Democracy on the Line: Polling Place Closures in Georgia and the Wait Time to Vote
44 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2023
Date Written: January 19, 2023
Problem definition: Due to the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court ruling in 2013, Georgia was no longer required to get federal preclearance for changes to its voting processes. In response, county election administrators throughout Georgia modified their voting practices between the 2012 and 2016 elections, including closing polling places, an action that received considerable media attention. We seek to understand how Georgia's decisions influenced (i) the wait time to vote in the state, (ii) the travel distance and time to vote, and (iii) the groups of voters that were most affected. Methodology/results: Opponents of closures fear longer delays to vote, but queueing theory suggests the wait time to vote could improve, while also reducing costs, as advocated by proponents. Consistent with the hypothesis that voting capacity was reduced to lower costs, using a difference-in-difference analysis, we estimate that, due to voting process changes Georgia made between 2012 and 2016, the average wait time to vote in Georgia increased 13.67 minutes. Based on the home addresses of approximately four million Georgian voters, we estimate that closures increased the average distance to a voter's nearest polling place by 0.15-0.20 miles, which requires an additional driving time of about 1 minute. Using a cross-sectional analysis of counties in Georgia, we find that closures are associated with a county's income, but not its racial composition or party affiliation, which is more consistent with the motivation to reduce election administrative cost rather than a desire to suppress voting. Furthermore, these income-related closures appear to have increased wait times for low-income voters. Managerial implications: We conclude that explicit controls on capacity decisions, which exist in some states, could be useful for regulating the quality of the voting experience.
Keywords: voting, queue, lines, waiting, capacity pooling, resource allocation
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