It’s Election Day in the USA, and everyone from Trevor Noah to Katy Perry is urging Americans to get out there and vote. But transportation difficulties, lack of time, and voter ID laws mean that not everyone is able to access the ballot booth, even if they wanted to.
These problems are even bigger for people who want to vote early or live in rural areas. Early voting is often only held at one location in a county, which can be across town or even in another city. In rural areas, even election day polling can be a trek away—in some parts of Nevada people live as far as 65 miles (105 km) from their polling places.
Low wage jobs usually have less flexible schedules, so for a lot of people it’s difficult to take off work to vote. Voting also takes time, which is costly (in an economic sense), so even if people can get off work, it can be difficult to justify standing in a voting line for hours instead of making much needed money.
“Waiting in lines makes people feel like their vote isn’t likely to be counted and that it doesn’t matter. Those feelings of disenfranchisement then lead to a further reluctance to vote.
Voting takes time. But in certain districts, waiting times are longer than what many people can afford. The process is run at a local level, and poorer districts are by nature less well equipped to get people's votes processed fast, because if the people living in the district are poor, their taxes don't amount to much. Less funding means fewer polling places and fewer staff to run them.
The cost in lost wages due to waiting in line during the 2012 presidential election was $544.4 million, according to a CalTech and MIT study. The study also found that waiting in lines makes people feel like their vote isn’t likely to be counted and that it doesn’t matter. Those feelings of disenfranchisement then lead to a further reluctance to vote.
And it's set to be worse than ever this year. A recent Supreme Court case overturned legislation which ruled that areas with a history of racially-based voter suppression had to ask the federal government for permission before making changes to their election laws. That means places previously under government scrutiny have drastically decreased their number of polling stations, without anyone noticing. That means even longer lines.
And some places will only let you vote if you already have a photo ID
If you don’t already have a photo ID, it’s technically free to apply for one, but there are a lot of other costs involved. You have to present documentation like a birth certificate or passport, which not everyone has. If you don’t have one of these the costs to obtain new ones can be $20 or $30 in addition to transportation to places like courthouses to get one. And again, this all becomes more complicated if you’re disabled.
Photo IDs for those who cannot afford to have a car or a driver's license, or those whose disability prevents them from driving, are technically free, but there are other costs associated with obtaining one. By comparison the poll taxes outlawed during the civil rights cost about $10 in
Checking everyone's IDs also takes time, contributing to the long lines at polling places.
If you have access to a car and some free time call your local election board or campaign headquarters and offer to drive people to the polls. If all you have is free time, that’s good too – you could volunteer at a local polling place to keep the wait times low, and voter traffic moving smoothly.