Skip to main content

New Report: Many Election Day Lines Shorter in 2016, But Some Long Waits Remain

Fewer Americans waited in long lines to vote during 2016’s presidential election compared with 2012, but a significant number of polling places still experienced average wait times over 30 minutes, according to a new Bipartisan Policy Center report published today.

BPC and the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project conducted the largest-ever national study of polling place wait times on Election Day 2016, with poll workers measuring lines at 4,006 voting precincts in 88 jurisdictions across 11 states, including swing states Michigan, Virginia, and Florida. Studied locations accounted for about 8 percent of all votes cast in the 2016 presidential election.

Notably, states that had the longest wait times in 2012 like Michigan, Florida, and Virginia saw the biggest improvements in 2016.

“Many states have taken and are taking critical steps to improve wait times, and the results of our study show those efforts are largely succeeding,” said John Fortier, director of BPC’s Democracy Project. “Long lines were not an issue for the vast majority of voters in 2016, but a significant number of voters continue to experience unacceptably long waits. The data collected through our simple program will be used in the future to create more efficient polling places.”

The data collected through our simple program will be used in the future to create more efficient polling places.

While 92 percent of polling places had average wait times below 30 minutes, 8 percent fell above that critical benchmark. Half of those polling places with daily lines exceeding 30 minutes saw average wait times above an hour. In almost all locations, lines were longest early in the morning and shortest at noon and 5 p.m.

“America tends to vote in the morning,” said MIT’s Charles Stewart III, one of the report’s lead authors. “Polling places that effectively managed their morning lines experienced shorter wait times throughout the day, while those that did not had longer lines all day.”

The 30-minute benchmark was established by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, assembled by President Barack Obama after reports of long wait times and other obstacles to voting in the 2012 election. The commission, chaired by former Obama campaign lawyer Bob Bauer and former Romney campaign lawyer Ben Ginsberg, issued a series of recommendations to improve the voting process in 2014. BPC hosts the commission’s ongoing work and strives to help election administrators implement its recommendations.

“Our study provides valuable information for local election administrators on where and when to deploy resources on Election Day to minimize wait times and ensure an efficient voting process,” said Fortier. “It is critical for more jurisdictions to join us in this project because, as we write in the report, what isn’t counted can’t be managed.”

Read Next