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D.C. Voters Face Second Longest Wait Times At Polls In The U.S.

While turnout was light during the April 1 primary, wait times were long during the 2012 presidential election.
WAMU/Martin Austermuhle
While turnout was light during the April 1 primary, wait times were long during the 2012 presidential election.

Voters in the District waited an average of 33.9 minutes to cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election, the second-longest wait time in the country.

That's according to a new report from the Pew Charitable Trust's Elections Performance Index, which measures how well states conduct their elections every two years.

The District was beat out only by Florida, where voters waited an average of 45 minutes to cast ballots. Maryland ranked just below D.C. at 29.2 minutes per ballot, while Virginia was two spots below on the list with 23.6 minutes. All local jurisdictions posted wait times well above national average of 11.2 minutes and nation-leading Vermont, where voters waited only two minutes to vote.

Other reports have found that wait times increase with the size of the jurisdiction, and that minority groups tend to wait longer to cast ballots. According to one MIT researcher, white voters waited 12.7 minutes to cast ballots in 2012, while black and Hispanic voters waited 20.7 minutes.

Overall, the index puts D.C. close to the bottom of the rankings of the 50 states, at 40th. Assessed on everything from turnout to how many ballots were rejected, D.C. averaged 62 percent across 17 measures. Virginia fared better at 19th with 71 percent, while Maryland came in at seventh with 76 percent.

The news for D.C.'s Board of Elections isn't all bad: the city jumped 20 percentage points since 2008, the single largest jump of any jurisdiction in the country. Additionally, D.C. posted the highest voter registration rate in the country: 92.5 percent.

Still, the report says that D.C. still struggles because of a high proportion of provisional ballots, which it says are the product of a law allowing Election Day voter registration. Additionally, long wait times are likely caused by a misallocation of resources at polling places.

During an early voting period in 2012, D.C. voters complained of waits approaching and exceeding two hours. The elections board said that the waits were caused by the high number of different ballot styles needed and the fact that voters could cast ballots at any of eight early voting centers, causing backups on electronic voting machines that were programmed for specific ballot styles.

The elections board recently came under fire for a number of glitches during the reporting of results of the April 1 primary. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) has called a hearing for the end of April to hear explanations on why early voting results took so long to be reported and why initial vote counts only included paper ballots and not electronic voting machines.


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