It is increasingly clear that any laws passed by state legislatures to control voting are merely backdoor ways to suppress the votes of people of color.
Now, a new study has identified an additional form of modern voter suppression: long lines.
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies used data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to tabulate which races experience the average longest polling place wait-times. Unsurprisingly, black voters have double the average wait time of white ones.
The Center attributes these differences to two phenomena. The first is a lack of resources at polling places in minority neighborhoods. A Brennan Center study on the November 2012 election found that in three of the states with the longest wait times—Florida, South Carolina and Maryland—voters of color disproportionately had to go to polling places with fewer machines and/or fewer poll workers. There are also outdated voting machines that crash also lengthen lines. Errors in voting rolls — one in eight registration records is invalid or has serious errors — further compound these problems.
The second major factor is cuts to early voting programs, which people of color tend to take advantage of at greater rates than whites. In 2011, several states cut the number of early voting days, the Center report says. Florida, for example, reduced the number of early in-person voting days from 14 to 8. At the 2012 election, several Florida polling places with large populations of color experienced wait times of up to 7 hours.
Whatever their origin, the effects of longer poll lines are huge. The Center estimates that long lines deterred at least 730,000 Americans from voting in November 2012. That works out to about 14,000 voters deterred per state. Voting lines also cost Americans $544 million in lost productivity and wages, creating a kind of feedback loop for voters of color, who are often less able to sacrifice their wages therefore stay away from polling places.
To counteract lines, the Center recommends that states adopt and enforce minimum standards for both wait times and resource allocation (e.g., at least one functional voting machine for every 250 registered voters). It also calls for greater use of online voter registration, and re-expanding early voting.
“Amusement parks use science to manage wait times,” the Center says. “Apply this science to voting lines.”