Research shows such efforts could make a difference. Numerous studies have found that voting, like other behaviors, responds to costs. “A Precinct Too Far: Turnout and Voting Costs,” by the economist Enrico Cantoni, is one such study. He found that a quarter-mile increase in distance from a polling booth reduced voting by 2 to 5 percent.
Paid time off would also offset the tax the United States currently charges people to vote. If you’re thinking that the 24th Amendment did away with poll taxes, your perception of taxes is too narrow. To an economist’s eye, the 24th Amendment eliminated only poll taxes levied in dollars. Today’s poll taxes are levied in time.
“Time is money” is not just a hackneyed aphorism. For most low-income people — a category that tragically overrepresents black Americans — it is a reality. Voting means lost time, and for a worker paid by the hour, or a gig worker paid by the task or ride, that means lost earnings.
A 2018 survey of corporate human resource managers found that 44 percent of their companies offered paid time off to vote. The data was for all employees, but these benefits are probably provided mostly to salaried workers, who often have the freedom to step out during the day even without such a benefit. Notably, Levi Strauss offers paid time to all its staff, including nonunion employees at its distribution centers as well as retail workers.
Recent research shows that black Americans are taxed more heavily than whites. To arrive at this conclusion, the economists Keith Chen, Kareem Haggag, Devin Pope and Ryne Rohla had to overcome a major hurdle. There is no systematic collection of data on time spent voting at polling stations, which is telling in itself. So in their paper, “Racial Disparities in Voting Wait Times,” they found a clever way to measure it.
Apps on cellphones routinely record location. By using a large anonymized data set, they could see how long people were stuck at a polling place. Such location data can be used for nefarious purposes, but when carefully anonymized and analyzed, it can do some good as well.
The researchers substantiated that voting, especially for black Americans, is not a quick duck into the voting booth on a lunch break. Residents in predominantly black neighborhoods waited 29 percent longer than those in white neighborhoods and were 74 percent more likely to spend more than 30 minutes simply waiting in line.