Voter turnout was a dismal 57.5 percent in last November’s election, despite the availability of an early voting option in many states. A story in Tuesday’s New York Times pointed a finger at long lines at the polls, causing delays that sent many would-be voters home or back to work before they could cast their ballots. That’s inexcusable, and regardless of what political party those prospective voters identify with, where they live, or what their race or socioeconomic status is, it needs to be fixed.
A number of recent polls and studies cited in the story suggest that lines were longest in the most densely populated, lower-income urban areas. Indeed, blacks and Hispanics, who live mostly in large cities, reported waiting nearly twice as long as whites, 20.2 minutes vs. 12.7 minutes.
Surely, 20 minutes isn’t too long to wait to vote, but bear in mind those are just the national averages. In some states — Florida, for example — the waits averaged 45 minutes, and in some cities, the delays were as long as eight hours! No wonder, according to an analysis by an Ohio State University professor and the Orlando Sentinel, more than 200,000 Floridians “gave up in frustration” before casting their ballots.
Unfortunately, what should be a matter of concern to politicians of all stripes has become a partisan issue, primarily because the disenfranchised voters are more inclined to vote Democratic. So Republicans are ready to fight any legislation at the federal level that would make on-line registration and/or early voting easier. That includes a bill sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Ideally, states would tend to these issues by themselves, and do so fairly, but it’s been proven that not all of them do. Money might have something to do with it, since there’s a direct correlation between a precinct’s size and the length of its lines. But if states can reduce those lines by letting people vote early, and by registering them online (so they don’t have to cast affidavit ballots on Election Day), without increasing voter fraud — which is nothing of the problem that some Republicans allege — they should be allowed to do so.