US elections: Long lines underscore multiple barriers to voting

Early voting has began in additional than 20 states forward of the November three United States presidential election and already, the turnout has far surpassed previous contests, main some specialists to venture record-breaking participation this yr.

Greater than 25 million ballots have been solid by in-person early ballots and mail-in voting as of Saturday, the USA Election Undertaking stated, which corresponds to greater than 18 % of all of the votes counted within the 2016 presidential race.

However that early voter engagement, partially fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic, has additionally led to new challenges, as lengthy traces and hours-long waits had been reported at polling websites in Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana and Ohio, amongst different states.

Early voters line as much as solid their ballots on the South Regional Library polling location in Durham, North Carolina [Gerry Broome/AP]

The time-consuming course of has been attributed to enthusiasm in a charged political local weather, eagerness to keep away from the polls on election day due to the novel coronavirus, and, in some instances, glitches with the voting infrastructure.

However additionally it is proof of limitations that many US voters face, in accordance with voting rights advocates, who stated that these limitations, which may make casting a poll a day-long affair, usually disproportionately have an effect on minority communities.

Critics additionally stated that some voting programs, that are overseen by and differ between every respective US state, even in nationwide elections, are inherently designed to assist one celebration over the opposite.

“The long lines are happening not by accident but design,” the Nationwide Election Defence Coalition, a gaggle of election-monitoring organisations, tweeted on October 15. “Voters must stand up to defend our system of government.”

Fewer polling locations

In Georgia, the place polls opened on Monday, some voters waited greater than eight hours to solid their votes, in accordance with native media.

The primary day of voting within the state noticed 128,000 residents go to the polls, smashing 2016’s first-day turnout of 91,000, The Related Press information company reported.

State officers stated the turnout was “extreme and tremendous” and, subsequently, traces had been to be anticipated. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm around this election, and you’re going to see high turnout. Because of that, we’re going to see lines,” Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs informed the Atlanta Journal-Structure newspaper.

The delays had been partially fuelled by issues with voter check-in computer systems at polling websites within the Atlanta space, in accordance with native media.

However an evaluation by Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica, revealed Saturday in coordination with Nationwide Public Radio, indicated a extra insidious drawback: A shrinking variety of polling websites within the state.

The information shops reported that whereas the discount of polling locations has taken place “across racial lines”, it has had an outsized impact on nonwhite communities which have seen spikes in voter registration and the place residents usually tend to solid ballots in particular person.

That’s significantly noteworthy, as Georgia is considered one of a number of locations within the US with a historical past of voter discrimination. Beneath the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, the state had been required to get federal preclearance earlier than making adjustments to its voting programs and infrastructure.

Nonetheless, a Supreme Courtroom ruling in 2013 eradicated that requirement, permitting state officers and legislators to make adjustments to how voting is carried out with out oversight by the federal authorities. People and teams can nonetheless problem state voting practices in courtroom.

Since then, the variety of registered voters in Georgia has grown by practically two million individuals, whereas the variety of polling places has been reduce statewide by 10 %, in accordance with the Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica evaluation.

Greater than 25 million ballots have been solid by in-person early ballots and mail-in voting as of Saturday, the USA Election Undertaking stated [File: LM Otero/AP]

9 counties within the metropolis of Atlanta have been hit significantly laborious, accounting for half of the state’s voters, however solely 38 % of its polling locations, the report discovered, though some have sought to make last-minute polling website additions earlier than the election.

It additionally stated the common variety of voters per polling place elevated by 40 % in these counties from 2012 to October 9. Throughout Georgia, about 90 % of precincts don’t adhere to a state legislation that caps the variety of voters allowed to solid their ballots at a single polling website that has beforehand skilled voter delays at 2,000 individuals.

The excessive variety of voters utilizing a single polling website extends past Georgia, a June voting evaluation by the Brennan Heart for Justice, a public coverage institute at New York College Regulation College, discovered.

The common variety of voters assigned to polling locations additionally elevated over the past 5 years in Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, all states that beforehand required preclearance below the Voting Rights Act.

Unequal assets

Different US states, together with people who didn’t have particular necessities below the Voting Rights Act, have additionally been accused of utilizing lengthy waits at polling websites to suppress voters.

In Ohio, the place early voting started on October 6, the quantity of people that solid ballots in particular person through the first week of early voting practically tripled in contrast with 2016, with 193,021 voters going to the polls in contrast with 64,312 4 years in the past.

Greater than 193,000 individuals solid ballots in particular person through the first week of early voting this month in Ohio, practically triple the quantity who solid early ballots in that very same interval in 2016 [File: Aaron Doster/AP]

The surge led to hours-long waits at polling stations, together with a line of voters within the metropolis of Columbus that stretched about 0.four kilometres (0.25 miles) on the primary day the polls opened, the AP reported.

Ohio state officers have blamed the lengthy traces on the primary day of early voting on excessive “enthusiasm” among the many citizens.

However a 2006 state legislation that limits early, in-person polling websites to at least one per county additionally contributed to the lengthy line-ups, former President Barack Obama’s speechwriter, David Litt, famous this week in The Guardian newspaper.

Litt stated the set-up signifies that residents of Vinton County, a Republican bastion with a inhabitants of 13,500, have entry to the identical variety of early voting websites because the 1.three million residents of Franklin County, which encompasses Columbus, the state capital.


“Blaming voters for the long lines they endure ignores the massive, intentional disparity in resources between the more and less populous parts of the state,” Litt wrote. “Ohio’s politicians have made voting far easier for Republicans and far more difficult for Democrats.”

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