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Early voting limits in Ohio affect black voters disproportionately, study says

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A new study underscores the potential impact of Friday’s federal appeals court decision reinstating early balloting for all Ohio voters during the final 72 hours before Election Day.

The study shows that limits on early voting is likely to have a discriminatory effect on African Americans in metropolitan Cleveland. An analysis of 2008 returns in Cuyahoga County by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law found that African Americans used early, in-person voting at approximately 26 times the rate of white voters. Whites, on the other hand, tended to favor voting by mail as a form of early balloting. The study used data from census tracts where the adult voting population was 80 percent or more black.

Ohio officials had called a halt to early voting in the final days of the campaign — with the exception of military personnel — because they said local election boards needed the weekend before Election Day to prepare. They also said military voters deserved special consideration because they could be deployed at any time.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, ruling on a suit brought by the Obama campaign, said the state had not shown a compelling reason why final-days voting should be restricted to members of the military. But the court also left it to the discretion of individual Ohio counties to make the final decision on whether the three-day period would be offered.

In-person early voting has started in Ohio and was scheduled to end for all but military personnel the Friday before the election. The state has not said whether it will appeal.

The study, written before the appeals court announced its ruling, said: “Based on the racial disparities observed in early voting behavior, the new rules are likely to have a discriminatory effect on Ohio’s largest county.”

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