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After some Ohio voters - including many in Cuyahoga County - faced hours-long voting lines during the 2004 presidential election, the state adopted reforms intended to prevent future backups, such as allowing extended time before elections for voters to cast in-person ballots at county elections boards.
President Barack Obama’s 2008 voter mobilization effort made particular use of voting the Sunday before elections, as African-American churches organized "Souls to the Polls" events which brought worshippers to vote after religious services.
Since then, Ohio’s Republican-controlled state legislature and GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted have cited budgetary concerns in making several efforts to reduce in-person early voting hours, engendering an uproar that included a federal lawsuit.
On August 31, a federal judge ordered restoration of in-person early voting for the three days before election day, but Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed an appeal. Rep. Marcia Fudge and other Democrats have maintained Republicans want to eliminate that weekend’s early voting to cut turnout among African-Americans -- a claim Republicans deny.
But in a recent news release from Fudge and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, Fudge spoke to how much minority voters relied on early voting.
"It’s troubling that by eliminating weekend voting hours, the state of Ohio specifically banned a popular voting time of choice for minorities," Fudge said. "In Cuyahoga County, which I represent, 56 percent of weekend voters in 2008 were African American while adult African Americans comprise 28 percent of the county population."
PolitiFact Ohio thought Fudge’s data on African American use of in-person early voting warranted a closer look. Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland and Fudge’s hometown of Warrensville Heights, is the most populous and had the largest voting population among Ohio counties in 2008.
We asked Fudge’s office where she got her statistics. Her staff referred us to a research study on early voting by Case Western Reserve University emeritus professor Norman Robbins, and Cleveland State University urban affairs professor Mark Salling.
Their study estimates that 56.4 percent of Cuyahoga county’s 2008 early-in-person voters were black. Of those who voted on election day or by mail, 25.7 percent of them were black. And specifically, the study found that on the four weekends prior to election day, 56 percent of the ballots were cast by black voters.
White voters showed the reverse pattern, it said. They comprised 40 percent of early-in-person votes and 69.4 percent of those who voted on election day or by mail.
The study said that 15.6 percent of all votes cast by African Americans in Cuyahoga County were through early-in-person voting, compared with 4.5 percent of votes by whites.
The study also said that 28 percent of Cuyahoga county adults 18 and over are African American, as are 24 percent of voting age adults in Hamilton County (Cincinnati), and 20 percent each in Franklin (Columbus) and Montgomery (Dayton) counties.
"We conclude that in Cuyahoga County, and quite probably in other counties with substantial black populations, elimination of ANY EIP (early-in-person) voting period clearly disproportionately affects African Americans in an election similar to 2008," the study said.
In an email to PolitiFact Ohio, study co-author Robbins observed that African-American turnout was "disproportionately high and approximately the same, ranging from about 54 to 59 percent" during every early voting time period - business hours, extended weekday hours, weekends, or the last three days before the election.
On the final weekend before election day, Robbins said, 58.9 percent of early in-person voters in Cuyahoga county were African-American. During the four weekends before that, he said 56.3 percent of voters were African-American.
PolitiFact Ohio queried Cuyahoga County Election Board Director Jane Platten about the study’s statistics. She said she couldn’t evaluate its racial voting numbers because the county doesn’t collect data on the voters’ ethnicity. She said "a lot" of African Americans made use of the county’s early-in-person voting program, although she said she had "no idea" of the percentage.
So how did the authors come up with their racial data? Although the county doesn’t track voters’ race, voter addresses are on file. The study’s authors used those addresses to determine the census block where voters reside, and extrapolated their race by using 2010 census data on each block’s racial makeup. For example, if a voter’s address was in a census block in which 75 percent of the population was black and 25 percent was white, that voter was considered to have a 75 percent probability of being black.
Several independent demographics experts told PolitiFact Ohio this method would provide valid racial voting data.
"I can’t think of a better way to do it, and I don’t think there would be any big errors in that method," said Carl Schmertmann, a Florida State University demography professor who formerly served on the U.S. Census Bureau’s scientific advisory committee.
"The logic by which the authors attempt to estimate the race of early voters makes sense," agreed Scott Keeter, the Pew Research Center’s survey research director.
Keeter noted that 2008 exit polling data in Ohio found that 16 percent of those who voted early - either by mail or in-person - were black voters, while 9 percent of in-person voters were black.
"African-Americans statewide do appear to have made heavier use of early voting, but the exit poll did not ask how a vote was cast, so we can’t be sure that this pattern is mostly a result of EIP voting," said an email from Keeter.
Robbins research, though, was able to break out the EIP population.
Fudge drew her statistics, which she cited accurately, from a research study that stated that 56 percent of the 2008 Cuyahoga county voters voted who cast ballots on weekends before the election were African American and that 28 percent of the county’s voting age population is African American.
On the Truth-O-Meter, Fudge’s claim rates True.
PolitiFact Florida,‘Souls to the Polls,’ Sunday drew high numbers of African-Americans and Hispanics, Corrine Brown says, June 22, 2012
USA Today,Long lines on Election Day enhance appeal of early voting, Nov. 17, 2004
The Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com, "New state voting laws cause controversy; critics fear turnout will suffer," August 5, 2012.
The Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com,"Ohio House votes to repeal controversial election law," May 8, 2012
The Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com, "Judge overturns Ohio law, restores in-person early voting in 3 days leading to Election Day," August 31, 2012
The Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com, "Ohio attorney general says he will appeal ruling that restores in-person early voting on eve of Election Day," August 31, 2012
Press release, Conyers and Fudge Call for Investigation of Potential Voter Suppression in Ohio, August 24, 2012
The Plain Dealer,Obama campaign sues Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted over early voting restrictions,July 17, 2012
Sen. Sherrod Brown, news release,Following Senate hearing in Cleveland, Sens. Brown, Durbin, Rep. Fudge take a stand against infringement on voting rights, May 7, 2012
Emails with Rep. Marcia Fudge spokeswoman Belinda Prinz, Sept. 11 and 12, 2012
Emails with Case Western Reserve University professor emeritus Norman Robbins, Sept. 12, 2012
Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates, Racial and ethnic proportions of early in-person voters in Cuyahoga County, General Election 2008, and implications for 2012,
Interview with Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Director Jane Platten, Sept. 12, 2012
Interview with Matt McClellan, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, Sept. 12, 2012
Interview with Florida State University professor Carl P. Schmertmann, Sept. 12, 2012
Emails with Pew Research Center Director of Survey ResearchScott Keeter, Sept. 12, 2012
The New York Times, Ohio Presidential county results, 2008 election
Ohio Department of Development, Ohio county population, 2010 Census
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