a free call is available to the interpreter service. The clerk issues him with a ticket, hands him the native language material asks him to take a seat and suggests he call the interpreter service while he is waiting.
Angela can now approach the equipment which the clerk will set up appropriately.

Michael arrives and reads on the notices that a ticketing system has been introduced with both visual and audible cues. He is used to using such a system at his bank so he feels confident to join the general queue. After collecting his ticket he sees that it will be about a fifteen minute wait so he takes a seat in good view of the monitor. He makes a mental note to bring a book next time but does read some literature about how voting is becoming easier.

Meanwhile Minjun has returned to the concierge desk indicating that the interpreter would like to speak to the clerk. After a brief conversation the clerk supplies Minjun with a photographic list of the candidates and the interpreter informs Minjun that he can take this list with him to help him decide. Since George has completed his voting the clerk conducts Minjun to the seated voting booth where he can use the pictorial information and the foreign language guide to complete his ballot. Next time he will know what to do and can get the information he needs before hand then join the general queue.

Charlie arrives just ahead of Maria so the clerk gives them both a ticket and indicates seating and parking spaces respectively. Although the tickets may not seem necessary they do reassure Charlie and Maria that they will be able to vote soon. While they are moving to the waiting area Amy arrives. The clerk says she is welcome to wait in the ADA waiting area but she may be more comfortable in the general waiting area as they have set up some seated voting spaces one of which has a toddler pen set up beside it. The waiting time may be a little longer there but she can probably sit and entertain her child more comfortably.
Amy decides to try the general waiting room, at the very least it will be better than last time when she struggled to keep her place in the queue and got tired of standing holding her child.

The clerk calls Charlie back to the desk to verify his identity then conducts him to the seated waiting area, where Charlie takes some considerable time voting. The clerk returns and verifies Maria's identity then conducts her to the voting machine which is set up according to her needs.

Peter arrives to vote - he is a college student but has paraplegia from a skiing accident. He is still very active and plays wheelchair basketball. He reads the information at the entrance that tells him there are facilities for active wheelchair users in the general waiting area. He decides to check it out so takes a ticket and parks his wheelchair in a comfortable spot. There are specific wheelchair spaces but he finds a spot near a couple of mates. One of them gets him a coffee for the 15 minute wait expected.

Tyler arrives, and discovers the ADA compliant signage that informs him to approach the ADA Concierge desk about 6 feet away. The clerk, returning from final setting up for Maria tells Tyler he will be with him in a moment. True to his word he is there within 3 seconds and verifies Tylers id before conducting him to a seat to await the availability of the machine.

Maria has completed her voting and left but Charlie is still in the seated booth. The clerk will have to discreetly enquire if he has finished. Discovering that he has Charlie is able to cast his vote and leave having experienced a quieter than usual time voting.

The clerk can now conduct Tyler to the machine and set it up for audio and Tyler's other requirements.

Brenda and her daughter arrive. Brenda had a stroke 3 years ago and is paralysed on her left side. Her daughter must push the wheelchair as it is unpowered. They discover that the space has been transformed and rather than waiting in line they happily take a ticket each (Brenda first). Her daughter parks the wheelchair in a designated spot then grabs a chair to sit beside her mother. Then she gets them both a coffee and they chat happily while waiting their turns. Brenda is called first but of course her daughter is next in line anyway so they both have their id checked at the same time. Brenda's daughter pushes her to a seated voting booth where Brenda can manage to vote with her right hand. At the same time her daughter votes in a nearby booth then collects her mother and they cast their votes one after the other. As they leave they remark that it was a more pleasant experience than last time.


In describing the sequential treatment of the personae I of course have little idea if it is realistic. Clearly the other factors I have introduced (seated voting booths, screens, toddler playpens) have nothing to do with the basic premise of controlling the queue. Again the system works best when priority is given to some people with special needs. The role of the concierge (see Genius Bar) is pivotal but from what I have seen this role is already there, but perhaps spread amongst the existing poll staff. The issuing of tickets in the priority area is possibly haphazard but the use of tickets per se is not the point - the point is effectively managing the queue.
Not all people with special needs require to use the "voting machines" they simply need consideration and appropriate opportunity.
However using ticketing for general voting is definitely better than a single long queue.


A. The simplest ticket control technology is mechanical ticket issue and a flipchart of numbers. It is probably not quite sufficient for this situation.

B. The next step up is an integrated ticket machine with single display and sound.
In this case the updating of the display is usually using RFID buttons to advance the number and announce it audibly. A relatively simple enhancement could calculate, display and announce waiting times.

C. Additional screens and (possibly) speaker systems, multiple queues and computer management may be appropriate for very large venues or where multiple and/or remote waiting rooms are required.

Having reviewed a number of systems in the course of this challenge I believe there is a design opportunity to create a system or systems suitable for the purpose.

Other Aspects

I have deliberately assumed that existing voting equipment will meet the needs of the personae presented. Obviously other concepts contribute improvements on existing equipment and would thereby improve the efficiency of voting. This in turn would ease pressure on queues and make queue management easier.

There is potential to improve signage too with simple audio devices integrated into tactile and conventional signs.

Refinement 1
I have begun to tidy up the original concept and am working on Update 2 but, in addition like Mamta, I have taken the liberty of mapping the shortlisted concepts (and a few others) but in a slightly different way.
Using CMap Tools I have created a limited entity-relationship diagram.
It is available below as a PDF download.

I had begun to do this for all 155 concepts before shortlisting but lost the file so I apologise for the limited approach to relationships.

I find it easier to keep all 20 concepts in perspective this way and others may find it useful too..

The original is provided on the CMaps server at OpenIDEATORS for anyone to view and (if you have CMap tools ) you can collaboratively update or annotate it (which you are welcome to do).

Update 2 - Queue Management in Action

Scenario - (with thanks to James Meyer for the inspiration)

MyCounty found at the last election that voters complained of long waiting times so they discussed the possibility of introducing more voting machines at those polling places that had the longest queues. One of the team remarked that his bank had just introduced queue management so perhaps they could investigate that as an option,they decided to look into it. Another said the Poll Worker Support Network was saying TechCounty had just introduced internet voting but the team decided they were not yet ready for that. However, according to the same source YourCounty has begun a system called Mark Anywhere, that helped reduce their queues last election. MyCounty decided to pilot this in the precincts where queues had been a problem and one team member was asked to visit YourCounty to find out what needed to be done.

Consulting with VotaQueue they explained that at the previous election they had peak queues of perhaps 70 people for a three hour period around lunchtime and that the fifth voting machine had made little difference. Also, as it is still a requirement for voters to sign the pollbook they usually require two verification points A-J and K-Z which make handling the pollbook easier. However if necessary the clerks can each have a copy of the whole pollbook. They would also like to have a priority queue for special needs voters.
After discussing the venue layout and a number of other details the consultants recommend:
A separate manual system for the priority voters; and
A system of a single ticket machine for general voting, together with a single combined display and audio announcement in the waiting room, a simple LED display on each verification desk and a remote button for each verification clerk to indicate the desk is free.

In more detail the ticket machine is supplied with a touch screen which can provide the alphabetic separation they require but can be reprogrammed for other verification arrangements if desired.Once a voter has chosen which surname range they are in the machine will issue them with a numbered ticket - the system knows to which surname range that number has been allocated and will control the queue accordingly.

On returning from YourCounty the team member explained the Mark Anywhere concept, assuring a couple of skeptical members that only ballots that passed through the machines would be counted so making them available early through a few newsagents as an experiment. The ballots will be available with a privacy sleeve and explanatory notes.

The quote for the Queuing System is less than half the cost of a new voting machine (I haven't actually priced it so I don't have any real comparisons and time is against me to find out more).

Come the day of the election the waiting room has been laid out with chairs, a couple of tables with election relevant materials and another waiting for material that will be supplied through the Poll Worker's Support Network and Voter Help Hub. A coin operated beverage machine has been installed. Almost at the last minute, as an afterthought, someone suggests setting up one of the chairs with the extra "mark anywhere" ballot packs they didn't distribute. The queue control is in place and the ticket machine awaits the first voter. It is five minutes before opening time.

Once the doors are opened there is an initial rush of about 5 voters who are briefly disoriented by the changed layout but soon understand they need a ticket before they will be called to vote. The initial waiting time is about 1 minute but in reality it is less than this. Anne is the first ticket holder and is immediately called to verification for A-J. Peter has ticket number 2 and is little perplexed when Jane is called to K-Z verification with ticket number 3 but doesn't really have time to worry as Anne is through verification and on to marking her ballot paper and he is called to verification. As he arrives the clerk mentions that the system is sorting them into the A-J and K-Z lines and Peter understands the process. Until now nobody has gone near the waiting room and the need for tickets has not yet been established. The trickle continues with wait times fluctuating between 1 and 3 minutes. Shortly after opening the people from Poll Worker's Support Network and Voter Help Hub arrive and set up their displays and information. One of the volunteers from Voter Help Hub visits the special needs area to check how accessible the polling station will be this election. She notes that voters with special needs are given first priority (see Update 1) and that arrangements are in place to handle their needs as efficiently as possible. She also checks the type of voting machine in use, which facilities are included and that the clerk (ADA Concierge) knows how to assist each voter. She will then return to either confirm initial database and accessibility map details or update any changes.

Near 10 am there is an influx of about 15 students. As there are only 8 general booths for ballot marking some will have to wait up to 6 minutes before they can vote. All except the first 3 or 4 decide to check out the waiting room and the beverage machine in particular. A couple of them look through the material from Poll Worker's Support Network and Voter Help Hub, taking a brochure with them as they are called to verification. After this small spurt the turnover goes a little quieter.

Just before midday voters begin to arrive in larger numbers, the local factory has released half the shift a few minutes early to beat the lunchtime rush. Jane and Jennifer head straight for the polling place, they remember last time it was cold standing outside in the line and would like to be inside before the queue gets too long. Happy to have got inside they are surprised to see just one person ahead of them taking a ticket from the machine. On reaching the machine they receive their respective tickets with wait times of 11 and 13 minutes. Going in to the waiting room they find seats and happily chat until the system announces Jane's turn to vote. A couple of minutes later Jennifer is called to vote too. Jane waits for Jennifer so they can return to work together and notices while she is waiting that general wait times have risen to 20 minutes and the waiting room is beginning to fill. On returning to work, as the second half is released they tell a few of their friends that maybe they should take their lunch with them because most likely they will be able to sit and eat it waiting to vote.

About the time that Jane and Jennifer leave the polling place Steven arrives. He too has made straight for the polling place, leaving work as early as he dared and hoping to complete voting in time to get back to work. He remembers last election when his employer was annoyed that he returned 15 minutes late because of the long queue for voting.
Retrieving his ticket and a wait time of 20 minutes he is relieved to think that he can manage to vote and get back to work in good time. He notices the pile of 'Mark Anywhere' ballot packs and picks one up thinking it will be something to read while he waits. Looking in to the waiting room he sees a number of empty chairs, but since he has 20 minutes to wait he can nip out and grab some lunch too. With ham sandwiches and a coffee he finds a table and sits down to eat, drink and read. Quickly understanding what the 'Mark Anywhere' concept entails he begins to fill out the ballot there and then. Being surrounded by strangers it doesn't bother him who may see a little of what he is doing. This time the ballot consists of 3 races - part way through completing the second race he notices a work colleague come into the cafe and move towards him, so he shuts the privacy folder and greets his colleague, who takes a seat opposite and enquires about the pack. Steven says its a new way that lets you prepare your ballot before verification and hands his colleague the explanatory notes, apologising at the same time that he must rush to meet his voting appointment "Voting appointment?" enquires the colleague "Yes" Steven replies "In 2 minutes. You should check out the new ticketing system too." racing off to the polling place ballot in hand.

Tony has been rotated through a number of poll clerk jobs and at the moment is on the K-Z verification desk. It is the lunchtime rush but today there are fewer grumpy voters. The chief clerk has reported that there are now a number of voters standing in the waiting room as there are insufficient chairs but that gallantry is alive and well as a number of younger voters who now only have a few minutes to wait offer seats to new arrivals who will have perhaps up to 30 minutes to wait.Tony presses the button on his remote to advance the queue to the next voter and ticket 437 is announced. This is Stevens ticket but he is still hurrying back from the cafe. As nobody has responded to the cue and the clerk opposite him has successfully despatched another voter Tony presses the hold button on his remote control. Immediately 437 is on hold and number 439 is announced (438 has already been processed opposite). Steven arrives just as number 439 approaches the desk and realises that his appointment has been missed by a matter of seconds. He enters the waiting room to find standing room only and wonders what will happen next. Then he notices the display saying processing number 440 number 437 on 2 place hold as he watches the screen changes again announcing number 441 but also saying number 437 on 1 place hold. Within a couple of minutes the screen announces number 437 again. Relieved, Steven attends the verification desk indicating he has a partially completed ballot and moves through to one of the booths to complete it. Now with less than half the ballot to complete he is quickly through mark and casting. Despite the small hiccup he is on his way back to work within half an hour, having voted and eaten. Next time he will complete the ballot at home and save just a little more lunchtime.

About 3pm Pippa a college student arrives during a quiet period and has only about 5 minutes to wait. She has always wondered about becoming a poll clerk and discovers on the table set up by the Poll Worker's Support Network some interesting information. After completing her vote she returns to the waiting room and completes her exploration of the material..

A week after the election feedback through the Voters Voice and Database indicates general voter satisfaction with the new initiatives.. Despite the fact that, at the very peaks of activity, some voters still had to stand rather than sitting comfortably, the queue management system is considered a success.

How will this concept improve election accessibility for everyone?

It could physically (rather than temporally) 'shorten' queues for everyone while at the same time making queuing more comfortable and making provision for people with special needs. * Taking everyone out of the "line" means those who identify with special needs can form a priority queue with little impact on the rate at which others can vote. since they will often need the special voting machines, or special conditions, which others do not. if they need

How well does this concept adapt to the changing needs of different voter communities?

By dispersing the queue to vote it actually makes prioritising particular voters easier.

What kinds of resources – whether time, money, people, partnerships, technology or otherwise – will be needed to get this concept off the ground?

The technology to implement this would vary from manual issue of tickets and a person with a flip chart and a strong voice to announce the next number to collect a ballot, right up to sophisticated systems recognising ID and providing automated audio and visual cues. The level of technology employed could be that suited to the situation. * Pilots could be conducted in various size venues utilising hired equipment. There is the opportunity for manufacturers to modify/adapt existing systems both before and after such pilots.

My Virtual Team

IDEO Palo Alto Mamta Gautam Stefan Ritter Anne-Laure Fayard Team S.O.Y. Mark Roberton Whitney Quesenbery Daniel Castro and many others

Evaluation results

7 evaluations so far

1. How well does this concept address the needs of voters who might be excluded from elections today because of a disability, difficulty with languages or reading, limited mobility or other conditions?

Really well: this concept clearly addresses the needs of voters with different abilities or limitations. - 14.3%

Pretty well: this concept addresses some of the needs of voters with different abilities or limitations. - 85.7%

Not well: this concept doesn't at all address the needs of voters with different abilities or limitations. - 0%

2. Thinking about the resources needed to implement this concept, how feasible is this concept for your community? (Hint: resources might be money, time, partnerships, or other inputs needed for implementation)

This concept is definitely feasible for my community to implement; the resources needed wouldn't be an issue. - 28.6%

This concept might be feasible for my community to implement, as long as we could find assistance with some of our resource constraints. - 71.4%

This concept is not feasible for my community to implement; it's just too resource-intensive. - 0%

3. How much of an impact would this concept make on you or your community?

This concept would clearly have a positive impact on me or my community. - 42.9%

This concept might have a positive impact on me or my community, but it's not clear exactly how. - 57.1%

This concept would not have a positive impact on me or my community. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

It rocked my world. - 0%

I liked it but preferred others. - 100%

It didn't get me overly excited. - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Edmund Ng

I think this proposal is ready for the big stage. It clearly addresses all issues concerning different communities and the solutions are all very well thought off.

I hope to see this in action soon as there are many queue situations that has similar scenarios as the ones listed. This would help give us more options in looking for the right solutions.

Edmund Ng

View all comments