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Charles Monaco on February 8, 2013 - 9:51am
The images are still fresh: endless lines of voters waiting for hours outside polling places on Election Day merely to participate in the democratic process. In some states, these lines were exacerbated by partisan efforts to restrict access to the polls, including cutting back on early voting days, as well as antiquated registration systems and polling sites running out of ballots.
A new analysis by MIT political science professor Charles Stewart III (illustrated in an infographic below) shows the wide disparities in time spent on line by voters across the fifty states and across different demographic groups. The differences by state are striking: Vermont voters waited an average of 2 minutes to vote, while Florida voters waited an average of 45 minutes (the national average was 14 minutes). Overall, African-American and Latino voters waited nearly twice as long on Election Day as white voters did, and rural voters had much shorter waits than suburban and urban voters.
President Obama memorably cited the need for election reform in his victory speech on election night, thanking voters for waiting on long lines, then adding, "we have to fix that." Even as some states consider further efforts to suppress the vote (or even reapportion their electoral votes so that the votes of urban areas count even less in the next presidential election), many are also looking to address this problem early in 2013. Fourteen states are considering whether to expand early voting — including Florida, where the Secretary of State just this week released a report recommending the state expand hours and locations for early voting and require simplification of intentionally lengthy and confusing ballot language. While states can do a lot to modernize voter registration systems and shorten Election Day lines, basic national standards are also clearly needed.
Access to the ballot shouldn't depend on your state, your race, or whether you live in a city or a small town — yet, as the map below illustrates, that seems to be exactly what it does depend on right now: