Voters and election officials across the country reported long wait times for early voting in the lead-up to Tuesday’s election.
From Boston to Los Angeles, people vented about lines lasting as long as 5 hours during the early voting period ― and many stood outdoors in the heat. In Tempe, Arizona, voters even began holding one another’s spots so they could take bathroom breaks.
But intimidating photos of mile-long lines shouldn’t deter voters from casting ballots Tuesday. It’s too soon to conclude what caused the long lines during early voting periods, or even whether waits have been longer, on average, than in previous elections.
Preliminary reports point to the usual suspects: an uptick in the number of early voters, new voting restrictions, and poor allocation of resources. Such obstacles may be addressed to one degree or another by Election Day.
More Early Voters In Certain Places
Some early voting locations have reported a surge in the number of people casting ballots before Election Day. But it’s not yet clear whether overall voter turnout will be higher than it was in 2012 or 2008.
“I would be surprised if it is, given the lack of enthusiasm for both candidates and the lack of a mobilization infrastructure on the Republican side,” said Nate Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School and an expert in voting rights. “But the share voting early is likely to be larger.”
These reports suggest that “people may have learned from 2012, that it’s better to wait in a long line during early voting than to wait in a long line on Election Day,” said Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at MIT. He added that both campaigns have sought to encourage people to vote early.
Multiple counties in Texas—which saw long lines at certain locations—reported a significant increase in the number of votes cast on the first day of early voting compared to 2012, according to the Texas Tribune.
Chicagoans also beat previous early voting records. Voters had cast 284,506 early ballots by late Sunday, a 9 percent increase from 2008, when Chicago native Barack Obama was on the ticket.
“I went to attempt to complete early voting yesterday in my neighborhood. The lines were over two hours long and there was no explanation or clarification from election judges,” said Ami Gandhi, director of voting rights at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “I had a hungry toddler and eventually had to leave because I was physically not able to wait in the line.”
Higher voter turnout during the early voting period was one explanation for the lines, she said. The same held true in Cincinnati, where a whopping 4,000 people reported waiting in line to vote on Sunday. Hamilton County broke its early voting records this weekend, pulling in 27,004 votes cast compared to 24,303 in 2012, Cincinnati.com reported.
In Los Angeles, some waited 5 hours to vote early on Saturday. A record number―5.1 million people―are registered to vote in LA County, and only five early voting sites were open over the weekend. The county plans to open 45 neighborhood voting stations on Tuesday.
“The limited timing and number of locations may have caused some congestion,” said John Dobard, manager of political voice at Advancement Project California. “In addition, since voters can go to any early voting location, poll workers have to find the appropriate ballot for each voter’s precinct.”
New early voting procedures also likely accounted for long lines in some cities. In Boston, which implemented early voting this year for the first time, voters reportedly waited several hours on Friday. But many appeared not to be bothered.
“I don’t care how long we have to stand in line,” Boston resident Marjorie Clapprood told WBUR. “I’m impressed by the early vote. I’m impressed by all the people around me.”
“I attribute [the long lines] to people just being excited,” said Cheryl Crawford, MassVote’s executive director. “It’s new and exciting and we had long lines because it’s a new process for us.”
Resource Issues Also Cause Long Waits
Whether resources are adequately distributed to polling places is a key contributor to long lines, according to a Brennan Center for Justice report on such delays in 2012.
New voting restrictions can also impact wait times. In Maricopa County, Arizona, 24 of 25 early voting stations this year had waits between 1.5 to 4 hours, said Samantha Pstross, executive director of Arizona Advocacy Network and Foundation.
Some voters were polite and “held people’s turns when they had to go to the bathroom,” voter Ruslyn Blake told AZCentral. Others did not have as pleasant of an experience.
“I’m exhausted, and the thing that bothers me is for the handicapped people who cannot see, they are making them wait in a long line,” said Katie Delacruz, 43, of Tempe, Arizona, who waited 3 hours to vote.
Pstross said there weren’t enough early voting centers. She also pointed to a new state law that bans “ballot harvesting,” in which one person collects absentee ballots and delivers them in bulk. Instead, voters were encouraged to cast ballots early.
Although Ohio saw more early voters than in previous years, other factors could also be in play. The state, for example, only opens one polling station per county during the early voting period, said Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, which might account for the chaos in Cincinnati over the weekend. Hamilton County is home to more than 800,000 people.
But the state also cut back on early voting by reducing the time period and eliminating same-day voter registration, which Ho said could be part of the mix.
In Chicago, voter turnout was partially to blame for long lines. But Illinois’ voter registration system may also contribute to delays. “People can register to vote anytime before or even during Election Day,” Gandhi said. “But that also means that there are many eligible voters who are both registering and voting as we speak.”
And since polling places can be understaffed, the lines may get backed up. This represents a new challenge in Illinois, where this is the first presidential election since it passed the law in 2014.
One way to reduce the lines, Gandhi added, would be to create “superstations” with many more voting machines. One in downtown Chicago, she said, still had long lines but they moved much more quickly.
“It’s an example of early voting done well,” she said.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blamed long lines in Clark County, Nevada, on Saturday on a “rigged system” after Michael McDonald, the state chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, claimed that some polling stations were staying open late to allow a “certain group” of people to vote.
The Brennan Center report found that in November 2012, precincts with greater numbers of minorities were more likely to have long waits. In South Carolina, for example, they reported that 10 precincts with the longest waits had, on average, more than twice the percentage of black registered voters than the statewide average.
Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, says voters should not be deterred by reports of long lines. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, black or white, your vote matters the same.”
With one day to go before the election, Clinton currently leads in the polls at 47.5 percent, while Trump trails at 42.3 percent, according to HuffPost Pollster.