Long distance runaround:
Last year, North Carolina's Board of Elections changed the locations of many of its hundreds of Early Voting sites across the state. No one seems to have noticed that those changes added more than a third of a million miles to the distance between black voters' homes and their polling places, while affecting white voters' aggregate distance-to-poll hardly at all.
(Author's note: I was going to include this in my Tuesday Twitter post, but after perusing the data, it became evident it needed better exposure.) We've long suspected there was a concerted effort to disenfranchise certain voting demographics by relocating polling sites, but now we have the data to back that up. It also increases the likelihood (by a factor of ten) there was/is a state-wide conspiracy to make voting more difficult for people of color; you don't get these numbers by accident:
Distance-to-poll also matters to friends of an equitable society because it represents a cost of voting. That cost is measured not merely in the gasoline consumed, or the bus fare, or the shoe leather invested in traveling to the poll, but also in what an economist would call the opportunity cost involved. Time spent traveling to the poll and waiting in line is time not spent at work, and therefore income not earned. That's a cost which weighs far more heavily on low income voters, like the counter worker at McDonald's, than it does on affluent voters such as the owner of a fast-food franchise. Viewed in this light, inequitable distance-to-poll changes amount to a kind of poll tax — something which an abundance of case law has established is unconstitutional.
Finally, distance-to-poll matters to friends of civil rights because the consequences of four hundred years of systematic oppression don't just magically disappear after a mere forty years of half-hearted relief. The economic effect of that lingering legacy on African Americans' mobility today is something we can quantify: 16% of black North Carolina householders do not have access to an automobile, while only 4% of whites do not, and blacks who work outside the home are three times more likely than whites to rely on public transportation.
Between the 2012 and 2014 elections the total number of Early Voting sites operated by North Carolina county boards of elections, statewide, increased modestly: from 363 to 366. But that same period witnessed substantial changes in those sites' locations. According to Voting Information Project data, 114 sites operating in November 2012 were no longer open in November 2014, replaced by 117 different sites. The impact on the average voter (across all races) was fairly insignificant: an increase from about 3.5 miles in 2012 to 3.6 miles in 2014 — a difference of only about 300 feet (roughly one city block).
But a look at the aggregate impacts by race reveals a startlingly different picture (Figure 1, below). While the average white voter's distance to his or her nearest Early Voting site increased by just 26 feet in 2014, the average black voter's distance increased by a quarter of a mile. Summing that up over the members of each race, that's an aggregate increase in distance-to-poll of just 21,000 miles for white voters (71% of the electorate), but more than 350,000 miles for black voters (22% of the electorate). That latter distance is the equivalent of a trip from the Earth to the Moon, and half way home again.
It may seem like a strange source of anger to some, but the thing that pisses me off the most is that Republicans are punishing African-American voters for voting almost exclusively Democratic. Think about it. The GOP has become the very same out-of-control entity that NC Democrats in late 19th and early 20th Century were. The attacks against African-Americans are more nuanced and less vicious, but the goal (suppression) is the very same. Instead of trying to alter their policy approaches to accommodate the needs and desires of African-Americans, that represent almost a quarter of our population, the GOP has taken the low road of marginalization and suppression. And they're secretly proud of that choice, instead of feeling the shame they should.
For you "moderate" Dems out there who believe "working across the aisle" is a laudable goal, you better watch where you step. The stink of complicity is almost impossible to scrub off.