NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Racial Disparities in Voting Wait Times: Evidence from Smartphone Data

M. Keith Chen, Kareem Haggag, Devin G. Pope, Ryne Rohla

NBER Working Paper No. 26487
Issued in November 2019
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies Program, Public Economics Program, Political Economy Program

Equal access to voting is a core feature of democratic government. Using data from millions of smartphone users, we quantify a racial disparity in voting wait times across a nationwide sample of polling places during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Relative to entirely-white neighborhoods, residents of entirely-black neighborhoods waited 29% longer to vote and were 74% more likely to spend more than 30 minutes at their polling place. This disparity holds when comparing predominantly white and black polling places within the same states and counties, and survives numerous robustness and placebo tests. We shed light on the mechanism for these results and discuss how geospatial data can be an effective tool to both measure and monitor these disparities going forward.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w26487

 
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