Voting Rights: Differential Access?

Dec 7, 2017

The Louisiana Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission held a day-long hearing at the state Capitol Tuesday.

Compelling testimony came from Jhacona Williams, an LSU doctoral candidate in economics. Williams has done a statistical analysis of the statewide distribution of polling places and voting machines.

Her study has shown, "census tracts that have higher percentages of black residents have fewer polling places," she told the panel, adding that a "census tract" is an area of approximately 6x6 square miles.

"For a 10-percent increase in income per capita, there is nearly a one-percent increase in polling places within a census tract. Tracts with lower income levels have fewer polling places," Williams explained.

She says there's disproportionate distribution of voting machines, as well.

"For each percentage point increase in the percentage of black residents, there is one fewer voting machine: a one-to-one ratio," she said.

In other words, she said, all these numbers mean, "Individuals who live in richer areas, or areas with higher percentages of whites, have more polling places and more voting machines, and thus have easier access to voting. The only difference is the racial composition or the income, and you see this relationship that shouldn't exist."

State Senator Karen Carter Peterson asked for clarification, “So the disparity is real?”

“Yes,” Williams replied.

“Depending upon the community in Louisiana, and based on race?” Pterson continued.

“Yes,” Williams confirmed, nodding her head.

“These disparities that you describe; do you know if this is specific to Louisiana, or the extent to which this holds true nationwide?” Louisiana ACLU director Marjorie Esman wondered.

“This isn’t specific to Louisiana,” Williams advised. “There’s a study from the Brennan Center for Justice, and that actually found similar results in North Carolina, Maryland, and Florida.”

But Peterson reminded the committee that does not make it okay here.

“Louisiana certainly has a history of voting rights issues, and we need to be particularly vigilant.”