Early Voting Patterns by Race in Cuyahoga County, Ohio: A Statistical Analysis of the 2008 General Election

October 05, 2012  |  By Russell Weaver and Sonia Gill  |  Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law  |  Download

Abstract. Several state legislatures recently have passed laws to scale back their early voting operations. Such efforts have been criticized by civil rights advocates and others who contend that minorities have utilized various forms of early voting at disproportionately high rates relative to whites, and that early voting reductions will tend to discourage minority electoral participation. This debate is being played out in advance of the 2012 Presidential Election in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. The following research attends to the question of, “who votes early in Cuyahoga County?” Specifically, insofar as the 2008 General Election is the most recent presidential election and is likely to be the best predictor of electoral behavior for 2012, this research brief estimates racial group usage of the two types of early voting methods that were available in the county in 2008: absentee by mail, and absentee in person. Ecological inference models demonstrate that white voters utilized the former method with a greater propensity than African Americans, but African Americans voted early in person at substantially higher rates than white voters. The results therefore provide an empirical basis to conclude that reducing early in person voting will disproportionately affect African American voters in Cuyahoga County.

Key Findings:

  • Slightly over 8% of all Cuyahoga County voters in the 2008 General Election cast a ballot in person prior to Election Day
  • Standard statistical methods for estimating group voting behavior reveal that over 77% of these early in person voters were African Americans
  • In the November 2008 election in Cuyahoga County, African Americans voted early in person at a rate over twenty times greater than white voters
  • Proposed reductions to the early in person voting period in Cuyahoga County will therefore disproportionately impact minority voters

Geographic distribution of early in person ballots, by census tract, by % Black VAP

Geographic distribution of EIP ballots, by census tract, by % Black VAP


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