Hours-long lines to vote are not a symptom of a healthy democracy. It’s a symptom of state and local governments unable or unwilling to make voting easier.
Every election, the same photos surface: voters standing in hours-long lines to cast a vote that they have the constitutional right to cast. It’s usually the same counties, from one year to the next. The excuses are always the same; there aren’t enough voting machines. There aren’t enough polling places. There aren’t enough election workers. For Americans in some districts and some states, voting is a 30 minute process at most; others may wait for four hours or more.
This is widely assumed, each time it happens, to be an attempt at voter suppression—but it doesn’t matter if it is intended or if it isn’t. It’s still depriving untold numbers of Americans of their right to vote. It is inherently discriminatory toward the working class, many of whom cannot take an entire half-day or more off of work. It is inherently discriminatory toward anyone not medically fit enough to stand outside, on their feet, in whatever weather the winds happen to blow that way, for hours at a time. It is a violation of those voters’ rights. They are being burdened regularly, year after year, with obstacles that the vast majority of other citizens do not encounter.
It is a violation of their civil rights and it must—must—stop.
There are multiple ways to ease the burden, of course. Vote-by-mail would reduce the lines to nothing. Extended voting hours and extended early voting would shrink the lines proportionally. Measures to make it easier to register and to vote, and making it harder for political gerrymanders to sabotage voter preferences regardless of how they vote, were sweepingly successful across the nation on Tuesday, indicating a new intolerance for the current flimflammery; On a more fundamental level, however, we need to start recognizing “being forced to wait hours to cast a vote” as an obvious civil rights violation, and start treating it as such.
The next Justice Department must make this a priority. We’d be spitting in the wind to demand it of the current Republican collection of crooks and saboteurs, but the next iteration of the department could make a simple enough rule: If any precinct in America is found on Election Day to have lines of longer than, say, two hours, a federal probe shall be launched against the governing local forces to find out why.
It’s entirely possible the lines were the result of an innocent mistake. And it’s also entirely possible that those lines are there because of an extended, multi-year state or county apathy toward allowing those particular voters to vote without obstructions. If it the first, corrections can be identified. And if it’s the second, people need to start going to jail.