7 min read

Early voting access unequal in Massachusetts

The good news is that early voting starts in Massachusetts tomorrow (Monday, October 22, 2018) – only the second election cycle it’s been offered. The bad news is that once again, access to early voting is vastly unequal across the Commonwealth – especially when it comes to those who want to vote during non-business hours.

In many communities, the busiest voting times on Election Day are early morning and late afternoon/evening, as commuters queue up to vote either before heading to work or on their way home. So it would seem logical that early voting would try to serve those residents. That would mean offering a substantial number of early voting hours on weekends as well as before 8 am and after 6 pm Monday - Friday.

However, many communities don’t.

In Framingham, for example, one of the city’s two early-voting locations will only be open Tuesdays through Thursdays 10 am to 2 pm. While that’s probably convenient for retirees and stay-at-home parents in north Framingham, those voters are more likely to be able to go to the polls during the least busy times on Election Day anyway. For most people who work outside their homes during normal business hours, though, those early-voting hours are useless. (More than half of employed residents in that area who travel to an office have commutes of at least half an hour, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.)

Overall, Framingham offers just 7 non-business early voting hours at one downtown location for its 40,000+ registered voters, including a single Saturday. And other communities have even fewer options for commuters. Lynn, with more than 53,000 registered voters, will be open for early voting only 4 evenings hours and none on weekends.

Those living in smaller communities – even wealthy ones – may have even less access. Sudbury will offer only 2 hours of evening early voting and none on weekends; same for Arlington, where more than half of non-work-at-home employed residents have commutes of at least half an hour.

In contrast, Newton will offer 36 hours of non-business-time early voting – 1,652 registered voters per available non-business hour. Note that counts the same time slot in 2 different polling locations as 2 hours, not 1. In Framingham, there are more than 5,800 registered voters per non-business hour of early voting – and in Lynn, it’s more than 13,000.

Below is a table looking at early voting in 25 communities across the Commonwealth: total non-business early voting hours; percent non-business hours compared with total early voting hours; number of registered voters; and number of registered voters per non-business early-voting hour. The table is sortable by clicking on column headers and can be filtered. Sorry the table isn’t very mobile-device friendly. Jump to bottom of table

Next is a graph showing total non-business-hour early voting times in communities approximately the same size as Framingham.

And finally, below is a graph showing commute versus number of registered voters and available early-voting hours. The x axis is percent of residents who are employed outside the home having commutes of at least half an hour. The y axis shows number of registered voters per hour of non-business-hour early voting (1 hour at 2 different locations will count as 2 hours). Lower on the graph is more desirable, since that shows fewer voters per hour of early voting. Dots are sized based on number of registered voters, giving you the senese of the community’s overall size.

Percent Working Population With Commutes of 30 Mins or More vs Registered Voters per Non-Biz Early-Voting Hours

Early-voting information comes from my analysis of data posted at the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office. Additional community information comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 5-year American Community Survey.

If you would like to see the R code behind my analysis, I’ve posted it on GitHub.

Sharon Machlis is author of the forthcoming book Practical R for Mass Communication and Journalism from CRC Press, available for pre-order from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can read six chapters of the book for free on her personal Web site.