The Racial Context of Convenience Voting Cutbacks: Early Voting in Ohio During the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Presidential Elections
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Classic models of democratic political behavior imply that eliminating opportunities to vote early in person (EIP) negatively affects the political participation of voters who prefer to use that option. Nevertheless, several U.S. state legislatures recently passed or proposed laws to scale back their EIP voting operations. Such efforts have met with opposition, as both academic researchers and federal courts have found that minority voters, especially African Americans, now utilize EIP voting at significantly higher rates than White voters. Prior to the 2012 presidential election, this argument was central to a federal court’s decision to temporarily block legislation in Ohio that sought to cut several days from the state’s EIP voting period. A post-election legal battle is reconsidering this matter, and the outcome will shape Ohio’s voting rules going forward. This article contributes empirical results to the discourse by estimating EIP voting take-up rates, by race, during the 2008 and 2012 U.S. presidential elections in Ohio’s three largest counties. Ecological inference models reveal that African Americans in all three study areas voted EIP at substantially higher rates than White voters during both elections. These results are supported by decile tables that report early voting behavior for relatively racially homogeneous geographies, and by geovisualizations that depict direct relationships between the spatial distributions of minority persons and EIP voting usage. Collectively, the findings suggest that the potential effects of Ohio’s proposed policy changes would not be equally distributed between racial groups.