COLUMBIA — A new study says South Carolina again had one of the longest average wait times to vote in last November’s elections, but the state has improved its typical wait time since 2008.
The study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology political scientist Charles Stewart used data from two major nationwide election studies from 2008 and 2012 to find that South Carolinians waited an average of 25 minutes to vote in November.
Only Florida (39 minutes), the District of Columbia (36 minutes) and Maryland (36 minutes) had longer average wait times, according to the study. Virginia voters faced the same average wait time as South Carolinians.
In South Carolina, some of the longest wait times to vote last year occurred in Richland County, where many voters waited hours to cast their ballots.
The 2012 election marked an improvement for the Palmetto State compared with the 2008 general election, when the state had the longest average wait time in the country at about an hour.
Across the country, voters in urban areas, where minority voters are most prevalent, faced longer average waits to vote than rural voters, the new report found.
African-Americans waited an average of 23 minutes to vote, while whites waited 12 minutes and Hispanics 19 minutes.
Stewart cautions in the report that the exact cause of long lines to vote remains unclear largely because of a lack of sufficient data.
“To be clear, long lines, when they occur are bad and lead to lost votes,” Stewart wrote. “They do not fall like rain, equally on all voters. But scientific approaches to the problem of long lines remain in their infancy.”
In South Carolina, the State Election Commission attributes long lines to bottlenecks at voter registration tables at precincts, the number of available voting machines and the number of voters who show up to vote at any given time. State law requires one voting machine for every 250 voters in a precinct.
Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said the agency has requested $600,000 to purchase more computers. Counties receiving the machines would then be able to use more efficient electronic voter lists instead of paper. Some counties already use the computers at check-in tables. The commission also is studying “queue management” data to make recommendations to counties on how to better manage lines, Whitmire said.
On election night, President Barack Obama thanked supporters who waited in long lines and declared, “By the way, we need to fix that.”
Last month, Obama signed an executive order creating a nine-member voting commission, aiming to trim wait times and strengthen access to the polls.
Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Denmark, sent a letter to the White House last week asking Obama to appoint a South Carolinian to the commission. In the letter, Sellers cited long lines in areas of the state and “voter rights retrenchment” efforts in South Carolina, including the state’s GOP-backed voter ID law. S.C. Republicans have rejected the idea that the voter ID law and new voting law legislation, such as a bill that would end in-person absentee voting, are aimed at curbing anybody’s vote.