Every. Freaking. Election. Whether it’s the primaries, midterms or the presidential election, there are always horror stories of people being forced to wait for hours in order to vote. It seems, quite frankly, to be a coordinated effort in disenfranchisement. In the Georgia primaries in June, predominantly black areas had an average wait time of 51 minutes. For white areas, the wait time was only six minutes.
While Georgia is a state with its own set of voting issues and recent shifts in policies reducing the number of voting locations, it represents a problem that people are already reporting in early-voting nationwide. It’s a problem that’s only further complicated by COVID-19: The dramatic increase in absentee or mail-in ballots; disparities in who is required to work in person versus who has the flexibility of working from home; and fears of spreading cases all make predicting when the “best” time to vote is almost impossible.
But here’s what we know so far.
As In Previous Years, Avoid the Opening Hours
In MEL’s voting wait-time guide in 2018, Quinn Myers spoke to a political scientist who specializes in queuing theory (basically, waiting-in-line theory) on the matter. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, getting in line before the polls open can mean you end up waiting much longer to vote, beyond the time spent waiting before opening. This is because all those early birds essentially create a logjam that can take several hours to clear up. It’s better, then, to wait until mid-morning to head to the polls, when workers are likely already in the flow of processing everyone.
Lunch and After-Work Hours Might Be Super Busy, or They Might Not
Typically, these are popular voting times that are still slightly less busy than opening. It’s hard to predict if this will be the case again this year, and how changes in people’s work schedules will impact popular voting times. It seems likely that these periods may not be as busy as they traditionally would be, but again, many people are still working outside the home (around 58 percent of workers, as of late July) and still more may be confined to traditional schedules. Increasingly, though, major corporations like Coca-Cola are giving their employees the day off to vote. So… it’s anyone’s guess!
You Might Be Able to Check Online
Many counties have now set up their websites to list the average wait times at their various polling stations. Most are currently active, accounting for early-voting, though they may not be entirely accurate. If this is something your county offers, it’s definitely worth referencing. You may be able to best predict the quickest time to vote by referencing your county’s website throughout early voting.
Whatever Happens, Please, Please Stick With It
Bring water, bring snacks, bring a folding chair and a book. Prepare however you can for the possibility that you may have to wait awhile. So long as you are in line before polls close, it’s your legal right to be able to vote.
It’s completely unfair and unjust that voting can be the shit-show that it is. Nobody should have to wait several hours to vote, especially when they may have had to work that day, and especially not during a pandemic. All there really is to say is, plan ahead and good luck.