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Georgia’s Attempt to Limit Out-of-Precinct Voting Will Hurt Black Neighborhoods

This proposed policy change, on top of others, will reduce Black voters’ access to the ballot box across the state.

Published: March 16, 2021

This week in Geor­gia, legis­lat­ors are consid­er­ing a provi­sion in House Bill 531 that would throw out a voter’s entire ballot if it is cast at the wrong precinct — includ­ing votes for the contests that the voter is actu­ally eligible to parti­cip­ate in.

Although local races on the ballot can vary from precinct to precinct, such as for a city coun­cil member, many races look identical across a county. Many of Geor­gi­a’s counties, for instance, are entirely contained in a single U.S. congres­sional district. This means that the same two candid­ates are on the ballot in every precinct in the county. In other words, even if a voter moved to a new precinct, the congres­sional race they would be eligible to vote in might still be the same. This is obvi­ously true of higher-level races, too. A valid Geor­gia voter should still be able to vote for governor or pres­id­ent, even if they voted at the wrong precinct.

While this proposed policy change will be harm­ful to all sorts of voters who cast a ballot at the wrong polling place on Elec­tion Day, it will fall espe­cially on voters who have moved within their county. While we do not know exactly who is moving within the county, we do know where they live—in neigh­bor­hoods that are more of color and have lower incomes. That is about as direct a line as there is.

We came to this conclu­sion by look­ing at the racial and economic demo­graph­ics of the Geor­gia census tracts with the most and fewest in-county movers using data from the 5-year Amer­ican Community Survey ending in 2019. We compared census tracts in the top 25th percent­ile in terms of in-county movers to tracts in the bottom 25th percent­ile. There were clear differ­ences as the figures below show.

In the first figure, we show the racial differ­ences between the two groups. Although the aver­age census tract with the most in-county movers was 47 percent Black, the aver­age census tract with the fewest movers was just 22 percent Black. On the other hand, tracts with many movers were far less white than tracts with few movers (37 percent versus 64 percent). Because Black voters live in neigh­bor­hoods with much higher rates of in-county moves, they are likely to be hit espe­cially hard by the elim­in­a­tion of the out-of-precinct voting allow­ance.

This divide also shows up in the economic circum­stances of these two groups of census tracts. Tracts with few in-county movers had substan­tially higher incomes and lower unem­ploy­ment rates than the tracts where many indi­vidu­als had moved within the county. A policy making it harder for voters to parti­cip­ate after moving will thus dispro­por­tion­ately fall on voters in more econom­ic­ally margin­al­ized neigh­bor­hoods.

If Geor­gia moves to nullify every out-of-precinct ballot, it will dispro­por­tion­ately fall on voters and neigh­bor­hoods with many movers — neigh­bor­hoods who are also home to many racial minor­it­ies and lower-income voters.

As we wrote earlier this month, anti-voter legis­la­tion impact­ing absentee voting in the Peach State will dispro­por­tion­ately harm Black voters. This latest move repres­ents a doub­ling-down on the disen­fran­chise­ment of Black Geor­gi­ans. While each of these policies — from limit­ing absentee voting hours and Sunday voting to elim­in­at­ing out-of-precinct and mail voting — might disen­fran­chise discrete sets of voters on their own, the cumu­lat­ive effect of so many targeted bills will reduce access to the ballot box for Black voters across the state.