Study Shows Limiting Early Voting Disproportionately Impacts Black Voters
While Ohio continues its battle over the shrinkage of in-person early voting opportunities, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has released a study with hard numbers showing who is overwhelmingly disadvantaged by limiting such opportunities. Guess who!
The group, self-described as “a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to enlist the private bar’s leadership and resources in combating racial discrimination and the resulting inequality of opportunity,” titles its study “Early Voting Patterns by Race in Cuyahoga County, Ohio: A statistical analysis of the 2008 general election.”
Here’s their none-too-startling conclusion:
The results ... provide empirical evidence that African Americans have utilized at least one form of early voting at much higher rates than white voters. Specifically, relative to whites, African American voters in Cuyahoga County, Ohio disproportionately voted early in person during the 2008 General election.
They found that although African American voters accounted for 28.6% of the voter in the county in 2008, they were more than three-quarters of the in-person early voters. Black voters disproportionately like to vote early in person — not via mail-in ballot, which is preferred by white voters. There are various theories as to why, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that these are the behavior patterns. To derail one if them is troubling.
The study has a lot of numbers and calculations, charts and footnotes for the statistics-minded. But their main takeaway is this:
While this is not to say that Cuyahoga County minority voters will necessarily be precluded from voting because of the proposed state law changes, a reasonable interpretation of the results is that eliminating opportunities to vote early in person effectively raises the cost of voting for more African Americans than for whites. … political science literature collectively agrees that voting costs and turnout are inversely related. Therefore, it is most likely the case that negative turnout effects from the shortened EIP period, should they occur, will be driven by decreases in minority participation. Put differently, regardless of the intent of the early voting law changes, based on the racial disparities observed in early voting behavior, the new rules are likely to have a discriminatory effect in Ohio’s largest county. In light of these findings it would be prudent for state and county officials to critically reevaluate their decisions to scale back EIP voting operations.
Yes. It would be prudent. But often prudence loses to desperation. The three days before the election were the most heavily trafficked days for in-person early voting at boards of election, and the legislature jumped through some complicated and dubiously legal hoops to make sure they were closed. First they passed HB 194, which shut BoEs those three days. When enough signatures were passed to put HB 194 on the ballot for repeal, the legislature repealed it itself — but not before passing another substitute bill that contained the same provision.
As I outlined in my last post, the Obama campaign and Democratic Party prevailed in their lawsuit, claiming that allowing only military voters to vote those three days was unequal and that all voters should be allowed the opportunity. But since the decision was kicked back to the county boards of election, and urban boards will likely tie again, it once again puts the final decision in Secretary of State Jon Husted's hands — as it was when the map showed that voting hours were dividing along partisan lines, with Republican counties providing vastly most voting hours than Democratic ones.
It's impossible to say what he’ll do now. But forcing urban voting to shut down those three final days while Republican rural and suburban areas are allowing it is likely to provoke more lawsuits. Armed with the research provided by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, it’s going to be difficult to say this isn’t a blatant civil rights violation. When you have two types of early voting opportunities, one overwhelmingly favored by black voters, the other by white voters, and you shrink only the former, the case for discrimination could be persuasive.