Analysis

Wait Times in the District of Columbia

In the 2014 general election, the District of Columbia Board of Elections did something fairly unique: It measured how long voters were waiting to cast ballots. And it did this by simply observing and timing people at polling places.

The city’s After-Action Report on the election describes the deployment of data collection teams to five of the busiest polling places to see how long it took people to go through the process of checking in, obtaining a ballot, and casting their votes. The results varied depending on which voting system was used:

  • Voters using paper ballots, which are optically scanned and counted, needed an average of 8 minutes and 40 seconds to complete the voting process.
  • Those using electronic touch-screen machines took 12 minutes and 12 seconds.
  • Those who had to cast special, or provisional, ballots—due to questions about their eligibility or because they were registering to vote on Election Day—spent 14 minutes and 45 seconds at the polls.

Additional detail shows that almost half the time that was required to cast a touch-screen ballot—approximately 5½ minutes—was spent waiting in line for a machine after checking in. Voters using paper had to wait in line only 30 seconds to receive their ballots. However, it took voters a little more than four minutes to complete a paper ballot compared with less than three for touch-screen voters.

Elections officials also noted that special ballots posed a particular challenge because the city issues these at one of the highest rates in the country.

The Board of Elections has said it will use this information to plan for the 2016 presidential election.

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