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It's Taking More Time To Cast A Ballot In US Elections – And Even Longer For Black And Hispanic Voters

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Voters line up at a polling station in Houston to cast their ballots during the Texas presidential primary on March 3, 2020. Mark Felix/AFP via Getty Images

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the November 2020 election brought out about 155 million voters. That represented 67% of Americans over 18, and it was the highest voter turnout of any modern election.

Americans also set records in the percent and number of people voting early and by mail, continuing a decadeslong trend away from voting only on election day.

That was the good news.

The 2020 elections also saw record numbers of Americans forced to wait longer to vote, partly because of the increased number of voters and the difficulties of safely voting during a lethal pandemic. Tellingly, as in the past, if you waited over 30 minutes to cast a vote, you were more likely to be a low-income Black American.

Since 2012, when more than 5 million Americans were forced to wait longer than an hour to cast their ballots, long waits have become a visible indicator of voting problems.

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration stated in 2014 that “No citizen should have to wait more than 30 minutes to vote.”

Eight years later, that goal is further away than before. Where you are and who you are significantly affect how long it will take you to vote. As well as demanding more time and commitment – including arrangements for child care if needed – long waits can discourage future voting.

Increasing wait times

Average waits nationally increased to 14.3 minutes in 2020 from 10.4 minutes in 2016, a 40% jump. These waits were concentrated in poorer neighborhoods with a higher percentage of nonwhite voters.

A further indication that waiting is a growing problem was its addition in 2022 to the voting inconvenience category by the Cost of Voting Index project, which measures the ease or difficulty of voting in individual states.

Hundreds of people dressed in winter jackets wait in line to vote.
Hundreds of voters wait in line at an early voting site in Farmingville, N.Y., on Oct. 27, 2020.
John Paraskevas/Newsday RM via Getty Images

While the great majority of Americans waited only a few minutes to vote in 2020, a significant minority did not.

One in 7 voters – 14.3% – waited longer than the 30-minute 2014 goal set by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, compared with 1 in 12 – 8.3% – in 2016. And 1 in 16 voters – 6.3% – surveyed by the MIT Election Data Science Lab waited over an hour.

Twelve states – including Alabama, Georgia, New York, Indiana and Maryland – exceeded that average. In 2020, Delaware voters reported the highest average wait at 35 minutes – up strikingly from 5 minutes in 2016. South Carolina had the second-longest wait at 30 minutes, up from its nation-leading 20 minutes in 2016.

But the time spent waiting in line to cast a ballot is only the most visible cost of voting.

The full cost not only includes the actual vote, but also the time and effort of registration, staying registered and the nonpartisan counting and administration of the vote. Most election administration officials are partisan figures, though they are expected to administer the election in a nonpartisan manner.

Partisan voting laws

Political parties are using the voting process itself as a way to gain advantage.

Researchers have found a correlation between the number of Republican legislators in a state and the greater the cost to vote will be disproportionately to Black voters.

In at least one state, Florida from 2004 to 2016, as the number of Democratic voters increased in a county, so did the number of voters per poll worker, thus increasing the potential for waiting and other delays.

Strict voter identification laws appear to disproportionately affect minority voters but not overall voter turnout, although the full impact of these laws remains uncertain.

In 2021-22, 21 states passed 42 laws making voting more difficult. Some of those laws include imposing new photo ID requirements, limiting Election Day registration and requiring voters to provide identification numbers when they apply to vote by mail.

On the other side, 25 states passed 62 laws making voting easier. In June 2022, for example, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law the landmark John Lewis Voting Rights Act that created new legal protections against voter suppression, vote dilution and voter intimidation.

Despite the greater number of bills that made voting easier, the restrictive laws were more encompassing, often rolling back successful pandemic-based efforts to encourage early and absentee voting. Despite research showing no partisan advantage to early and absentee voting, restrictive laws were passed primarily in Republican states and expansive laws primarily in Democratic states.

A gigantic banner with the words Early Voting hangs on a wall above dozens of people waiting to vote.
Voters line up inside State Farm Arena, Georgia’s largest early voting location, for the first day of early voting in the general election on Oct. 12, 2020, in Atlanta.
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

A question of fairness

The effect of these laws on turnout is uncertain, especially if they inspire a “backlash mobilization” or civic education efforts. Lawsuits may block some laws. In early October 2022, a Montana state judge deemed three laws unconstitutional – one that required additional identification if voting with a student ID, another that halted third-party ballot collection and a third that banned same-day voter registration.

The last two laws would have adversely affected Native Americans, who might live 50 miles from a polling place.

In September 2021, the GOP-controlled Texas legislature passed a new election law that restricted early voting, tightened absentee voting, instituted new rules for voter assistance and added criminal penalties for some violations.

One ramification occurred during the 2022 primary, when Texas election officials rejected over 12% of absentee ballots, a huge increase from the normal 1% to 2%.

While rejections equally affected voters in Republican and Democratic Texas primaries, strict rules about who could vote absentee meant most of those disqualified voters were over 65 or had disabilities.

Depending on who was the majority party, Texas Democratic and Republican politicians have long led the nation in making voting difficult for Black citizens since the end of the Civil War, and more recently once Republicans gained power in the 1980s.

In 2020, Republican Governor Greg Abbott restricted ballot drop boxes to only one per county, giving the 4.7 million people in the 1,778 square miles of Harris County, which is 20.3% Black, the same ability to drop off their ballot as the 10,500 people in the 275 square miles of Franklin County, which is 4.8% Black.

Before the ban, Harris County intended to provide 11 ballot boxes for easier access. Abbott claimed he was increasing ballot security, but the reality was that he increased the difficulty for city dwellers, who increasingly lean Democratic and nonwhite, to vote.

Perhaps the country’s most restrictive election law, Georgia’s Election Integrity Act of 2021, reduced mail and early voting while making the State Election Board a more political office. Fulton County, the largest county with over a million people and is 44.7% Black, will be limited to eight ballot drop boxes – all indoors – instead of the usual 38 outdoor drop boxes. In addition, the law banned the county from using mobile voting buses.

Media attention, however, focused on a ban on offering food or water to voters within 150 feet of a polling place or within 25 feet of voters waiting in line. An exception was made for poll workers and election judges who can provide water to voters.

Just as some nonprofits have helped states improve the clarity and legibility of their ballots, so too could similar nonpartisan expertise of resource optimization and supply chain management improve the administration of elections.

Like other state governments, Georgia could minimize the time needed to vote if it provided the resources, training and communication to its staff that administers elections, and thus encourage American citizens to exercise their ability to vote.

“A cornerstone of our election process is fundamental fairness,” Matthew Weil, the Bipartisan Policy Center Elections Project director, stated. “If different people are experiencing the election system, the voting experience, quite unequally, that’s a problem – full stop.”

The Conversation

Jonathan Coopersmith is a Democrat and has contributed to numerous campaigns, causes, and organizations, including the Brennan Center. He prefers to vote early.

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Politics

When The Supreme Court Loses Americans' Loyalty, Chaos – Even Violence – Can Follow

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Policemen keep a mob back as James Meredith, a Black student trying to enroll at the University of Mississippi, is driven away after being refused admittance to the all-white university in Oxford on Sept. 25, 1962. AP Photo

The Supreme Court’s historically low public standing has prompted a national conversation about the court’s legitimacy. It’s even drawn rare public comment from three sitting Supreme Court justices.
What’s referred to by experts as the problem of “judicial legitimacy” may seem abstract, but the court’s faltering public support is about more than popularity.

Eroding legitimacy means that government officials and ordinary people become increasingly unlikely to accept public policies with which they disagree. And Americans need only look to the relatively recent past to understand the stakes of the court’s growing legitimacy problem.

Cost ‘paid in blood’

The Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education shined a light on many white Americans’ tenuous loyalty to the authority of the federal judiciary.

In Brown, the court unanimously held that racial segregation in public education violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The justices were abundantly aware that their decision would evoke strong emotions. So Chief Justice Earl Warren worked tirelessly to ensure that the court issued a unanimous, short and readable opinion designed to calm the anticipated popular opposition.

Warren’s efforts were in vain. Rather than recognizing the court’s authoritative interpretation of the Constitution, many white Americans participated in an extended, violent campaign of resistance to the desegregation ruling.

A highway with old cars on it and a billboard that says 'IMPEACH EARL WARREN' on the side.
Resistance in the South to the Supreme Court’s school desegregation order was strong and often violent. This billboard urged impeachment of the court’s then-chief justice, Earl Warren.
AP photo

The integration of the University of Mississippi in 1962 provides a pointed example of this resistance.

The Supreme Court had backed a lower federal court that ordered the university to admit James Meredith, a Black Air Force veteran. But Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett led a wide-ranging effort to stop Meredith from enrolling at Ole Miss, including deploying state and local police to prevent Meredith from entering campus.

On Sunday, Sept. 30, 1962, Meredith nevertheless arrived on the university’s campus, guarded by dozens of federal marshals, to register and begin classes the next day. A crowd of 2,000 to 3,000 people gathered on campus and broke into a riot. Meredith and the marshals were attacked with Molotov cocktails and gunfire. The marshals fired tear gas in return.

In response, President John F. Kennedy invoked the Insurrection Act of 1807 and ordered the U.S. Army onto campus to restore order and protect Meredith. Overnight, thousands of troops arrived, battling rioters.

Armed troops along a sidewalk in the night, with fire in the background.
President John F. Kennedy called in federal troops to quell the violence against James Meredith’s enrollment in the University of Mississippi in 1962.
Lynn Pelham/Getty Images

The violence finally ended after 15 hours, leaving two civilians dead – both killed by rioters – and dozens of wounded marshals and soldiers in addition to hundreds of injuries among the insurgent mob.

The next day, Oct. 1, Meredith enrolled in the university and attended his first class, but thousands of troops remained in Mississippi for months afterward to preserve order.

What some call “the Battle of Oxford” was fueled by white racism and segregation, but it played out against the backdrop of weak judicial legitimacy. Federal courts did not command enough respect among state officials or ordinary white Mississippians to protect the constitutional rights of Black Mississippians. Neither Gov. Barnett nor the thousands of Oxford rioters were willing to follow the court order for Meredith to enroll at the university.

In the end, the Constitution and the federal courts prevailed only because Kennedy backed them with the Army. But the cost of weak judicial legitimacy was paid in blood.

Legitimacy leads to acceptance

In contrast, when people believe in the legitimacy of their governing institutions, they are more likely to accept, respect and abide by the rules the government – including the courts – ask them to live under, even when the stakes are high and the consequences are far-reaching.

For example, two decades ago, the Supreme Court resolved a disputed presidential election in Bush v. Gore, centered on the counting of ballots in Florida. This time, the court was deeply divided along ideological lines, and its long, complicated and fragmented opinion was based on questionable legal reasoning.

Police in helmets with riot gear with smoke in the background.
Clashes between riot police and Donald Trump supporters near the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
Shay Horse/NurPhoto via Getty Images

But in 2000, the court enjoyed more robust legitimacy among the public than it does today. As a consequence, Florida officials ceased recounting disputed ballots. Vice President Al Gore conceded the election to Texas Gov. George W. Bush, specifically accepting the Supreme Court’s pivotal ruling.

No Democratic senator challenged the validity of Florida’s disputed Electoral College votes for Bush. Congress certified the Electoral College’s vote, and Bush was inaugurated.

Democrats were surely disappointed, and some protested. But the court was viewed as sufficiently legitimate to produce enough acceptance by enough people to ensure a peaceful transition of power. There was no violent riot; there was no open resistance.

Indeed, on the very night that Gore conceded, the chants of his supporters gathered outside tacitly accepted the outcome: “Gore in four!” – as if to say, “We’ll get you next time, because we believe there will be a next time.”

Risks ahead

But what happens when institutions fail to retain citizens’ loyalty?

The Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection showcased the consequences of broken legitimacy. The rioters who stormed the Capitol had lost faith in systems that undergird American democracy: counting presidential votes in the states, tallying Electoral College ballots and settling disputes over election law in the courts.

The rioters may well have believed their country was being stolen, even if such beliefs were baseless. So, they rebelled in the face of a result they didn’t like.

This threat is far from gone. In addition to numerous important questions about individual rights and the scope of government power, the Supreme Court may soon be asked to resolve disputes over the administration of elections and the power to certify election winners – particularly the authority to designate a slate of presidential electors.

Nothing is certain in politics, but the specter of constitutional crisis looms over the United States. It’s dangerously unclear whether the Supreme Court retains enough legitimacy to authoritatively resolve such disputes. If it doesn’t, the court’s abstract legitimacy problem could once again end with blood in the streets.

The Conversation

Joseph Daniel Ura has previously received research funding from the National Science Foundation and funding for academic programs from the Charles Koch Foundation.

Matthew E. K. Hall has previously received research funding from the National Science Foundation.

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Republicans And Democrats See News Bias Only In Stories That Clearly Favor The Other Party

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If you detect news media bias, that perception may be a result of your own bias. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Charges of media bias – that “the media” are trying to brainwash Americans by feeding the public only one side of every issue – have become as common as campaign ads in the run-up to the midterm elections.

As a political scientist who has examined media coverage of the Trump presidency and campaigns, I can say that this is what social science research tells us about media bias.

First, media bias is in the eye of the beholder.

Communications scholars have found that if you ask people in any community, using scientific polling methods, whether their local media are biased, you’ll find that about half say yes. But of that half, typically a little more than a quarter say that their local media are biased against Republicans, and a little less than a quarter say the same local media are biased against Democrats.

Research shows that Republicans and Democrats spot bias only in articles that clearly favor the other party. If an article tilts in favor of their own party, they tend to see it as unbiased.

Many people, then, define “bias” as “anything that doesn’t agree with me.” It’s not hard to see why.

‘Liberal bias’ in the media is a constant topic on Fox News.

‘Media’ is a plural word

American party politics has become increasingly polarized in recent decades. Republicans have become more consistently conservative, and Democrats have become more consistently liberal to moderate.

As the lines have been drawn more clearly, many people have developed hostile feelings toward the opposition party.

In a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, 45% of Republicans said the Democratic Party’s policies are “so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being,” and 41% of Democrats said the same about Republicans. A poll conducted in midyear 2022 by Pew showed that “72% of Republicans regard Democrats as more immoral, and 63% of Democrats say the same about Republicans.”

Not surprisingly, media outlets have arisen to appeal primarily to people who share a conservative view, or people who share a liberal view.

That doesn’t mean that “the media” are biased. There are hundreds of thousands of media outlets in the U.S. – newspapers, radio, network TV, cable TV, blogs, websites and social media. These news outlets don’t all take the same perspective on any given issue.

If you want a very conservative news site, it is not hard to find one, and the same with a very liberal news site.

First Amendment rules

“The media,” then, present a variety of different perspectives. That’s the way a free press works.

The Constitution’s First Amendment says Congress shall make no law limiting the freedom of the press. It doesn’t say that Congress shall require all media sources to be “unbiased.” Rather, it implies that as long as Congress does not systematically suppress any particular point of view, then the free press can do its job as one of the primary checks on a powerful government.

When the Constitution was written and for most of U.S. history, the major news sources – newspapers, for most of that time – were explicitly biased. Most were sponsored by a political party or a partisan individual.

The notion of objective journalism – that media must report both sides of every issue in every story – barely existed until the late 1800s. It reached full flower only in the few decades when broadcast television, limited to three major networks, was the primary source of political information.

Since that time, the media universe has expanded to include huge numbers of internet news sites, cable channels and social media posts. So if you feel that the media sources you’re reading or watching are biased, you can read a wider variety of media sources.

Front page of the April 15, 1789 edition of the Gazette of the United States
Thomas Jefferson described this partisan newspaper, The Gazette of the United States, as ‘a paper of pure Toryism … disseminating the doctrines of monarchy, aristocracy, and the exclusion of the people.’
Library of Congress, Chronicling America collection

If it bleeds, it leads

There is one form of actual media bias. Almost all media outlets need audiences in order to exist. Some can’t survive financially without an audience; others want the prestige that comes from attracting a big audience.

Thus, the media define as “news” the kinds of stories that will attract an audience: those that feature drama, conflict, engaging pictures and immediacy. That’s what most people find interesting. They don’t want to read a story headlined “Dog bites man.” They want “Man bites dog.”

The problem is that a focus on such stories crowds out what we need to know to protect our democracy, such as: How do the workings of American institutions benefit some groups and disadvantage others? In what ways do our major systems – education, health care, national defense and others – function effectively or less effectively?

These analyses are vital to citizens – if we fail to protect our democracy, our lives will be changed forever – but they aren’t always fun to read. So they get covered much less than celebrity scandals or murder cases – which, while compelling, don’t really affect the ability to sustain a democratic system.

Writer Dave Barry demonstrated this media bias in favor of dramatic stories in a 1998 column.

He wrote, “Let’s consider two headlines. FIRST HEADLINE: ‘Federal Reserve Board Ponders Reversal of Postponement of Deferral of Policy Reconsideration.’ SECOND HEADLINE: ‘Federal Reserve Board Caught in Motel with Underage Sheep.’ Be honest, now. Which of these two stories would you read?”

By focusing on the daily equivalent of the underage sheep, media can direct our attention away from the important systems that affect our lives. That isn’t the media’s fault; we are the audience whose attention media outlets want to attract.

But as long as we think of governance in terms of its entertainment value and media bias in terms of Republicans and Democrats, we’ll continue to be less informed than we need to be. That’s the real media bias.

This story is an updated version of an article that was originally published on Oct. 15, 2020.

The Conversation

Marjorie Hershey does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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How Debt-For-Climate Swaps Can Help Solve Low-Income Countries' Fiscal And Environmental Challenges At The Same Time

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Debt swaps in some countries have involved commitments to protect the ocean. Ashley Cooper/Corbis via Getty Images

Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley spoke passionately to the United Nations General Assembly in September about the mounting debt many developing countries are shouldering and its increasing impact on their ability to thrive.

The average debt for low- and middle-income countries, excluding China, reached 42% of their gross national income in 2020, up from 26% in 2011. For countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the annual payments just to service that debt averaged 30% of their total exports.

At the same time, these countries are facing a “triple crisis of climate change, of pandemic and indeed now the conflict that is leading to the inflationary pressures that lead regrettably to people taking circumstances into their own hands,” Mottley said.

Rising borrowing costs coupled with high inflation and slow economic growth have left developing countries like hers in a difficult position when it comes to climate change. High debt payments mean countries have fewer resources for mitigating and adapting to climate change. Yet climate change is increasing their vulnerability, and that can raise their sovereign risk, increasing the cost of borrowing. Declining productive capacity and tax base can lead to higher debt risks. It’s a vicious cycle.

As one solution, countries and international organizations are talking about “debt-for-climate swaps” to help tackle both problems at the same time. U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed mentioned debt-for-climate swaps ahead of the 2022 U.N. Climate Change Conference, Nov. 6-18, as one option for refinancing countries’ “crippling” debt.

How debt swaps work

Debt-for-climate swaps allow countries to reduce their debt obligations in exchange for a commitment to finance domestic climate projects with the freed-up financial resources.

They have been used since the late 1980s to preserve the environment and address the liquidity crisis in developing countries, including Bolivia, Costa Rica and Belize. These are commonly known as “debt-for-nature swaps.”

Belize, for example, was able to lower its debt in exchange for committing to designate 30% of its marine areas as protected areas and to spend $US4 million a year for the next two decades on marine conservation under a complex debt-for-nature swap.

The swap, organized in 2021 by The Nature Conservancy, involves the U.S.-based environmental group lending funds at a low-interest rate to Belize to buy back $553 million in commercial debt at a deep discount of 45%. The Nature Conservancy raised funds from the investment bank Credit Swisse via the issuance of “blue bonds” backed by the U.S. government, which gave the bonds a strong investment-grade credit rating.

Similarly, Costa Rica has carried out two debt-for-nature swaps with the United States. Under the swaps, Costa Rica agreed to allocate $53 million for conservation projects. It has already planted more than 60,000 trees and reversed its deforestation.

A child runs along large sandbags that form a sea wall while others pay in the water below.
Low-income Pacific Island nations like Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands are fighting to protect their land from sea-level rise and erosion with sea walls like this one. Debt for climate swaps could free up money for such projects without expanding the country’s debt.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

While debt-for-nature swaps have been used mostly for conservation, the same concept could be expanded to climate change mitigation and adaptation activities, such as building solar farms or sea walls. Some finance experts have suggested that debt-for-climate swaps could be structured in a way that could also encourage private-sector bond holders to exchange the national debt they hold for carbon offsets.

Three keys to successful debt-for-climate swaps

I work with the Climate Policy Lab at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Our experience with debt swaps offers lessons for the design and implementation of debt-for-climate swaps.

First, the complex governance structures of debt swaps have limited their use. In the past, transactions were generally small, generating only about $1 billion in funding for the environment from 1987 to 2003. A term sheet template for future debt-for-climate swaps could reduce the complexity and lower the time and costs involved.

Second, debt-for-climate swaps would need to relieve enough of the debt burden to allow debtor countries to invest in climate adaptation and mitigation projects. For instance, the U.S. created debt-for-nature swaps with Indonesia in 2009 that were criticized for not doing enough to help the Indonesian government achieve its conservation goals.

Another concern is known as “additionality” – ensuring that the swaps lead to additional climate efforts, as opposed to covering efforts already planned or already paid for with international climate finance.

With widening gaps between the amount of adaptation assistance reaching countries and the amount they need, debt-for-climate swaps can be a meaningful source of funding. Climate Policy Initiative, a nonprofit research group, recently estimated that about 90% of the adaptation needs countries listed in their Nationally Determined Contributions – the climate change plans they submit to the U.N. – can be only met with help from development banks or other countries.

Regions experimenting with debt swaps

A few regions are testing debt-for-climate swaps.

The Economic and Social Commission for Western Africa has developed a Climate/Sustainable Development Goal Debt Swap, in which it functions as a liaison between creditors and seven pilot countries. The initiative focuses on advancing sustainable development and climate goals, such as developing more resilient agriculture.

Similarly, as part of the Caribbean Resilience Fund, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean plans to launch a Debt for Climate Adaptation Swap. It aims to reduce the $527 million of debt in three pilot countries by issuing green bonds, similar to Belize’s debt swap. Development banks would play a crucial role by guaranteeing new bonds and reducing the credit risk.

With carefully designed debt-for-climate swaps and support from international institutions, developing countries could expand their finance for desperately needed climate mitigation and adaptation actions and remove some of their heavy debt burden.

The Conversation

Soyoung Oh does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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