Washington Post, April 2021
Before the November 2020 elections, the news media warned that citizens might have to wait in line for a long time — perhaps longer than usual, given the pandemic’s social distancing requirements. Voting rights advocates noted that areas with high concentrations of Black, Brown, poor and otherwise underprivileged citizens were given fewer polling places and voting booths per capita than areas serving well-off White voters — which would lead to longer wait times, potentially disenfranchising those voters.
That’s common. Researchers routinely find that non-White Americans wait longer to vote. One study found that non-White voters in 2016 were seven times as likely as Whites to wait longer than one hour to vote. Another study showed that lines in communities that were predominantly non-White were about twice as long as in those in predominantly White communities. Such disparities can discourage citizens from voting in the short run — and from even trying to vote later on. In fact, political scientist Stephen Pettigrew estimates that for every additional hour someone waits in line to vote, their probability of voting in the next election drops by 1 percentage point. This concern is especially troublesome given recent legislative efforts to restrict voting in at least 47 states.
So how long are Americans willing to wait to vote? The answer varies by race and other demographic characteristics, our research found.