While many voters reported long lines at polling locations around the country during the 2012 presidential election, this year the overall amount of time people had to wait to vote improved significantly, according to a new survey examining voter experience during the 2016 presidential election. Charles Stewart III, the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at MIT, today presented the preliminary findings of the Survey on the Performance of American Elections (SPAE), during a conference hosted by the Pew Charitable Trusts on the evolution of voting administration since the 2012 election. Stewart found that in a number of states where voters experienced some of the longest waiting times in the 2012 presidential election—including South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland—there was notable improvement in 2016. In Florida, Stewart found “tremendous improvement in terms of how long people reported that they waited to vote.” The findings show that “all the effort over the last four years that was invested in dealing with problems President Obama identified with lines, those efforts appear to have paid off,” Stewart says.
However, Stewart cautions that while the overall picture shows a trend in the right direction, voter experiences still vary between states, and some states still have a ways to go before wait times are within acceptable limits. For instance, in about half the states over 10 percent of voters waited more than 30 minutes to vote in 2016, which exceeds the benchmark established by the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Other states, such as North Carolina, saw significant improvement on Election Day that was not matched in early voting.
“The value of the SPAE is that it shines a spotlight on the specific places in America where further improvement is needed, while also identifying jurisdictions that may have a lesson to teach others,” Stewart explains.
The SPAE was conducted as part of the Pew Charitable Trusts Elections Performance Index, which is aimed at providing a comprehensive assessment of election administration across the nation. The index comprises data compiled on election administration policy and performance during the 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections, and will soon include information from the 2016 election.