It wasn’t until 1870 that the 15th Amendment gave African Americans (well men, anyway) the right to vote, but somehow black Americans are still waiting to vote — in line, that is.
In a new review of the previous presidential election, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (JCPES) confirmed that black Americans spent twice as much time waiting in line to vote than white Americans.
The average wait time for whites was 12 minutes, compared to 23 minutes for African Americans. Native Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos clocked in at 13, 15 and 19 minutes respectively.
It’s not just inconsiderate to make people wait longer — it’s an act of disenfranchisement. Other research has found that nearly 750,000 American citizens left their polling place without voting because the lines were too long.
I already know that some people are going to read this and say, “So what if you have to wait? This is your civic duty, you should wait as long as it takes!”
Sure — but that’s a lot easier to say when you’re not the one experiencing these prolonged delays. When your boss is waiting for you to show up to work or your kids are waiting to get picked up from school, you might feel the same time crunch.
Bear in mind — some African Americans waited as long as seven hours to vote. Those kind of wait times are unacceptable and inexcusable.
Inexcusable, yet here are the excuses anyway. Communities of color lacked the resources necessary to expedite the voting process. Granted, the government should be providing these resources to all precincts in an equitable manner, but it doesn’t always shake out that way.
According to the JCPES, polling locations in black communities were more likely to be understaffed and have fewer voting machines. Both of these deficiencies understandably lengthened the wait time for each voter. On top of that, conservative attempts to squash early voting opportunities disproportionately impacted communities of color, causing more such voters to show up in person on Election Day than in the past.
When the Atlantic investigated this subject a few years ago, the publication found that race was the only drastic factor in determining voting wait time. The wait differences between both liberal and conservative communities and affluent and poor communities were fairly negligible.
Whether or not you want to say that racism is intentionally at play, race definitely seems to be a factor in how long people are waiting to vote.
Obviously, this is a situation that the government should feel obligated to remedy. Fortunately, the JCPES has some suggestions to ensure that this upcoming presidential election runs more smoothly and equitably for people of all ethnicities.
For starters, the government can look into previous wait election wait times and provide the right number of workers and machines (working machines — you wouldn’t believe how many show up broken) to keep the lines moving quickly and smoothly. From there, officials should be prepared to reallocate these resources between polling locations if wait disparities arise.
It’s probably going to take more than one election cycle to fix this racial disparity, but if officials do a better job of at least monitoring it this time, they should be able to easily identify the problems in order to fix it in the future.