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.
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