Long Lines to Vote Are a Sign Democracy Isn't Working


It’s Election Day 2018, and people all over the country are tweeting about standing in long-ass lines for their chance to participate in our supposed democracy.

Still others are bravely tweeting about how these lines are supposed to be a good thing:

At first blush, this could seem correct! Voting is THE most important thing today, as anyone with two synapses firing and an unhealthy desire to shame their peers will tell you, and lines are a sign that lots of people are getting out there and voting, dammit.

High voter turnout is good! But long lines are actually quite bad; they’re a massive, blinking red sign that democracy is not working. We need to make it as easy for people to vote as possible, so people without to luxury to do so aren’t forced to be late to work, parents aren’t forced to make childcare arrangements, and the elderly and people with disabilities aren’t forced to contend with standing for long periods of time. Long lines are a sign of dysfunction—a sign that, for instance, the funding wasn’t there to hire more poll workers or get more voting machines. (My soaking wet polling place only had two machines that seemed to work, with long lines to shove your ballot into both, which came after a long line to use one of the booths.)

Here are just a few examples of what long lines mean in practice. They’re all from New York City, which has been plagued by voting disasters all day.

Not good! And the ill effects reach far beyond today. As the New York Times’ Upshot blog detailed on Election Day 2016, lines depress future election turnout. The paper also spoke with a Harvard researcher who found lines disproportionately affect communities of color:

Early voters, urban voters and minority voters are all more likely to wait and wait and wait. In predominantly minority communities, the lines are about twice as long as in predominantly white ones, Mr. Pettigrew has found. And minority voters are six times as likely as whites to wait longer than an hour to vote. Those disparities have persisted even within the same town or county, suggesting they don’t reflect simply the greater difficulty of putting on elections in populous cities.

Lines are not something to be celebrated. They’re our last sign, before the results come in, of all the systemic barriers this country imposes on people trying to exercise their civic duty. Celebrate people wanting to engage and change our political system, not the physical manifestation of how badly our government wants to discourage them from doing so.

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