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

Access to Clean, Safe Drinking Water: A Racial Justice Issue

An image of water. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When some of us (particularly those of us of means) in the United States think of places that lack access to clean drinking water, we think of certain countries on the African continent. And, it is true that parts of Africa struggle to access even the most basic of water services—nine of the ten worst countries in the world in terms of access to clean water are located on that continent.[1]

However, I am concerned that many of us may be blind to issues of water access at home, in the United States of America. Furthermore, I am concerned that many of us may be blind about how this access to water is a racial justice issue.

Sure, a major report on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a few years ago cited systemic racism as being at the core of the problems with the crisis (Flint is a majority-Black city),[2] but the situation in Flint is only a microcosm of widespread problems when it comes to water issues and racial justice. Consider these facts:

  • 2 million Americans lack access to running water and basic indoor plumbing as of November 2019. Native Americans are 19 times more likely than their white counterparts to be without indoor plumbing, while African American and Latinx people have no indoor plumbing at almost twice the rate of white people.[3]
  • Tap water that violates legal water safety standards in the United States is 40% more likely to serve people of color.[4]
  • Rising water bills, which in turn makes it difficult for households to afford their own water, has disproportionately affected Black communities.[5]

Without meaning to belittle the importance of making sure that people in different countries all around the world have access to clean and safe drinking water, maybe we should also look at the issues with water access and safety in our own backyard, too. And we should look at these issues through a racial justice lens because it is clear that there is a connection between race and water access/safety. To that end, water access is not just a human rights issue (because every human on this planet should have the right to clean, safe, affordable drinking water), but also a racial justice issue.

While water may not get the sort of attention issues-wise that certain other elements of racial justice advocacy may be getting right now, it is no less important. After all, if we are given water that leaves us unwell in some way, then we end up unable to advocate for the other racial justice issues at hand. As such, water access and cleanliness, while not getting the attention it often deserves, should get attention in the push for racial justice, and particularly racial justice for Black and Indigenous communities.


[1] https://www.worldvision.org/clean-water-news-stories/10-worst-countries-access-clean-water

[2] https://apnews.com/article/us-news-race-and-ethnicity-mi-state-wire-flint-michigan-df42de2ec4424193866467a2981ccb51

[3] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/2-million-americans-dont-have-access-to-running-water-and-basic-plumbing-2019-11-20

[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/daphneewingchow/2021/02/28/a-recent-survey-casts-new-light-on-americas-racial-and-water-divide/?sh=16840f221a6e

[5] https://www.naacpldf.org/wp-content/uploads/Water_Report_FULL_5_31_19_FINAL_OPT.pdf

Regarding the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial

The George Floyd Mural in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Like with many people in the United States, and across the world, my heart was beating at a mile a minute as the judge in the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial read the verdict on all three counts:

Guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty.

After I heard the verdict, I was personally relieved. I know many others who feel relieved with the verdict as well, for it meant that George Floyd’s life mattered enough that the police officer who killed him went to prison.

However, in my own humble opinion (humble because I do not have to worry about police on a daily basis like my friends of color do), what we saw today was not justice for George Floyd. Justice would’ve been if George Floyd didn’t get killed at the hands of Derek Chauvin.

Instead, what we got was accountability. Namely, accountability for a chokehold that lasted nearly 10 minutes. Derek Chauvin, the person who killed George Floyd, was held accountable for that chokehold.

That accountability often does not happen. Look at Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Sean Bell, and many others. All of these individuals were killed by police officers, and yet the police officers who killed them didn’t go to jail. In all these cases, we got neither justice nor accountability.

The ultimate goal should be justice, period. Justice means that Blacks are treated the same by law enforcement as others–something that is far from being the case. Justice means that Blacks aren’t so disproportionately subject to everything from marijuana use to being shot at in spite of being unarmed.[1] Justice means that my friends of color and my brother’s friends of color are given the same treatment by law enforcement that I receive.[2] But justice goes beyond policing–it means the elimination of racial inequality in everything from our schools to our economic systems. Reaching this goal of justice will not be easy, and it may take a long time to achieve this goal (especially as long as too many people keep electing politicians who do everything in their power to keep us from marching towards justice), but that should be our goal.

However, we can hope that the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial will at least be a first step towards accountability. Namely, accountability in terms of how Blacks are policed. With accountability, we can get a step closer to making sure that Black lives truly matter.

Please note that I wrote this piece on the fly, so I apologize in advance for any mistakes I made here.


[1] https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2020/06/01/on-the-policing-of-people-of-color-and-the-death-of-george-floyd/

[2] Ibid.

White Supremacy and Prisons

United States Women’s Soccer Team star Megan Rapinoe has become the most recognizable figure of that team, not just because of her play, but because of her outspokenness on issues ranging from race to LGBTQ+ rights. She was also the most controversial figure, because she knelt when the American national anthem was played before games.

But one side of her that some people may not know is that she has a brother—a brother she loves dearly, but a brother who has been on the wrong side of the law numerous times, who has spent time in prison, and who became a white supremacist for part of his time in prison.[1]

But here’s the thing—Megan Rapinoe’s brother, Brian, is far from a microcosm. He’s far from a microcosm because white supremacy has become increasingly widespread in prisons.

The Anti-Defamation League, back in 2016, observed the spread of and increase in white supremacy in our prison system, to the point that at least 35 states had at least one white supremacy prison gang at the time. These supremacy gangs have perpetrated violence; most notably, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, which is one of the most prominent prison gangs in the United States, was responsible for 33 murders in Texas between 2000 and 2015.[2] And the violence is not isolated to Texas, either—Aryan Brotherhood prison gang people were also responsible for directing killings and drug smuggling from prisons in California.[3]

And yet, in spite of all the white supremacy in the American prison system, this is an issue that doesn’t seem to get that much attention. There are some racial justice and criminal justice organizations attuned to the realities of white supremacy in American prisons, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Vera Institute of Justice, but it’s an issue that I’ve never heard come up in mainstream dialogues about criminal justice reform.

But that should change. And here is why this issue needs more attention from all of us:

  1. It is a criminal justice reform issue, because if we want prisons to be a place for people to reform, we should not have prisons full of white supremacy groups that ruin lives instead of restoring them.
  2. It is a public safety issue, for white supremacist actions in prisons kill people.
  3. It is a national security issue, because violent white supremacists are terrorists, too.
  4. It is an issue of use of taxpayer money, because having prisons that perpetrates white supremacy (whether it be intentional or unintentional) is a dreadful use of taxpayer money.
  5. It is a racial justice issue, for white supremacy is antithetical to racial justice.

But how do we get this change, from a prison system where white supremacy is allowed to thrive to a system which doesn’t allow for this? I think that it needs to start with getting more knowledge about white supremacy in prisons. For most readers of this piece, getting more knowledge means knowing that white supremacy in prisons exists in the first place. For local and state governments, getting more knowledge about white supremacy in prisons means: a) figuring out what a prison gang is in the first place[4] and then b) figuring out the nature of what white supremacy prison gangs are like (and how much white supremacy in prisons is gang-related or not). For the Anti-Defamation League and similar organizations devoted to religions, ethnic, racial, and/or social justice issues, getting more knowledge about white supremacy in prisons just means continuing their work and hopefully learning more.

As much as I have a desire to end pieces on this blog with big solutions to big problems, I can’t really do that here. Before talking about solutions,[5] governments in particular really need to gain a better understanding of this problem than what they currently seem to have.


[1] https://www.espn.com/soccer/fifa-womens-world-cup/story/3878587/why-megan-rapinoes-brother-brian-is-her-greatest-heartbreakand-hope

[2] https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/white-supremacist-prison-gangs-in-the-united-states

[3] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/leaders-of-white-supremacist-prison-gang-charged-in-killings

[4] On page two of the Anti-Defamation League report on white supremacy in prisons, it is noted that “there is not even agreement among prison officials as to what constitutes a prison gang.” Considering the fact that the problem with white supremacy in prisons may be related to white supremacy gangs in prisons, it seems like governments may not fully understand this problem, let alone have solutions:  https://www.adl.org/sites/default/files/documents/assets/pdf/combating-hate/CR_4499_WhiteSupremacist-Report_web_vff.pdf

[5] The Anti-Defamation League talked about potential solutions. My personal opinion is that, while they seem to have interesting ideas, not a single suggestion seems to be preventative in nature (in other words, preventing people behind bars from getting taken in by white supremacy ideology in the first place): https://www.adl.org/resources/reports/white-supremacist-prison-gangs-in-the-united-states