Long lines and wait times at the polls on Election Day frustrate voters and make headlines. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) stated that no voter should wait in line more than 30 minutes to cast a vote—and that election officials should deploy resources accordingly. But making good policy decisions relies on the availability of good data.
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Democracy Project partnered with Charles Stewart III, co-director of the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project, during the 2016 election on the first ever nationwide program to evaluate long lines at all polling places in participating jurisdictions. The program is simple: poll workers count the number of people waiting in line to check in at the top of every hour on Election Day. Those observations combined with total turnout numbers yield accurate wait times by polling place.
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The data gathered come from jurisdictions that included more than one out of every 10 voters on Election Day. Participating jurisdictions numbered 88 from 11 different states and more than 4,000 individual polling places.
Each participating jurisdiction receives an analysis of the data to better understand when and where polling place lines occur. With this data, election officials can make evidence-based decisions about how best to deploy resources during the next election.