New York, NY – Lack of poll workers and low numbers of voting machines are key contributors to long voting lines, and precincts with more minorities experienced longer waits, according to a new study released today by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.
Although many factors may contribute to long lines at the polls, little research has assessed how polling place resource allocation contributes to delays. In advance of the 2014 midterm election, Election Day Long Lines: Resource Allocation attempts to fill that gap by analyzing precinct-level data from states where voters faced some of the longest lines in the country in 2012: Florida, Maryland, and South Carolina.
Specifically, the study assesses how machine and poll worker distribution contributes to long lines and what role race played in predicting where lines might develop — providing an important roadmap exploring the causes of long lines that have plagued millions of Americans.
There are four major takeaways from our research:
- Voters in precincts with more minorities experienced longer waits. In South Carolina, for example, the 10 precincts with the longest waits had, on average, more than twice the percentage of black registered voters (64 percent) than the statewide average (27 percent).
- Voters in precincts with higher percentages of minority voters had fewer machines. In Maryland, the 10 precincts with the lowest number of machines per voter had, on average, more than double the percentage of Latino voting age citizens (19 percent) as the statewide average (7 percent).
- Precincts with the longest lines had fewer machines, poll workers, or both. In Florida, for example, the 10 precincts with the longest lines had nearly half as many poll workers per voter as the statewide average.
- There is widespread non-compliance with existing state requirements setting resource allocation. Both Maryland and South Carolina set certain requirements for what polling places are supposed to provide voters, but we found that only 25 percent of the precincts studied in South Carolina and 11 percent of the precincts studied in Maryland complied with these requirements.
“We all saw the images of voters waiting in hours-long lines in 2012. Now we know more about why that happened and how to fix it,” said Myrna Pérez, report co-author and deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “The number of poll workers and voting machines can have a huge effect on Election Day problems, particularly in areas with more minority voters. Giving sufficient resources to election officials could dramatically improve voting in America.”
“These three states had some of the longest lines in 2012, and they offer clear lessons on how poor resource allocation can contribute to delays at the polls,” added co-author Christopher Famighetti, the Center’s voting rights researcher. “No voter should have to wait longer than 30 minutes to cast a ballot. States must take major steps to ensure all polling places have sufficient voting machines and poll workers.”
Following the 2012 election, President Barack Obama convened a bipartisan commission to address the problem of long lines and determine best practices for local election officials. The commission found 10 million people waited more than 30 minutes to vote, and ultimately concluded that no voter should have to wait this long to cast a ballot.
Its key recommendations included modernizing voter registration and increasing early voting opportunities. The Brennan Center has a number of proposals outlining how to implement such reforms, including How to Fix the Voting System and How to Fix Long Lines.