Another Form of Voter Suppression

Another Form of Voter Suppression November 6, 2014

As the Republicans continue their relentless campaign to make it as difficult as possible for people to vote (but only if they’re likely Democratic voters), one constant and mostly invisible means of voter suppression is making sure that the wait times are longer at polling places in precincts with a high minority presence.

These polling places tend to have long lines to vote. Long lines force people to eventually give up and go home, depressing voter turnout. And that happens regularly all across the country in precincts with lots of minority voters, even without voter ID or other voting restrictions in place.

Nationally, African Americans waited about twice as long to vote in the 2012 election as white people (23 minutes on average versus 12 minutes); Hispanics waited 19 minutes. White people who live in neighborhoods whose residents are less than 5 percent minority had the shortest of all wait times, just 7 minutes. These averages obscure some of the unusually long lines in some areas. In South Carolina’s Richland County, which is 48 percent black and is home to 14 percent of the state’s African American registered voters, some people waited more than five hours to cast their ballots.

A recent study from the Brennan Center for Justice suggests that a big factor behind these delays was inadequately prepared polling places in heavily minority precincts. Looking at Florida, Maryland, and South Carolina, three states that had some of the longest voting lines in 2012 , the center found a strong correlation between areas with large minority populations and a lack of voting machines and poll workers. In South Carolina, the 10 precincts with the longest waits had more than twice the percentage of black voters (64 percent) as the state as a whole (27 percent).

In the parts of South Carolina with the longest lines (all in Richland County), precincts had an average of only 1 poll worker for every 321 voters, almost twice the state’s mandated ratio of 1 to 167. These precincts also had the fewest voting machines relative to registered voters, with some precincts hitting 432 voters per machine. In contrast, precincts with no wait times had an average of 279 voters per machine. State law requires no more than 250 voters per machine, a limit implemented under the Voting Rights Act. Research shows that voter participation starts to drop off sharply when the number of registered voters per machine exceeds that…

After the 2004 election, University of Michigan political scientist Walter Mebane studied Franklin County for the Democratic National Committee, which wanted to figure out why so many likely Democratic voters had been unable to vote. He found that precincts with large minority populations had nearly 24 percent more registered voters per voting machine than in precincts whose population was less than one-quarter minority. Mebane estimated that the voting machine shortage had reduced potential voter turnout in those areas of Franklin by about 4 percent. Another estimate suggested that roughly 130,000 would-be voters were turned away thanks to long lines.

The standards are in place, but there’s obviously no enforcement mechanism and no plans to ensure adequate voting machines and poll workers before the election takes place — and after it takes place, with who knows how many people not being able to vote, any action taken is useless. Just another way poor and minority voters are prevented from voting.

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