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New BPC Report on Polling Place Lines: Minority Precincts Have Much Longer Wait Times

Headshot of Ari Goldberg
Ari Goldberg

Washington, DC—Using data from the 2018 midterm elections, the Bipartisan Policy Center today released the largest-ever observational study on wait times in polling places. The research, conducted with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that the overall average wait time to vote in the United States was 8.9 minutes. However, precincts with a high percentage of minority voters, renters, and lower incomes saw significantly longer wait times.

“In precincts with 10% or fewer voters, the average wait time was only 5.1 minutes,” says BPC Elections Project Director Matthew Weil, a co-author of the study. “But in precincts with 90% or more minority voters, the average wait time climbed to an astounding 32.4 minutes.”

The study, called The 2018 Voting Experience: Polling Place Lines, also found that lines are far more common at the beginning of the day, with 69% of precincts experiencing their longest lines within the first hour of voting. The data shows that if long lines are not resolved within the first two hours, long wait times at the polls are likely to occur for the rest of the day.

The study spanned 3,119 precincts, 211 jurisdictions, and 11 states, accounting for 10.5 million votes cast9% of nationwide turnout. Jurisdiction size ranged from Metz Township, MI, with 230 registered voters, to San Diego County, CA, with nearly 3 million registered voters.

The purpose of the BPC/MIT research is to provide evidence to policymakers that long lines can be studiedand brought under controlby using approaches and tools that businesses have been employing for decades. Doing so starts with the collection of vital information during the voting process and translating that into a willingness to make necessary changes to improve the voting experience.