Addressing Racial Disparities in Polling Wait Times: A Needed Election Reform

Right now, all the talk about election reforms and voting rights at the national level and at some state levels seems to center around gerrymandering (manipulating the boundaries of an electoral district to favor a particular party or person), state voter ID laws (something which critics argue disenfranchises some people), and restoring voting rights for people with completed felony sentences, to name a few. These are big and important things to try and take on, as gerrymandering allows representatives to choose their constituents instead of the other way around, restrictive voter ID laws create a potential barrier to voting for some people,[1] and restoring voting for people with completed felony sentences seems only fitting for those who have already paid their debts to society.

Yet, there are several other severely needed election-related issues that aren’t being discussed enough, in my humble opinion, yet desperately need to be addressed in some form. One such issue I want to really focus on in this post is in reducing the racial disparity in wait times at the polls.

In the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election, it was found that residents of entirely Black neighborhoods took 29% longer to vote and were 74% more likely to wait at their polling place to vote for 30+ minutes than those from entirely white neighborhoods.[2] Numbers were also bad in the 2018 midterm elections, when Latinos waited 46% longer than white voters on average while Black voters waited 45% longer than white voters on average.[3] I haven’t seen any numbers for 2020, but I am guessing that 2020 might not be a fair year to look at for numbers due to how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the way so many Americans voted.

A fair bit of the blame for these disparities has often been given to a 2013 United States Supreme Court decision that decided to throw out key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The result of the decision was that several elements of federal oversight of election decisions in states with histories of discrimination, including decisions on closing down polling places, were removed. Subsequently, many of these states covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have closed down many polling places—something which has disproportionately affected Black voters in Georgia[4] as well as Black and Latino voters in Texas,[5] to name two.

While I have little doubt that the closing down of polling places in many communities of color post-2013 decision has played a factor, I think there is something more going on. I say that because wait times for voting in presidential elections in 2012 and 2008—in a time before the 2013 decision from the Supreme Court—also show racial disparities in terms of how long people waited at the polls,[6] leading me to think that while the 2013 decision is likely a problem, it’s not the only problem.

Another potential problem to consider is the number of resources allocated to various voting places; namely, poll workers and voting machines. Speaking of 2012, the states that had the longest lines in that year’s election (Florida, South Carolina, and Maryland) were marred by a shortage of machines, poll workers, or both—issues that happened in areas with high percentages of minority voters.[7] The fact that two of these states (Florida and Maryland) did not even have the “histories of discrimination” that made them subject to the Voting Rights Act also means that looking at voting from a racial injustice standpoint should not just be limited to those states and locations subjected to the Voting Rights Act.

A more politically progressive approach to this might be to advocate for voting rights legislation that could, if at all possible, hold accountable states which dole out fewer resources for voting to communities of color than to predominantly white communities, whether that be poll places or poll workers. I am not a legal expert so I don’t know the extent to which such a law is possible, especially given the fact that there is a lot of power in terms of the administering of elections that is in the hands of individual states. I am also not a legislative expert so I don’t know if the current voting rights legislation in Congress looks to address this specific issue. However, given the fact that the right to vote is a foundational right for an American citizen, it is certainly an issue that needs to be brought to the table at the federal level.

One thing that must be done, regardless of whether anything can legally be done at the federal level to address such issues, is that more advocacy needs to be done to pressure states into following their own election laws—laws that are often not followed. In the case of two of the states with the longest lines in 2012, for example (Maryland and South Carolina), the overwhelming majority of voting precincts did not comply with laws in place regarding resource allocations for polling places.[8] And then there are all the cases of laws on the size of voting precincts and polling places—laws often not followed,[9] much to the detriment of how long lines at the polls often are. I can’t help but wonder how many of the current racial disparities with polling wait times would be addressed if states were pressured into following their own election laws on everything from resource allocations to the sizes of polling precincts.

Regardless of the strategy for addressing the disparity in polling wait times, it cannot be denied that there are longstanding disparities in terms of how long people of different races need to vote. Figuring out how best to address this should be part of the larger election reform discussion.


[1] https://www.law.nyu.edu/news/BRENNAN_CENTER_VOTERID_STUDY

[2] https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w26487/w26487.pdf

[3] https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/waiting-vote

[4] https://www.npr.org/2020/10/17/924527679/why-do-nonwhite-georgia-voters-have-to-wait-in-line-for-hours-too-few-polling-pl

[5] https://kinder.rice.edu/urbanedge/2020/07/13/racial-inequality-why-does-it-take-so-long-vote-Black-communities

[6] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2013/04/08/how-long-did-you-wait-to-vote-depends-on-your-race/

[7] https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/election-day-long-lines-resource-allocation

[8] Ibid.

[9] https://www.npr.org/2020/10/17/924527679/why-do-nonwhite-georgia-voters-have-to-wait-in-line-for-hours-too-few-polling-pl

What Is…Critical Race Theory (Part One)

Right now, it seems like everyone and their distant cousins have an opinion on critical race theory (CRT) in the United States. In particular, CRT seems to have garnered significant criticism on the American right.

In light of all this attention, I decided that it would be a good idea for me to learn about the theory. However, upon learning the theory, and upon learning that so many of us apparently know so little about the theory (myself included, before I did the research),[1] I decided that it would be a good idea to share what I’ve learned with others, hence a two-part series on CRT (because there’s just way too much information I have for one blog post of a reasonable length).

But what is CRT?

In the book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (a frequently cited book when it comes to CRT),[2] there are several tenets to CRT. I am quoting these tenets verbatim, so that people can see them for themselves instead of a paraphrasing of them (I will explain certain tenets further where I feel it’s necessary):

  • “Racism is ordinary, not aberrational—‘normal science,’ the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country.”[3]
  • “White-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material.”[4]
  • “Race and races are products of social thought and relations. Not objective, inherent, or fixed, they correspond to no biological or genetic reality; rather, races are categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient.”[5]
  • “The dominant society racializes different minority groups at different times, in response to shifting needs such as the labor market.”[6] This “radicalization” that is referred to is really the applying of negative stereotypes on different groups of people, depending on the needs and interests of the dominant society (something we’ve seen with Chinese, Irish, Japanese, Mexicans, and many others throughout American history).
  • “No person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity.”[7] What this means is that a Hispanic individual could have a disability, or that a white woman could also be working class and a lesbian. The whole person has more than one identity.
  • “The voice-of-color thesis holds that because of their different histories and experiences with oppression, black, Indian, Asian, and Latino/a writers and thinkers may be able to communicate to their white counterparts matters that the whites are unlikely to know.”[8]

In performing research about CRT and its tenets, there were several interesting things that I found, and several things others may find interesting and/or surprising.

The first interesting thing I found was that not everyone who believes in CRT necessarily believes in all the tenets outlined above.[9] While the source I’ve been citing outlines tenets that many critical race theorists agree with, it’s interesting to know, and good to remember, the lack of a single, all-unifying definition for those seeking that single, all-unifying definition of CRT.[10]

The second interesting thing is that this theory has been around for decades. While CRT has gained a national spotlight in recent months, the theory has its origins in the 1970s, as a response to slow progress on racial equality after forward movement on African American Civil Rights in the 1960s.[11] CRT gained traction in the 1980s and 1990s.[12] And yet, in spite of this theory being around for decades, it has come into the spotlight quite prominently in the past fifteen or so months.

The third interesting thing about CRT is that, for all the ire some conservatives in America have directed at this, the theory is critical of many traditionally liberal approaches to racial issues. In fact, CRT often “questions the very foundations of the liberal order,”[13] in no small part because, in the view of many of these theorists, American liberalism has not shown itself capable to adequately address injustice or do anything more than an incremental/reformist approach that only prolonged certain racial injustices.[14] The fact that traditional American liberalism is a frequent target of criticism from critical race theorists should by itself dispel one myth: that CRT is some partisan theory.

Yet, for all the ire that some conservatives have directed at CRT, there are also some well-respected scholars in the racial justice arena who believe there are some theories better at explaining the dynamics of race and racism in the United States than CRT; this was the fourth interesting thing I found about the theory. For example, there are some scholars who gravitate towards something called racial formation theory,[15] which asserts that the importance of racial categories depends on a variety of factors, including social, economic, and political considerations.[16] And then there are other scholars who have critiques of various kinds of racial formation theory, as well—too many to document here and keep this post of a reasonable length.[17] Needless to say, disagreement and discourse about theories explaining modern-day racial disparities on race and racism in the United States go well beyond school board meetings where there’s yelling about CRT.

All of this begs four questions for me. First, what are people angry about with CRT in the current political discourse? Second, if this theory has been around for decades, why are people only now getting angry about this? Third, why is it conservatives who are getting angry about CRT when many of the most prominent critical race theorists critique liberal approaches to racism? And fourth, is this anger justified? Answers to these questions will be the subject of Part Two of my two-part blog post on CRT.


[1] In a national opinion survey taken over the summer, 57% of adults said they were not familiar with the term CRT. And among those who said they were familiar, only 5% of those respondents got all seven true/false questions about CRT correct, while 32% got 4 of 7 questions correct: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/many-americans-embrace-falsehoods-about-critical-race-theory-2021-07-15/

[2] The introduction of this book is online. Before people form opinions on CRT, I would highly encourage reading the introduction of this book and/or getting information on CRT from other scholars who are highly respected on that topic. In addition to the coauthors of this book (Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic), other highly respected figures on the topic include, but are not limited, to: Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Harris (who actually wrote a foreword to the aforementioned book), Charles Lawrence, Mari Matsuda, and Patricia Williams. I should also note that Crenshaw’s name is one people may be familiar with as it is credited with another term we hear these days: intersectionality.

[3] https://jordaninstituteforfamilies.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Delgado_and_Stefancic_on_Critical_Race_Theory.pdf

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] That being said, I thought that it was worthwhile to go with the tenets listed by what is considered to be one of the most important writings in the field of CRT, from two of the authors most respected on this very topic.

[11] https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/literary_theory_and_schools_of_criticism/critical_race_theory.html

[12] https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/civil-rights-reimagining-policing/a-lesson-on-critical-race-theory/

[13] Ibid.

[14] https://www.britannica.com/topic/critical-race-theory

[15] https://education.temple.edu/news/2021/08/untangling-controversy-around-critical-race-theory

[16] Michael Omi and Howard Winant are often credited with this theory, through their book Racial Formation in the United States. The second chapter of this book, which defines what racial formation theory is, is publicly available here.

[17] http://www.columbia.edu/cu/ccbh/souls/vol3no1/vol3num1art2.pdf

On the Minimizing of African American Civil Rights History

Black History Month started last week. Given that fact, what better way have a post on Black History Month than talk about…Black history?

For some time now, there’s been this ongoing national dialogue in the United States about whether to keep the statues of Confederate generals, slave owners, and ruthless colonizers, to name a few. Those who argue against tearing down such statues often argue that by doing this, we are “erasing history.”

Speaking as someone who was a history major in college, I know for a fact that we are already erasing history. Concerningly, one of those types of history we have minimized so much is a lot of African American civil rights history.

You have certainly heard of Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. You have probably heard of John Lewis, too.

But, you may not know of Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin, Roy Wilkins, or Walter Fauntroy, to name a few. And the thing is that it’s not like I’m naming nobodies in this movement—I’m naming people who were prominent on a large-scale level:

  • Abernathy was a close partner and mentor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Not to discredit Dr. King here, but the support they gave to one another was key—it was not all on Dr. King. Oh, and by the way, he led King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference after King (their president) was assassinated in 1968.
  • Rustin was deeply involved in organizing efforts throughout the civil rights movement, including with the March on Washington. He often struggled to be appreciated even within the movement at the time because of his sexuality (an openly gay man in the 1960s…enough said[1]).
  • Wilkins was the Executive Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from the mid-1950s to 1977. The NAACP played a key role in ensuring that major civil rights legislation passed.
  • Fauntroy was also very much involved in organizing the March on Washington. He was also involved with organizing, among other things, the Selma-to-Montgomery marches in 1965 and the March Against Fear in 1966.

Few people seem to know, remember, and/or mention these four civil rights icons (and many others), and yet we’re worried about…forgetting the likes of Robert E. Lee and Christopher Columbus?

Considering all that’s going on right now in the United States, maybe some of our worries are misplaced. Our worries are about forgetting Lee and Columbus, but maybe our worries should really be about forgetting the likes of Abernathy, Rustin, Wilkins, and Fauntroy. Because by forgetting the African American civil rights icons of the past, we might not successfully learn from their successes and shortcomings, as well as how to build off of the work they all did in their lifetimes. And who knows—learning from these and many other civil rights icons may teach the current movement for racial justice something about how to move forward and how to navigate through some of the challenges the movement may face in the months and years ahead.

Please note that I will not be publishing a post next Monday.


[1] Rustin’s experience also shows the importance of intersectionality. If you’re not sure what intersectionality is, please read about it here: https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2020/08/24/what-isintersectionality/

The Fight for African American Civil Rights is Not Over

When my brother and I went through the educational system, we were taught that the big fight for African American civil rights was in the 1950s and 1960s…and then there was nothing on that fight after then.

That is somewhat understandable, because several of the most significant court decisions and pieces of legislation on African American civil rights in the history of the United States happened/passed in the 1950s and 1960s.

However, the fight for African American civil rights is far from over, and in fact, in a number of ways, the United States has seemingly gone backward on African American civil rights.

There is clearly a disconnect going on here, between what some people believe and what the reality is.

Below are three of the common[1] beliefs about African American civil rights that are incorrect. Those incorrect beliefs are in bold and the answers to those incorrect beliefs are in regular text:

  1. We have gone forward on voting rights in recent decades. Actually, the United States has gone backward on voting rights for African Americans. Several years ago, the United States Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since then, many hundreds of voting sites have closed down, an overwhelming majority of them being in African American communities.[2] Additionally, Voter ID laws have come into play in numerous states; these ID laws have disproportionately affected people of color.[3] If you think that voting rights for African Americans are going forward, think again.
  2. School segregation is in the past. It’s over. To the contrary, racial integration in schools has also gone backward. This Atlantic article goes into great detail about school segregation in the United States. But the TL; DR (short for too long; didn’t read) version is that school segregation is actually getting worse, and there seems to be relatively little political will to sufficiently address that fact. And that’s not just a problem in the American South—there was a whole feature story, also in The Atlantic, about how the new chancellor of the New York City schools has made desegregation of schools a major priority because segregation has become a problem in New York. The consequence is schools that are separate…and unequal.
  3. White people and people of color are treated equally under the law. That’s not true either; the criminal justice system still shows racial disparities. A study in 2017 showed that black men get 19.1% longer sentences than white men on average…for the same crimes![4] Innocent African Americans are much more likely to be wrongfully convicted than innocent people of other races—50% more likely for murder, 3 ½ times more likely for sexual assault, and a staggering 12 times more likely for drug crimes.[5] The disparities may not come as a surprise for many, but the magnitude of the disparities may catch some off-guard—while also demonstrating that the United States has a long way to go on criminal justice issues.

Some people may yet argue that the fight for African American civil rights is over, and that anyone who believes otherwise is somehow holding on to misplaced bitterness. However, during this Black History Month, I argue that actually, it’s far from over. To the contrary, we’re going backward, whether people realize it or not.


[1] Note that this list is not comprehensive. In order to keep this post relatively short, I narrowed it down to three key areas where the fight for African American civil rights is clearly not over.

[2] https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/09/04/polling-places-remain-a-target-ahead-of-november-elections

[3] https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/09/04/polling-places-remain-a-target-ahead-of-november-elections

[4] https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/black-men-sentenced-time-white-men-crime-study/story?id=51203491

[5] http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Race_and_Wrongful_Convictions.pdf

LGBTQ+: Beyond Marriage

Given the fact that October is LGBT History Month, I think that it is both important and appropriate to dedicate a blog post during the month to the topic of LGBTQ+ issues.

In particular, I want to use this post as a warning against viewing LGBTQ+ history in the way that many of us view the civil rights movement for African Americans: ending with one or two major events.

In history classes, the African American civil rights movement is often taught as having ended decades ago, with legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This is the case, even though many civil rights problems still remain in 2017.

I fear that many of us in future generations will view the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement in a similar way: ending with one or two major events. The only difference is that instead of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act with African American civil rights, we have the allowance of same-sex marriage in all fifty states and the lifting of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” with LGBTQ+ rights.

The problem, however, is that there are many LGBTQ+ civil rights which should exist but don’t. Here are a few examples:

  1. Most states have no laws regarding discrimination in schools on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  2. Most states do not prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  3. Many states do not address hate crimes that are on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  4. Most states do not prohibit discrimination at public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

I can add many other things to the list, but the point of having this list is to show that the LGBTQ+ rights movement should not be viewed as ending just because the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal. That was one step in the process for securing LGBTQ+ rights, but it is by no means the only step or the last step.

If people view the decision to legalize same-sex marriage as the last or only step in achieving LGBTQ+ civil rights, then issues such as the ones I mention above will continue to exist for decades to come. Hopefully, that won’t be the case.

Here is a map showing states and where they stand on a variety of LGBTQ+ issues—this map from the Human Rights Campaign: https://www.hrc.org/state-maps