When Georgia held its statewide primary elections in June, a report in The New York Times noted that these were marked by a “full-scale meltdown of new voting systems.” Serpentine lines appeared at several polling places, and many people left without voting because of the anticipated length of waiting times. How does the length of voting time affect the effective exercise of democratic rights? Does the relationship between resource disparity and voting behavior depend on the racial composition of voters or on party affiliation? Can the application of the principles of operations research help explain how to improve the voting process and strengthen democracy?
Gérard Cachon, vice dean of strategic initiatives and a professor of operations, information, and decisions at the Wharton School, has investigated these questions and more in his research. Cachon has written two papers about voting behavior in Florida and Georgia that he co-authored with Dawson Kaaua, a Ph.D. student at Wharton.
Cachon, who researches operations management, sees voting as an extension of operations to the political domain.
“Let us begin with the premise that in a democracy, we would like to have voting time be roughly equal across all populations. I do not know of any person who would say, ‘A certain group of people should spend less time to vote than others,’” says Cachon.
“If we assume that this is not something that should be as advantageous to one group or the other, finding evidence of racial disparity in voting times is concerning. Most studies in the past have just looked at race. The advantage of Florida was, it is a state that provides data both on party affiliation and racial composition.
“Dawson and I were curious, first, if we could confirm over a long period of time—rather than just one election—if there are biases in voting patterns. And are those biases racial, or are they due to party affiliation?”
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