Voting Wait Times Experienced by Different Races in the 2016 Election

Wait times for voting on Election Day seem to have elicited much more concern in the last election cycle. The issue speaks to the state of democracy in the country and how accessible the simplest democratic function is to the mass public. Notably, as with other aspects of voting ability in U.S., wait times have often been shown to carry a racial dimension. For example, a report using 2012 data showed African-Americans averaged nearly twice the wait time to vote in elections as whites did, who had a much easier time casting a vote. While experiencing lower wait times than blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans also had to stand in line longer to vote than whites did. An analysis at the precinct level came to a similar conclusion, finding that minority neighborhoods experienced longer wait times than white ones, which was driven by differences in resources (voting machines and poll workers) that different neighborhoods got. Simply put, such a phenomenon falls within the pervasive web of racial inequalities in this country.

New survey data that has been publicly released in the last 24 hours sheds new light on this issue in the context of the most recent general election. The Cooperative Congressional Election Study is the largest and one of the highest quality surveys that is available for public use (I tend to use the other big one, the American National Election Study, more often), and the data for the 2016 iteration of this survey was recently released. As part of the second wave of the survey after the election passed, the following question was asked of and respond to by 34,293 survey respondents:

  • Approximately, how long did you have to wait in line to vote?

The answers ranged from “not at all,” “less than 10 minutes,” “10-30 minutes,” “31 minutes – 1 hour,” to “more than 1 hour.” Below, I break up those responses by five different race/ethnicity categories (all of which are weighted means):


While not overwhelmingly stark, the pattern is clear here and reinforces past research: whites spend a lot less time waiting in line to vote than minority groups. Moving from left to right along these graphs indicates longer weight times; the distribution for non-white groups tilts much more toward longer wait times than that for whites. 40 percent of whites report no wait time at all, while fewer blacks at 25.1 percent, Hispanics at 25.5 percent, and Asians at 26.1 percent do the same. While 39.6 percent of blacks, 38.7 percent of Hispanics, and 34 percent of Asians waited for more than 10 minutes in line, only 27.3 percent of whites did. Narrowing that down to people who waited for more than half an hour in line makes the wait time more pronounced for Asians (16.2) and Hispanics (13.2 percent)  relative to whites (8.7). Obstacles such as these surely play at least some role in the much lower turnout rates among Hispanics and Asians.

And just to further drive this point home, the below graph includes the same information as the first one but divides wait times by whites and non-whites. As the previous subgroup comparisons indicate, whites have to wait less to cast their votes in the U.S. than non-whites do, a dynamic that has now clearly persisted into 2016 with the most recent election.


Update @1:00pm EST: I made small error calculating the race/ethnicity variable for Hispanics/Latinos earlier. I’ve corrected it in the above graphs and explanation in the text. It makes a vert small difference, but if anything, the correction has resulted in showing Hispanics wait more time in line to vote. 

Voting Wait Times Experienced by Different Races in the 2016 Election

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