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Research examines polling problems in communities of color

Oct 9, 2016

As the presidential race tightens, voter turnout could play a decisive role, and a new study warns that some Americans may have a harder time casting ballots than others.

Spencer Overton, president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, says data from the last presidential election points to serious shortcomings in how polling is managed in communities of color.

"African-Americans, on average, waited up to twice as long as whites to vote," he points out. "Long lines reduce turnout and also cost time and money."

Overton adds in some black communities, people waited in line up to seven hours to vote in 2012.

Nationwide, the Joint Center's study found white voters waited an average of 12 minutes to vote, compared with 19 minutes for Latinos and 23 minutes for African-Americans.

Overton maintains long lines deterred at least 730,000 Americans from voting, and notes that just over 500 votes were enough to determine the outcome of the 2000 presidential election.

Lack of poll workers, voting machines and cuts to the number of early voting days are largely responsible for the delays, Overton says.

And a recent study from the Pew Center on the States found one in eight voter registration records are invalid or have serious errors.

Overton says this makes it hard to accurately predict resources needed to match voter turnout, and then find voter records for those who finally get to the front of the line.

"Amusement parks and other public venues manage wait times and lines with a science called 'queueing theory,' where they collect data and they make sure adequate resources are in place," he states. "This should be applied to voting."

To reduce wait times, Overton suggests states, counties and cities should also adopt and enforce minimum wait-time standards, provide adequate funding for voting machines and workers, expand early-voting days and add the option of voting by mail.