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TN Early Voting Begins This Week: Obstacles at Polls for Some?

Some African-American and Latino voters waited much longer at the polls than white voters in the 2012 election. (justgrimes/Flickr)
Some African-American and Latino voters waited much longer at the polls than white voters in the 2012 election. (justgrimes/Flickr)
October 17, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Starting Wednesday, Tennesseans can begin casting early ballots for the November 8 election. And a new report from The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies points to the potential challenges some of those voters could face.

The report found that in the last presidential election, some polling places in communities of color had wait times of up to seven hours. Center president Spencer Overton said the analysis points to serious shortcomings in the process.

“African-Americans, on average, waited up to twice as long as whites to vote,” Overton said. "Long lines reduce turnout and also cost time and money."

The study found that nationwide, white voters waited an average of 12 minutes to vote, compared with 19 minutes for Latino voters and 23 minutes for black voters. Long lines deterred at least 730,000 Americans from voting, Overton said, noting that 500 votes were enough to determine the outcome of the 2000 presidential election.

A recent Pew study found one in eight voter registration records to be invalid or have serious errors. This makes it hard to accurately predict the resources needed to match voter turnout, and to find voter records for those who finally get to the front of the line, Overton said.

"Amusement parks and other public venues manage wait times and lines with a science called 'queuing theory' where they collect data and they make sure adequate resources are in place,” he said. "This should be applied to voting."

To reduce wait times, Overton suggested, states, counties and cities should adopt and enforce minimum wait-time standards, provide adequate funding for voting machines and workers, expand the number of early voting days, and add the option of voting by mail.

Tennessee's early voting period ends on November 3. Voting hours may vary by county, but all polls close at 8 p.m.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN