Analysis

North Carolina Releases Study on Wait Times

During the 2014 general election, the North Carolina State Board of Elections surveyed county officials about voters’ longest reported wait times. The results indicate that most voters waited less than an hour during early voting and on Election Day and that in approximately two-thirds of counties, they waited less than 30 minutes. In 13 counties, however, voters experienced long waits of more than an hour. Last year’s report from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommended that states and counties aim for waits of no longer than 30 minutes.

The North Carolina study concluded that a variety of factors contributed to long lines at the polls, including ballot length, realignment and consolidation of some precincts, poll worker errors, technical issues, and even parking difficulty.

Forsyth County was one of several largely urban counties that reported wait times of more than one hour during early and Election Day voting. Officials there attributed the long lines to traffic, limited parking spaces, and an insufficient number of voting machines. Steve Hines, director of the county’s Board of Elections, also cited an increase in the number of voters, lack of staffing, and voting machine errors. In response, Hines recommended procedural changes, which the board approved: use of electronic poll books, hiring of more staff at the polls, and replacement of outdated voting equipment. 

The state board is exploring ways to collect wait time data centrally and more regularly in the future and offer tools for counties in planning for elections.

Other studies have taken different approaches to measuring wait times. The Survey of the Performance of American Elections, which measures waits at polls based on voter surveys conducted right after elections, found that 88 percent waited less than 10 minutes in 2014. A pilot study from the 2008 presidential primary election in California used polling place observation to determine wait times. 

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