The Washington Post

How long did you wait to vote? Depends on your race

Long lines to vote in last fall's November have gotten a lot of attention — so much that President Obama has established a commission to tackle the issue. How big a problem was it, really? It depends on your race and where you live, according to a new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Charles Stewart.

Voters wait in a long line at Greenbriar Middle School Nov. 6, 2012, in Chesapeake, Va. (Brian J. Clark/The Virginia Pilot via Associated Press)

For the majority of voters, lines were not a huge problem. "Two-thirds of voters in 2012 waited less than 10 minutes to vote, and that only 3% of voters waited longer than an hour," he writes in a new study of the election. The national average wait time actually fell between 2008 and 2012 from 17 to 13 minutes, he finds.

But when it was bad, it was very, very bad. For those who waited longer than an hour, the average reported wait time was 110 minutes. Where was it bad? In Florida, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina, wait times exceeded 20 minutes, with Florida voters enduring the worst lines.

There was also significant variation within states. Dense urban areas saw longer lines than less-populated territory. Race was a major factor. "Viewed nationally, African Americans waited an average of 23 minutes to vote, compared to 12 minutes for whites; Hispanics waited 19 minutes," Stewart writes.

Again, that comes back to geography. Residents of Zip codes where the population is more than 75 percent nonwhite waited an average of 24 minutes to vote. Residents of Zip codes where the population is less than a quarter nonwhite waited, on average, 11 minutes.

Stewart notes that the worst lines in 2012 were generally found in the same places where long lines were common in 2008. There is no "magic bullet" to deal with the problem, he says; at this point, "we simply do not know where to start in making things better."

Obama's bipartisan commission is tasked with doing exactly that; the group is supposed to deliver a report in six months.

For the study, which will be published in the Journal of Law and PoliticsStewart relied on data from the Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE), supplemented by responses to the common core of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study and information from county election Web sites. A caveat -- these polls were conducted online and do not meet Washington Post polling standards.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says...
Rarely has the division between Trump and party elites been more apparent. Trump trashed one of the most revered families in Republican politics and made a bet that standing his ground is better than backing down. Drawing boos from the audience, Trump did not flinch. But whether he will be punished or rewarded by voters was the unanswerable question.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

March 6: Democratic debate

on CNN, in Flint, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.