Changing the Rules to Get the Outcome You Want

For the last 15 years, more Americans have opted to take advantage of early voting opportunities (either through early in-person voting or mail ballots). By 2008, early voting compromised one third of the vote. Early voting seemed to help Democrats more than Republicans in 2008, as Democrats were more likely to vote early than Republicans. 

Since early voting tended to help Democrats more than Republicans in the last presidential election, it is not surprising that Republican lawmakers in several key states have tried to reduce early in-person voting in their states this year. Limiting this type of early voting could reduce the number of votes for Obama. If the new voting rules are too restrictive, some of Obama's supporters may be unable or unwilling to pay a higher cost to vote.

In the last few weeks, the media has given a great deal of attention to the changes in Ohio's early in-person voting rules. Obama is challenging the new rules because they appear to favor Republican voters and hurt Democratic voters (see here and here). Below is a summary of some efforts by Republicans to reduce early in person voting in two other states, Florida and North Carolina.


Obama easily carried Florida in 2008, by about 3% of the vote. But Florida is a swing state, so small changes in voting rules and procedures could theoretically affect the election outcome (like in the 2000 election). Unsurprisingly, Republican lawmakers in Florida changed the voting rules again in this upcoming election, and these changes could negatively affect Obama's vote share this fall.

One of the reasons Obama won Florida so easily in 2008 was early voting. 3.3 million Florida Democrats voted early in 2008, while only 810,666 Florida Republicans voted early. Obama may not have this advantage again this year. Last May, Florida lawmakers reduced the number of early in-person voting days from 14 to 8. This could limit the number of early votes Obama receives in November.

Reducing the number of early voting days may have some impact on Obama's vote share, but what may be even more damaging to Democrats in Florida this fall is the fact that voters will no longer be able to vote the Sunday before the election. Sunday voting before the election was an important day to several African American church goers in the 2008 election. Several African American church congregations went from church to the polls in en masse as part of the "souls to the polls" drive. Limiting Sunday voting obviously would have an impact on these types of vote drives and inadvertently affect the ability of African Americans to vote in Florida. This would clearly reduce Obama's vote share in November, as he has done well amongst the black American community.

North Carolina

Barack Obama did something in 2008 no Democratic presidential candidate has done since 1976: he won North Carolina. The election was quite close- Obama won 49.7% of the vote, while McCain received 49.38%. Early voting really seemed to help Obama, while the Election Day vote hurt him. Obama won the early vote by 178,000 votes and lost the Election Day vote by 165,000 votes.

It is not surprising that Obama won the early vote in North Carolina. More than half of black voters in North Carolina voted early in 2008, and Obama did well amongst that particular group. According to exit polls, 100% of black women voted for Obama while 87% of black men voted for him. In contrast, it is also not surprising that Obama lost the Election Day vote. About 60% of white voters voted on election day, and Obama only won 37% of the white vote.

Given Obama's razor thin victory in 2008, it would be relatively easy for North Carolina Republican lawmakers to prevent Obama from winning the state in 2012 simply by making it harder for black voters to vote. Since a large number of black voters voted early, if lawmakers reduced early voting in the state, that could reduce the number of black voters who could vote. North Carolina Republicans did attempt to reduce early voting back in May 2011, but the bill only passed the state House. They promised to revisit the measure this year, but there has been no movement on the bill since last May. (It is important to note that since the governor of North Carolina is a Democrat, the bill probably will not be passed this year).

About Julie VanDusky-Allen

Julie VanDusky-Allen is at Boise State University and received her PhD in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2011. Her research focuses on institutional choice and development, political parties, the legislative process, and Latin American politics.

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