Voters of Color Should Not Have to Wait Longer at the Polls

September 21, 2020 by Aburiyeba Amaso

by Rebecca Leaf

Many studies have focused on how voter ID laws prevent low-income people from voting.[1] I believe that additional focus is warranted on how insufficient resource allocation affects low-income and minority voter turnout. Data indicates that voting in most parts of the country is disproportionately difficult for poor or low-income eligible voters.[2] I believe that poor resource allocation leads to longer lines at the polls for poorer and minority voters which deters voting and violates the law.

Surveys confirm that long wait times can act as a major deterrence to voters.[3] One survey by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate indicated that of the 23.2 million registered voters who did not cast a ballot, approximately 11% did not vote because the lines were too long.[4]  This is especially problematic because according to a study of polling places during the 2012 presidential election, on average, voters belonging to minorities waited longer to vote than white voters.[5]

Long lines are likely to act as a stronger deterrence on lower income Americans. These voters are less likely to be able to afford taking time off work to vote. Currently, there are only twenty-three states that require employers to offer employees some form of paid leave to vote.[6]  Due to the race wage gap, these issues are more likely to affect African American and Hispanic populations.[7]

Experts have proposed that at least one of the contributing factors to this wait time disparity is poor resource allocation in minority neighborhoods.[8]  It has been noted that precincts with high numbers of minority voters tend to get fewer resources such as poll workers and voting machines.[9]

If research confirms that minority populations, who disproportionately experience longer lines, are more likely deterred by long lines, then resource allocation among polling precincts likely violates section two of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Supreme Court finds a section two violation when “the use of a contested electoral practice or structure results in members of a protected group having less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.”[10] The Court does not believe discriminatory intent is a necessary condition for a violation.[11] Instead, discriminatory effect appears much more dispositive. The Act establishes that § 2 has been violated where the totality of circumstances reveal that “the political processes leading to nomination or election…are not equally open to participation by members of a [protected class] …in that its members have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.”[12] As discussed above, longer wait times are more likely to be experienced by African American voters.  If these wait times disparately impact African American’s opportunity to vote, one can argue that is a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Long lines are both more likely to impact minority voters and more likely to be experienced by minority voters.[13]  Besides violating the law, these phenomena exclude minority voters from representation and can have serious and long-lasting policy consequences. Systemic solutions to prevent this inequality are especially important during elections held amidst the pandemic where long wait times at polling places are especially likely to affect and deter voters of color.[14]  I believe measures must be taken by the federal government to make it so that low-income communities have the resources to make eligible voter ratios equal to that of higher income neighborhoods.[15]


[1] Oppose Voter ID Legislation-Fact Sheet, ACLU, (last visited Oct. 18, 2018)

[2] e.g. Thom File & Sarah Crissey, Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2008, United States Census Bureau, (July 2012)

[3] See Survey Suggests Voter Registration Problems Were Major Factor in Three Million Americans’ Inability to Vote in 2008, Pew Trusts (Mar. 26, 2009)

[4] id.

[5] Charles Stewart III, Managing Polling Place Resources, 7,  Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, (Nov. 2015),

[6] Yuki Noguchi, Several States, Some Employers Help Workers Make Time to Vote, NPR, (Nov. 1, 2016)

[7] Eileen Patten, Racial, gender wage gaps persist in U.S. despite some progress, Pew Research Ctr., (July 2, 2016)

[8] Christopher Famighetti, Amanda Melillo & Myrna Pérez, Election Day Long Lines: Resource Allocation, Brennan Ctr.  for Justice, (June 24, 2017),

[9] Id.

[10] Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 39, 63 (1986)

[11] Id at 44

[12] id. at 24 (citing Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2(b))(emphasis added)

[13] id.

[14] Hannah Klein, et al., Waiting to Vote, Brennan Ctr. for Justice (June 3, 2020),

[15] Matt Vasilogambros, Voting Lines Are Shorter-But Mostly for

Whites, Pew Trusts, (Feb. 15, 2018)