Dan Tokaji's Blog
Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Wednesday, September 28
 
Race, Language, Class, and Voting
One of the most striking aspects of the 2004 Election Day Survey released yesterday are the substantial disparities based on race, language, and class in a wide range of areas. As set forth in the report's executive summary:
Jurisdictions with low education and income, compared with other jurisdictions, tend to report more inactive voter registration, lower voter turnout, higher number of provisional ballots cast, higher drop-off and associated components of overvotes and undervotes, lower average number of poll workers per polling place, and greater percentage of inadequately staffed polling places. While these patterns present a challenge to election administrators, they are consistent with a large body of academic literature that equates higher levels of civic participation to higher levels of education and income.
To take just one example, African American jurisdictions report a greater percentage of polling places with inadequate numbers of poll workers. Conversely, jurisdictions with higher income and education levels report a higher average number of poll workers.

The report also discusses disparities affecting places covered by section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which applies to jurisdictions with a substantial number or percentage of non-English proficient residents:
Jurisdictions covered by the Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act tended to report more inactive voter registration, lower voter turnout, fewer returned absentee ballots, and much greater numbers of provisional ballots cast. These patterns were often similar to those found among predominantly Hispanic and predominantly non-Hispanic Native American jurisdictions. These findings appear to be consistent with voters within these jurisdictions having difficulty in navigating the electoral process in a language that is not their native tongue.
None of this should come as any great surprise. Rather, it provides further support for the intuitions that many of us has held. The report provides a starting point for examining whether there might be states that are in violation of current law, such as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act which prohibits practices that result in the abridgement of the vote on account of race -- a test that requires a showing of discriminatory effects, but not intentional discrimination. Alternatively, it may be appropriate to revisit laws such as Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, to determine whether they need to be strengthened in order to achieve their stated objective of equal access for linguistic minorities.

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University