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· October 8, 2012

Early, in-person voting especially important to Ohio’s African-American community

Under the headline: Analysis of Cuyahoga County voting finds cutback on in-person balloting hits minorities most a story over the weekend by The Plain Dealer’s Tom Feran provides more confirmation that GOP efforts in battleground states to tighten restrictions on when and how we vote are part of a larger strategy to keep Democrats away from the polls.

We showed you earlier that Democrats are more likely to vote early and we also just released a report that puts Ohio into the context of wider-ranging right-wing efforts to suppress the vote during this presidential election season. What the analysis described by The Plain Dealer tells us is that there is solid evidence that Republicans stand to gain by restricting early voting in-person before Election Day because it interferes with a traditional way by which many African-Americans vote. From Feran’s article:

Restrictions on early in-person voting in Ohio would discriminate against black voters, an analysis of voting patterns concludes.

The study examined voting in Cuyahoga County in 2008 using elections records and census data. It found that black voters and white voters cast early ballots at similar rates in 2008, but that blacks — who accounted for about 29 percent of the overall vote — cast more than 77 percent of the in-person early ballots.

White voters casting early ballots were much more likely to vote by mail, the study found.

The analysis, by the Washington-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, amplified an earlier study of voting in Cuyahoga County, which was cited in a federal lawsuit that challenged restrictions on early voting.

Finally, a little historical context from our own report:

Those proposing to reduce the number of days of early voting — including, as in Ohio, completely eliminating voting on the final weekend before the election — pretend not to understand why these restrictions upset and anger so many African-American voters. Suppressors insist everyone still has ample time to vote. And if some find it difficult to vote in person, Jon Husted, Ohio’s chief elections officer, points out that he has helpfully decided to send an absentee ballot to every registered voter. Fill it out. Drop it in the mail. Problem solved.

But one does not have to be black to appreciate the special circumstances and history surrounding the African-American struggle to cast a vote freely and have it counted fairly.

When one’s forebears have marched, bled, and sometimes died in that struggle; when, in the recent past, all manner of Jim Crow chicanery has been used to discount, marginalize and invalidate the votes of those who share your skin color, the desire to show up at the polls and cast your ballot in person is not hard to understand.

Voting on the last week-end before the election — usually after church services and in the company of your fellow parishioners — has become a tradition in the African-American community. In 2008, some 94,000 Ohioans cast their ballots on the last weekend; it’s a reasonable assumption that a significant number of them were black. Why disrupt that tradition? Especially when so many county commissioners and Boards of Elections officials say the cost is not prohibitive?

The history of America is the history of making voting easier, not harder. That so many states are suddenly trying to turn back the clock — just before what is expected to be a close presidential election — is suspicious. That the effort is exclusively being championed by one political party is revealing. That it is succeeding is disgraceful. There’s a term for what’s going on this year in America’s swing states. That term is voter fraud.

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