Waiting in Line to VoteWorking Paper No.: 114
Date Published: 2013-07-28
Charles Stewart III, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Stephen Ansolabehere, Harvard University
Waiting in long lines discourages some people from voting, undermines confidence in the electoral system, and imposes economic costs on voters.
- Estimates of lost votes due to long lines in 2012 range from 500,000 to 700,000.
- Voters who wait in long lines are less confident their votes are counted as intended, and that votes nationwide are counted as intended. o Long lines affect the confident of voters in states with long lines, even when individuals do not experience the long lines themselves.
- The economic cost to voters of standing in line to vote is approximately $500 million.
Waiting in long lines was not universal in 2012.
- Average wait times ranged from 2 minutes in Vermont to 39 minutes in Florida.
- Wait times in states and counties were consistent with patterns in 2008.
- There was significant variation in wait times within states, and even within counties.
- Minority voters, early voters, and urban dwellers experienced the longest lines.
Most standard recommendations for shortening lines derive from simple, straightforward application of queuing theory.
- These recommendations revolve around reducing the number of in-person voters, increasing service points, and decreasing transaction times.
- There is little empirical evidence that the recommendations prescribed as solutions to long lines have actually been effective in reducing waiting times.
- Budgetary and space constraints weigh heavily in implementing reforms to reduce lines.
Unlike the response to the “lost votes” that beset the 2000 presidential election, there are no easily implemented reforms that have been demonstrated to be effective through systematic study.