At the beginning of Gregory Smithsimon’s post-Election Day urban studies class this week, the Barnard professor asked his students a question: “Anyone have wait times over an hour?”
Nobody raised a hand. From the class’ field research Tuesday surveying voting conditions at 30 polling places in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, wait times weren’t that bad at all—the longest anyone measured for a voter without registration problems was 35 minutes, and most went through in under ten.
Of course, anyone who stood for two hours election day morning waiting to pull the lever knows that’s not how it went. But the students were right, too—they were just assigned to collect their data between the hours of 4:00 and 8:00 p.m., when wait times have polls have traditionally been most crowded.
“It seems like our expectation of voting totally upended itself,” said Smithsimon. “It’s actually a much more resilient system than you’d expect.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however. The 60 young women (and the occasional brave boy) found that at many locations, voters were asked to produce identification—which is not n legal requirement—along with multiple instances of inappropriate electioneering, one poll worker doing coke in the bathroom, and an 87-year-old polling place manager who was “not entirely sane.”
“A guy dropped his ID, and she told him he had dropped his teeth,” a girl said. The students seemed eager to impress their tall and youthful professor, who leaned on the podium, nodding seriously in response.
Smithsimon routinely sends his students out on mass data gathering expeditions, including one last year that found Upper East Siders to be the least altruistic of all New Yorkers when it comes to returning lost wallets. This time, several students will be responsible for synthesizing the results to present a picture of voting patterns around the city.
“We’ve got 10 minutes,” he said at the end of their sharing session. “I can do a nice little lecture on ethnic myth, which I think would be tremendously useful. Or we could talk about the election.”
“That!” a student said.