Local Officials as Partisan Operatives: The Effect of County Officials on Early Voting Administration

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We explore whether officials in county governments follow their partisan allegiances when selecting and siting early voting locations. Because low-turnout elections are said to benefit Republicans and high-turnout elections to benefit Democrats, we hypothesize that majority-Republican county governments create fewer early voting sites than majority-Democrat county governments. Moreover, we expect the partisan composition of key officials in county government to affect the accessibility of early voting sites, with Republican-dominated county governments placing sites such that less of the population resides proximately. Using an originally collected data set, we assess how counties’ commissioners courts affect the number of sites generally. We then geocode early voting locations in Texas from the 2014, 2016, and 2017 general elections to determine the accessibility of such locations. Our results provide support for our theory that partisan county officials strategically maintain early voting sites to benefit their party's electoral fortunes. Specifically, Republican-majority county governments employ fewer early voting locations than Democrat-majority county governments. Yet, both Democrat and Republican courts site early voting locations similarly. These findings suggest that Republican-majority county governments make decisions that increase the costs of voting by providing fewer sites, while Democrat-majority county governments seek to decrease the costs of voting by offering more sites, with both parties attempting to provide their party an electoral edge. Still, Republican- and Democratic-majority county governments site their early voting locations in similarly accessible ways, suggesting that other factors, besides partisanship, structure site location.




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