There’s a New Plan to Shorten Voting Lines: Make the Responsible Officials Pay You

voters waiting in long lines

Voters wait in long lines at an Atlanta-area elementary school on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. The lines around lunchtime were taking two and a half hours.TNS via ZUMA Wire

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

It’s practially a given that any major election will produce images of voters waiting in hours-long lines. It’s already happening in the run up to November, as waits have piled up outside of early voting sites.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has an idea to help keep waits to under 30 minutes: force states where it takes longer to make direct financial restitution to voters. 

The People Over Long Lines (POLL) Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkly (D-Ore.), would also allow voters to collect $50 for waiting longer than 30 minutes, with an additional $50 for each hour after that. If a court determines that the long lines were somehow intentional on the part of election officials, or caused by wreckless disregard of wait times, the payments ballon to $650 per voter after the first half hour, with $150 more each additional hour.

While such payments are unlikely to become a reality, voting delays have very real consequences, including people who are forced to leave before they can cast a ballot. In 2012, between 500,000 and 700,000 votes were lost to long lines, according to an estimate prepared for the federal Election Assistance Commission. Long lines tend to disproportionately impact minority communities; the same study showed Black voters waited twice the time as whites. The reasons behind long lines vary—reduced polling locations, staff shortages, equipment breakdowns, poll workers not showing up due to COVID-19 fears—but the net result is, to some, blatant voter suppression

“Voting shouldn’t be a war of attrition,” Wyden said in a statement releasing his bill Wednesday. “It is a national disgrace that millions of working Americans, seniors, and parents are forced to stand in line for hours just to exercise their God-given right to vote.”

The bill would provide $500 million in federal funding to local election administrators to help them speed voting, and establish Election Assistance Commission audits of state performances. It would also mandate that voting locations have sufficient emergency ballots on hand to allow people to vote even if equipment fails, as happened in several places across the country during the 2018 midterms. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked nearly all federal election-related legislation, arguing that elections are primarily state-run and that the  federal government has little role in protecting them from foreign interference or ensuring they are administered fairly.

“Senator McConnell has been crystal clear that he opposes any bill that makes it easier or safer for Americans to vote,” Wyden told Mother Jones. “I’m not holding my breath that he’ll change his mind this time around. But any American who is stuck in line, waiting for hours to cast a ballot, needs to know that it doesn’t have to be that way.”

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate