New EVIC Analysis Examines Impact of Proposed Early Voting Restrictions in North Carolina

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[Image courtesy of earlyvoting.net]

Whenever the topic of a discussion about elections turns to early voting, I refer to the work of my friend and colleague Paul Gronke of Reed College, who has set up the Early Voting Information Center (EVIC) to house quality research and information about the growing number of ballots cast before Election Day.

To that end, I came across a new blog post by EVIC research associate Chelsea Brossard, who used North Carolina’s data on ballot return to examine the impact of proposed cutbacks on early voting. In particular, the post looks at

[t]wo proposed bills in the North Carolina legislature. Senate Bill 428 seeks to shorten the early voting period from two weeks to one week, and House Bill 451 aims to outlaw voting on Sundays…

Our analysis demonstrates the impact these changes would have on the electorate. We examined early voting data from 2008, 2010, and 2012. Our results show that 55.61% of the electorate voted early in 2008, compared with 33.67% of the electorate in 2010 and 58.98% of the electorate in 2012. Of those that voted early in 2008, 54.96% voted in first week of early voting, including the second to last Sunday. In 2010, 38.61% of the early voting electorate voted during this period, and 54.42% of early voters voted during this period in 2012.

Year % of electorate that voted early % early voters affected by proposed changes (as a percentage of early voters) % early voters affected by proposed changes (as a percentage of the total electorate)
2008 55.61% 54.96% 26.04%
2010 33.67% 38.61% 13.00%
2012 58.98% 54.42% 30.77%

These numbers show that a significant portion of the electorate would be negatively affected by the proposed changes, and would be forced to find other times to vote should these bills pass.

Even though 2010 shows a smaller portion of the electorate voting early, early voting has increased over the last decade. Information from the North Carolina Board of Elections web page shows that 13.04% of the electorate voted early in 2000, compared to 58.98% of the electorate in 2012.

More disturbing, there are racial differences in the use of these methods to curb opportunities for early voting. Despite surprising racial disparities in 2010 we have not yet fully investigated, 2008 and 2012 both showed African American voters significantly more likely to vote early than whites. 2010, a lower profile election with less stimulus, showed a more traditional pattern of whites being more likely to vote early. This shows that the proposed changes would result in racial disparities in presidential election years and would affect a large portion of the electorate. What’s more, even more voters vote in the last Sunday before the election, but North Carolina already does not open the polls on this day.

This post, and the research behind it, are notable in two key ways. First, they draw a picture of how early voting is used and by whom – and when, which is very important to questions about the duration of voting periods. [The post also includes graphs like the one above for 2008 and 2010 to show the changes in the data over time.] Second, they are based on data that isn’t available everywhere: data by race, which is still collected in some states to assist with Voting Rights Act compliance, and ballot return data by date, which even fewer states collect or make available like North Carolina does.

This research – and the data that supports it – are the wave of the future in election administration. Kudos to Ms. Brossard for her analysis and thanks to Paul Gronke for creating a place where this kind of work can find a voice.

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