Democracy on the Line: Polling Place Closures in Georgia and the Wait Time to Vote

47 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2023 Last revised: 26 May 2023

See all articles by Gerard P Cachon

Gerard P Cachon

The Wharton School - Operations, Information and Decisions Department

Dawson Kaaua

Georgetown University - McDonough School of Business

Date Written: May 26, 2023

Abstract

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 total 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, we find that throughout Georgia the burden of a longer wait time to vote was primarily assigned to 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

Suggested Citation

Cachon, Gerard P and Kaaua, Dawson, Democracy on the Line: Polling Place Closures in Georgia and the Wait Time to Vote (May 26, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4329036 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4329036

Gerard P Cachon

The Wharton School - Operations, Information and Decisions Department ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Dawson Kaaua (Contact Author)

Georgetown University - McDonough School of Business ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
119
Abstract Views
540
Rank
434,882
PlumX Metrics