Archives for category: African American

Race, Party, and the Consequences of Restricting Early Voting in Florida in the 2012 General Election

Political Research Quarterly

Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith

Abstract

In mid-2011, the Florida legislature reduced the state’s early voting period from fourteen days to eight and eliminated the final Sunday of early voting. We compare observed voting patterns in 2012 with those in the 2008 General Election and find that racial/ethnic minorities, registered Democrats, and those without party affiliation had significant early voting participation drops and that voters who cast ballots on the final Sunday in 2008 were disproportionately unlikely to cast a valid ballot in 2012. Florida’s decision to truncate early voting may have diminished participation rates of those already least likely to vote.

OnlineFirst: February 24, 2014

Available: Full Text (PDF)

“Race, Shelby County, and the Voter Information Verification Act in North Carolina”
Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith
February 11, 2014

Abstract

Shortly after the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the state of North Carolina enacted an omnibus piece of election-reform legislation known as the Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA). Prior to Shelby portions of North Carolina were covered jurisdictions per the VRA’s Sections 4 and 5—meaning that they had to seek federal preclearance for changes to their election procedures—and this motivates our assessment of whether VIVA’s many alterations to North Carolina’s election procedures are race-neutral. We show that black early voters in North Carolina have in presidential elections cast their ballots disproportionately in the first week of early voting, an early voting week that VIVA has eliminated; that blacks in the state disproportionately have registered to vote during early voting and in the immediate run-up to Election Day, something that VIVA prohibits; that North Carolina registered voters who lack two VIVA-acceptable forms of voter identification, drivers licenses and nonoperator identification cards, are disproportionately black; that VIVA’s identification dispensation for voters at least 70 years is a disproportionate benefit to whites; and, that preregistered 16 and 17-year old voters in North Carolina, a category of registrants that VIVA prohibits, are disproportionately black. These results illustrate how VIVA will have a disparate effect on black voters in North Carolina.


Available for download, here

Our 2013 American Political Science Association paper, which we’ll be presenting in Chicago on September 1, is available here.

Here’s the Abstract:

Voting station congestion can be measured by late-closing precincts and long wait times to vote. With this in mind we study Election Day precinct closing times in 43 Florida counties and early voting wait times in one of Florida’s most prominent counties, Miami-Dade. Our analysis of the 2012 General Election covers 5,302 total Election Day precincts and all the early voting stations in Miami-Dade County. We show that Election Day precincts with greater proportions of Hispanic voters in November, 2012, had disproportionately late closing times and that precincts with many registered Democratic voters also tended to close relatively late.  With respect to early voting wait times in Miami-Dade, we show that long wait times disproportionately affected black and Hispanic voters, and a natural experiment in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties confi rms that the final voters on the last day of early voting in these two counties were disproportionately black, Hispanic, and registered Democratic. Voting place congestion in the 2012 General Election, therefore, did not affect all Floridians equally, and this study, one of the first statistical analyses of observed closing and wait times across thousands of precincts in a politically important state, shows how the electoral environment in the United States continue to reflect racial disparities.

Very nice to hear today that Michael Herron and my 2012 APSA paper, “Getting Your Souls to the Polls: The Racial Impact of Reducing Early In-Person Voting in Florida,” was unanimously selected as the Best Paper Award for the State Politics & Policy Section of the American Political Science Association.

The paper was subsequently published in Election Law Journal, and is available here.

Searching for Herron and Smith’s report for Advancement Project, Congestion at the Polls? It’s here: http://b.3cdn.net/advancement/f5d1203189ce2aabfc_14m6vzttt.pdf

Here’s a pdf of the Racial Justice Project’s amicus brief on behalf of Congressman John Lewis. My research with Prof. Michael Herron is cited on pp. 32-33, clipped below.

For the 2012 general election, only thirty-two of Florida’s sixty-seven counties, including the five counties covered by Section 5, offered the maximum ninety-six hours of early voting hours permitted under the new law. Minority voters again took advantage of the extra time to cast their votes. While African Americans made up less than 14% of Florida’s registered voters in 2012, they made up more than 22% of the early voter electorate on each day of the 2012 early voting period. Herron & Smith, at 11. However, because there was a reduction in the total number of early voting hours and days in 2012, including the elimination of the Sunday immediately before Election Day, there were fewer opportunities for minorities to vote early. In Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, voters stood in line to cast early votes for more than five hours during the weekend before Election Day. Id. at 20. In those two counties, African Americans made up only 16.7% of registered voters, but accounted for 43.8% of the early voters on Sunday, November 4, 2012. Id. at 21. The data tell the story. There is simply no question that without Section 5, a disproportionate number of minority voters in Florida would have been deterred from exercising their right to vote in 2012.

My collaborator, Michael Herron at Dartmouth, and I have been crunching the numbers, drilling down into the Florida voter file to get a better sense of who is more likely to cast ballots that are later rejected by county canvassing boards.

Doing so has generated considerable publicity and even has raised the possibility of reform, with Governor Scott changing his tune on the deleterious effects of HB1355, though the cynic in me remains to be convinced…I’ll reserve judgment until May, when the legislative session wraps up.

In particular, there’s been a lot of attention focusing on our report that documents the higher rejection rate of absentee ballots cast by minority voters and how these rejection rates are not consistent across the state’s 67 counties.

Due to the long lines during the truncated eight-day early voting period and the expected long lines on Election Day, many minorities–who historically vote early in disproportionately higher rates than whites in Florida–decided instead to request and cast absentee ballots.

As we write in our report, not only did the percentage of African Americans casting absentee ballots go up in 2012, the rejection rate of absentee ballots cast by blacks was nearly twice that of absentee ballots cast by white voters.

Quite possibly due to well‐founded fears of long lines at early voting and Election Day polling sites resulting from HB 1355, absentee ballots—a much less reliable form of voting a valid ballot—increased in 2012. Over 28 percent of all ballots cast in 2012 were absentee ballots, nearly six percentage points higher than in 2008. Almost one percent of these ballots were “rejected as illegal” in 2012 by county canvassing boards, and the African American absentee ballot rejection rate was nearly twice the absentee ballot rejection rate of white voters.

This, of course, raises the question of ‘who should be blamed?’–voters or election administrators–for the significantly higher rejection rate of absentee ballots cast by African Americans.

To answer this question, I think it’s important to first establish some baselines for comparison.  The statewide rejection rate of absentee ballots cast in 2012 was 0.97%. The statewide rejection rate of absentee ballots cast by African Americans was 1.47%.  And the statewide rejection rate of absentee ballots cast by whites was 0.81%.

But there were considerable differences in rejection rates across the state’s 67 counties.

Our findings for Collier County reveal, as reported in the Naples News, that more than 6% of the absentee ballots cast by 580 African Americans in the county were ‘rejected as illegal’ by the county canvassing board, a rejection rate nearly 5x greater than that for white voters casting absentee ballots. It should be noted that Collier County is one of the five counties in Florida covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

It’s curious, then, why the rejection rate of the absentee ballots cast by 2,522 blacks in neighboring Lee County was 0%. Or that only 1.65% of absentee ballots cast by blacks in neighboring Miami-Dade County were ‘rejected as illegal.’

For anyone who has observed county canvassing boards interpreting the validity of signatures on the back of absentee ballots, they’ll likely attest that there’s a considerable amount of discretion in determining whether the signature on an absentee ballot envelope should be accepted or rejected.

According to the Florida Statutes, “The canvassing board shall, if the supervisor has not already done so, compare the signature of the elector on the voter’s certificate with the signature of the elector in the registration books to see that the elector is duly registered in the county and to determine the legality of that absentee ballot….An absentee ballot shall be considered illegal if it does not include the signature of the elector, as shown by the registration records.”

Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised with the fairly high rate of absentee ballots that are rejected, compared to those cast in person during the early voting period or on Election Day.  As I told the Miami-Herald last year, “Absentee ballots are processed and verified using different standards than regular ballots and as such, are routinely rejected at a higher rate by county supervisors than ballots cast during the early voting period or on Election Day.”

Of course, the rejection rate for absentee ballots may be attributed to the ignorance of voters, as some neglect to sign the back of the envelope properly, or sign in a way that does not match their signature on file with the election supervisor’s office.

But then what accounts for the inter-county variation in rejection rates for African Americans?  Are blacks living in Lee County more educated, or more civic-minded and engaged, than those living just south of them in Collier County? Color me dubious….

Perhaps it’s attributable to fraud–that the absentee ballots requested for African American voters in Collier were being filled out by other individuals, thus increasing the likelihood that the signature of the imposter wouldn’t match that on the voter file. Or perhaps elderly or crippled African Americans were more likely to have help filling out their ballots than similar white voters casting absentee ballot voters.

Hmmmmm….  So, both of these possible forms of fraud seemingly only occurred in Collier County, and only among African American absentee voters, but not in other counties.  Again, it doesn’t seem very plausible to me.

What about the role of election administrators and the canvassing boards charged with determining whether an absentee ballot is valid. It’s true that there is no overt information about a voter’s race or ethnicity on the envelope containing an absentee ballot.

But that does not mean that those charged with determining the veracity of a voter’s signature are ignorant of the race/ethnicity of an absentee voter.  Not only do many given and surnames often have a racial/ethnic identity, but so too do the return addresses on absentee ballot envelopes. Given the high racial/ethnic geographic segregation in most of Florida counties, it doesn’t take much local knowledge to have a pretty good guess of the racial/ethnic identity of a voter living on a particular street or in a given neighborhood.

In no way am I suggesting that there is overt racism by local supervisors or their canvassing boards when judging whether a signature should be ‘rejected as illegal’ or not.

And I’m not willing to absolve the culpability of individual voters casting absentee ballots that are deemed to be invalid.

Still, I have yet to hear a good reason for why there’s such a gap across Florida’s 67 counties when it comes to the rejection rates of absentee ballots cast by minority voters across the state.

But such a gap does exist, and because some of these counties–such as Collier County–still fall under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because of past racial discrimination, it seems pretty important for the US Justice Department and state and federal policy makers to acknowledge these differences and begin to drill down, like we’re trying to do, to understand why they seem to persist.

In the 2008 General Election, roughly 876k total ballots were cast in Miami-Dade County.  Roughly 20% of all ballots cast in the election were absentee ballots, and of the the 175k absentee ballots cast, approximately 1% were rejected.  Only 10% of African Americans voted absentee in 2008 in Miami-Dade, and only 1.2% of those ballots were rejected.

A majority of African Americans in the county, some 56%, voted early during the 14 day early voting period in 2008 (which included the final Sunday before Election Day). Very few problems with long lines were reported, despite the fact that more than 325k voters cast their ballots in-person at early voting sites.

Fast-forward to 2012.

We all know of the unacceptably long lines at early voting sites in Miami-Dade in 2012 (some lasting more than 6 hours).  Not surprisingly, voter participation during the truncated eight-day period dropped in the county, as it did statewide (by more than 200k voters). In 2012, only 235k voters in Miami-Dade cast their ballots early, a drop of roughly 90,000 voters.  The steep drop in early voting by African Americans is particularly striking, given the propensity of blacks to vote early.  Fewer than 75k African Americans, just 42%, voted early in Miami-Dade in 2012, a drop of 14 percentage points from the nearly 56% early voting rate in 2008.

Many African Americans, seeing the long lines, out of necessity became absentee ballot voters in 2012.   Over 33k blacks in the county voted by absentee ballot in the county.  But over 500 of those ballots were rejected by the county canvassing board, a rejection rate of 1.65%, which was far higher than the overall statewide rejection rate of .97%, and higher than the rejection rate of absentee ballots cast by blacks in Miami-Dade in 2008.

Just some food for thought for Marc Caputo to contemplate…

 

 

 

 

Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith, “Florida’s 2012 General Election under HB 1355: Early Voting, Provisional Ballots, and Absentee Ballots

Executive Summary
The 2012 General Election was the first major election in Florida held after the passage of House Bill 1355, a controversial election law that among other things reduced the early voting period in Florida and altered the requirements for casting provisional ballots.

By cutting early voting from 14 to eight days and eliminating early voting on the Sunday before the 2012 election, HB 1355 likely contributed to longer early voting lines at the polls, causing in‐person early voting turnout to drop by more than 225,000 voters compared to 2008.

The reduction in opportunities to vote early under HB 1355 disproportionately affected African American voters, insofar as nearly half of all blacks who voted in 2012 cast in‐person early ballots. Although blacks made up less than 14 percent of the Florida electorate as of November/December 2012, they cast 22 percent of all the early votes in 2012, roughly the same percentage as in 2008.

African Americans and Hispanic voters were more likely than white voters to cast provisional ballots and nearly twice as likely to have their provisional ballots rejected.

Quite possibly due to well‐founded fears of long lines at early voting and Election Day polling sites resulting from HB 1355, absentee ballots—a much less reliable form of voting a valid ballot—increased in 2012. Over 28 percent of all ballots cast in 2012 were absentee ballots, nearly six percentage points higher than in 2008. Almost one percent of these ballots were “rejected as illegal” in 2012 by county canvassing boards, and the African American absentee ballot rejection rate was nearly twice the absentee ballot rejection rate of white voters.

In our paper, available here, we examine the long lines in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties which stretched from Saturday, November 3, into the final Sunday before the election of early voting in Florida. Not surprising, African Americans were disproportionately more likely to be negatively affected.

Here’s the key table and figure (pages 13-14):

Miami-Dade & Palm Beach County Early Voters, Sunday November 4, 2012

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