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The McCourtney Institute for Democracy

Waiting in line to vote

Waiting in line to vote

Strong majorities of Americans support allowing assistance to be provided to those with long waits to vote, with the notable exception of providing campaign literature. 

Question: “At polling sites with wait times longer than one hour, some community groups have organized to do some of the following activities. For each one, please tell me if you think the activity should be permitted or prohibited.” Source: APM Research Lab analysis of McCourtney Institute’s Mood of the Nation Poll, April 13-20, 2021. N = 1,200 U.S. adults age 18 or older; the maximum overall margin of error is ±3.4 percentage points.

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Key Findings

  • Nearly half of Americans say that waiting to vote more than 30 minutes is unacceptable.
    • 24% of Republicans and Independents indicate that “any wait time, even more than three hours, is acceptable,” compared with only 8% of Democrats.
  • Half of American adults say they definitely would vote even if wait times reach 90 minutes or more.
    • Long wait times would likely discourage 30% of American adults from voting, including even higher proportions of women, Black and Latino voters, those with less education, those with lower incomes, and political independents.
  • Strong majorities of Americans support allowing community groups to provide assistance to those waiting over an hour to vote, including:
    • Holding a place in line for elderly and disabled citizens until they reach the polling place (86%),
    • Providing bottled water to citizens waiting to vote (84%),
    • Providing food to citizens waiting to vote (71%), and
    • Distributing non-partisan voter guides (62%).
  • These provisions are supported by majorities within a wide variety of demographic groups: men and women, younger to older adults, various racial and ethnic groups, those with higher and lower education and income, and all regions of the nation.
  • Across all these forms of assistance, a higher proportion are supported by Democrats than Republicans.
  • Some of the reasons given for allowing the distribution of food or water to those waiting in line to vote include:
    • “If the wait is so long, it should be allowed. Voting should not be discouraged at any time. Otherwise, we have failed as a democratic nation.”
    • Diabetics, elderly or pregnant persons may feel ill without food or water. Better yet, voting by mail should be allowed for everyone.”
    • “It’s just humane.”
  • A strong majority of Americans thinks the distribution of campaign literature to those waiting to vote should be prohibited (68%).
  • Those who oppose allowing the distribution of food or water to those waiting in line to vote stated reasons including: 
    • “Because some people will take it the wrong way as if someone [is] getting paid to vote.”
    • Bottled water is plentiful. Citizens can easily bring their own bottled water. Voting citizens should not be treated like incapable children.”
    • “It is not a party and you should not have to be fed while doing it.”