After working a 10-hour shift on Election Day, painter Richard Jordan headed to his east Orange County polling place at about 4:30 p.m. Based on more than a decade of voting, he expected to be in and out in minutes. Three hours later, Jordan’s back ached, he was hungry, thirsty — and nowhere near a voting booth. So he left. As it turned out, his Goldenrod Road precinct didn’t close until 11 p.m. “The line just wasn’t moving,” said the 42-year-old Democrat, who added that he now regrets not voting. “It was so depressing.” Like Jordan, as many as 49,000 people across Central Florida were discouraged from voting because of long lines on Election Day, according to a researcher at Ohio State University who analyzed election data compiled by the Orlando Sentinel.
About 30,000 of those discouraged voters — most of them in Orange and Osceola counties — likely would have backed Democratic President Barack Obama, according to Theodore Allen, an associate professor of industrial engineering at OSU.
About 19,000 voters would have likely backed Republican Mitt Romney, Allen said.
This suggests that Obama’s margin over Romney in Florida could have been roughly 11,000 votes higher than it was, based just on Central Florida results. Obama carried the state by 74,309 votes out of more than 8.4 million cast.
Allen’s first analysis of the impact of long lines at the polls was done in 2004, when he estimated that more than 20,000 voters in Franklin County, Ohio, where Ohio State is located, were discouraged from casting ballots in the razor-close contest between President George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry. He has continued his research in every election since.
His analysis of Central Florida results compared precinct closing times, Election Day turnout and results in the presidential race — which attracted the highest vote totals of any race on the ballot — for all Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole county precincts.
His review indicated that for every additional hour that a precinct stayed open past 7 p.m. — a good indicator of line length throughout the day — turnout dropped by as much as 4.8 percent. The precincts with the longest lines, he found, had some of the lowest turnouts, a fact he attributed mostly to a record-long ballot that, in Orange County, ran to six pages.
As Allen put it in a report to the Sentinel: “Without understanding the importance of ballot length as a variable, it would be surprising to see from the data from 2012 in Central Florida that lower turnout was recorded in the locations with the longest waits. This is because longer ballots (not higher turnout) likely caused the longer lines which, in turn, suppressed the turnout.”