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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. You won’t be surprised to find out who it is.

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.” Cuyahoga, where I live, is the greater Cleveland area.

Here’s their won’t-make-you-faint-from-surprise conclusion:

The results described in Section IV 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. 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. … Hence, more minority voters in Cuyahoga County will face added adjustment costs under the new rules. That being said, 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. We just saw the decision handed down yesterday, in response to a lawsuit from Obama for America and the Democratic Party, that in-person early voting should be available the three days prior to the election, not just for active duty military but for ALL voters — just as it was in 2008.

These were the most heavily trafficked days and it’s likely that many African-American voters, remembering when they went in 2008, will try to vote these days again.

But the decision was kicked back to the county boards of election, which consist of two Democrats and two Republicans. Democrats across the state have been voting to expand voting hours because they believe in it; Republicans have been voting to do so only in Republican counties. That’s going to leave all of Ohio’s big urban counties in the same situation they were a couple of months ago when secretary of state Jon Husted was breaking the ties (as the law provides) by saying “No expanded hours.” When maps showed the disparity – with Republican-leaning counties having vastly more hours than Democratic-leaning ones, the outrage — and possibly the potential lawsuits — caused Husted to set uniform statewide hours.

It’s hard to say what he’ll do now. But it’s likely that forcing urban voting to shut down those three final days while Republican rural and suburban areas are allowing it is going 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 evidence of discrimination is persuasive.

And if one voter suppression tactic doesn’t work, try another. Such as this:


This is Cleveland’s poor, black Central neighborhood. Those are projects on the right. There are blocks and blocks and blocks of densely populated projects here. What a fortuitous place for this type of billboard! I’m sure it was accidental — NOT.

It’s very likely that less informed voters in this area could look at this and, unsure what constitutes “voter fraud,” might remember those robocalls and flyers in 2004 that said if you had unpaid taxes, child support or traffic tickets, you’d be arrested if you went to vote. That might sound like “voter fraud” to many people.

The most disgraceful thing about this billboard is its anonymity. It was paid for by “a private family foundation,” a family of shameful, amoral cowards who think nothing of sabotaging everything this country stands for while concealing their identity.

The city councilwoman for the area, Phyllis Cleveland, who sent out the initial photos, tells me they’re working on some kind of pushback, to use the outrage to mobilize voters. I don’t know what form it will take yet — flyers, mailers, community meetings, canvasses, their own billboard. We’ll see.

An encouraging sign is the surge in African-American early voting we're seeing already. In-person early voting started Tuesday, and almost 1,900 voted the first day — a dramatic increase from 2008 when only 70 voted on that day. A sleepover on the sidewalk in front of the BoE by state senator Nina Turner, with appearances from Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson and Senator Sherrod Brown helped attract attention to the fact that voting was now open. It included Nina doing a live remote for The Ed Show.


L to r: Sherrod Brown, Nina Turner, Frank Jackson, Cleveland municipal judge Michael Ryan.


Nina Turner on air with Ed Schultz.

The black churches, which in 2008 filled buses with parishioners and neighbors and took them down to the BoE on Sundays after services, have been working on alternatives for months, ever since Ohio got the thumbs-down on weekend voting. Many in the black community believe the decision was specifically to dampen this kind of mobilization.

So there will be adjustment, and hopefully Phyllis is right — that these tactics will just make people angry and more determined to vote. But it’s unjust and undemocratic and un-American that people of one race have to clear higher hurdles than people of another.

Originally posted to on Sat Oct 06, 2012 at 12:35 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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