ABSTRACT
We report the first study of the effect of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) on voting behavior. We draw upon individual-level observations from Milwaukee matched to similar observations in the surrounding counties to assess whether fewer polling places in the primary election decreased turnout in the city. We find polling place consolidation reduced overall turnout by about 8.5 points and reduced turnout among the Black population in the city by about 10.2 points. This effect becomes more pronounced as the distance between treated and control observations on either side of the municipal boundary increases, suggestive that COVID-19 itself reduced turnout separate from polling place consolidation. We conclude on the basis of these data that conversion to widespread absentee voting in the general election will result in disenfranchisement, which may be particularly marked among racial minorities.

Citation: 
Morris, Kevin and Miller, Peter, Voting in a Pandemic: COVID-19 and Primary Turnout in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (June 23, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3634058 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3634058

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Kevin Morris

Brennan Center for Justice

Kevin Morris is a quantitative researcher with the Democracy Program, focusing on voting rights and elections. His research focuses on the impact of laws and policies on access to the polls, with a particular focus on rights restoration and voter list maintenance. Prior to joining the Brennan Center, Morris worked as an economic researcher focusing on housing at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and an economist at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He has a BA from Boston College in economics. He has a master’s degree in urban planning from NYU’s Wagner School, with an emphasis in quantitative methods and evaluation.

Peter Miller

Brennan Center for Justice

Peter Miller is a researcher at the Brennan Center focusing on redistricting, voting, and elections. His research interests include U.S. and comparative politics, voting behavior, political institutions, and public opinion. His work has been published in several peer-reviewed journals, including the Annual Review of Political Science, Electoral Studies, Election Law Journal, American Politics Research, and the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties. One of Miller’s articles on redistricting commissions was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. He is a frequent commentator on topics related to redistricting reform, voting rights, and elections.

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