WBUR

Galvin: On Mass. Racial Voting Gap, Chief Justice Roberts Is Wrong

BOSTON — Secretary of State William Galvin says comments from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on a racial voting gap in Massachusetts are “simply wrong.”

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, left, is pictured in 2007. Chief Justice John Roberts, right, is seen during a group portrait at the Supreme Court Building in 2010. (AP)

William Galvin, left, is pictured in 2007. Chief Justice John Roberts, right, is seen during a Supreme Court portrait session in 2010. (AP)

Roberts made the statements as the high court heard arguments over the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Roberts asked U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verilli if he knew which state has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African-American voter turnout. Roberts said it was Massachusetts. Roberts later said Massachusetts also had the greatest disparity in registration.

Galvin, who oversees elections, told The Boston Globe that Roberts was wrong and called his comments a “cheap shot.”

A Supreme Court spokeswoman refused to offer supporting evidence of Roberts’ comments.

Galvin then joined WBUR’s Morning Edition on Friday to discuss Roberts’ comments.

Galvin: I’m disturbed, first of all, that he is distorting information. You would expect better conduct from the chief justice of the United States. I’m a lawyer, he’s a lawyer, lawyers are not supposed to provide disinformation in the course of a case. It’s supposed to be based on truth. 

What’s really distressing is the deeper we looked into the facts, the more of a distortion his comments are. The only reference that we can find of any kind in any statistical chart is a Census Bureau study from 2010 where, if you included non-citizen blacks, then you would come up with a lower number. That’s the only way he could get to even make the bare-face claim that he made.

Bob Oakes: All right, so let’s break this down in a couple of ways. You think then that Roberts is using old or faulty data?

Well, it’s faulty. The data itself, first of all, is a poll, but even in the poll — the one that he appears to be relying upon — if you look at the figures relating to citizen blacks in Massachusetts, the claim does not hold up. The only way you can get the claim that he is making — namely, the worst record — is if you include non-citizen blacks. Now this is a judge who has consistently voted for voter IDs. So one assumes that he understands that non-citizens are not eligible to vote. So that makes the assertion even more disturbing because knowing what we assume he knows, to try to take advantage of a clearly erroneous data is wrong, it’s deceptive, and it’s a slur on black voters in Massachusetts.

When you look at Roberts’ quotation, which appears in The Boston Globe Friday, it says, “Do you know which state has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African-American voter turnout? Massachusetts.” You’re saying that’s just plain wrong?

It is wrong. There’s not a question about it. And if you look at the statistics for the years 2012, 2008 and including 2010, which is what we assume he’s referring to, it’s simply wrong.

How do the 2012 results, which are the most recent, of course, help your argument?

Well, we don’t have the same poll yet taken by the Census Bureau, but we know basically on the turnouts that we can look at in predominantly minority areas that the turnout was extremely high. It ran very close to the statewide levels as well. It’s ironic that in 2006, which is one of the years of course the judge didn’t bother to cite, my problem in Boston wasn’t a slow black turnout, it was that in some of the minority precincts Boston failed to deliver enough ballots so that they ran out. So the whole premise here that somehow black voters in Massachusetts are negligent, they don’t turnout and in Mississippi they’re so much better is absurd.

Do you think he’s just made a mistake or do you think he’s intentionally trying to influence this case before the Supreme Court on the Voting Rights Act?

Well, first of all, I don’t know if he — let’s give him the best hope here that he made a mistake. Well, you don’t deliver a statement in the doctrinaire way he did if you have any doubt about your data. He didn’t say to the attorney representing the Justice Department defending the Voting Rights Act, “Can you give me any statistics or how does it compare?” He delivered the doctrinaire conclusion. So that lessens my belief that it was a mistake.

Secondly, if you read the chart, right next to the non-citizen number that he appears to be relying upon, is the citizen number which obviously has Massachusetts with a much higher rate of participation. It’s right there, in black and white, so it would be very hard to miss. I’m very distressed.

I’m also cognizant of the fact that one of his colleagues who is a supporter generally speaking of the Voting Rights Act, Justice Breyer, is a Massachusetts resident. Another of his colleagues, Justice Kagan, is a former dean of Harvard Law School. I have to mention that because therefore two of the justices that are sitting on this case that appear to be on the opposite side from him have deep Massachusetts connections.

I’m also aware of the fact that when it comes to the national right-wing bashing, Massachusetts is a favorite target. The judge has the right to his point of view — obviously I don’t agree with it. But he has the right to his point of view, and he has the right to make an argument that remedial action is not necessary, which appears to be the underlining argument that he is making. He has the right to do that, but he doesn’t have the right to distort the facts and he doesn’t have the right to cast a slur on the black citizens of Massachusetts who do to vote.

Would you ask the chief justice, or demand from the chief justice, a correction? And I ask because in The Boston Globe Friday, a Supreme Court spokeswomen “declined to offer supporting evidence of ­Roberts’s view, referring a ­reporter to the court transcript.” Do you think he should issue a correction?

I think he should definitely issue some sort of statement. He can do that numerous ways. He is the chief justice of the United States; presumably he can offer a footnote, he can offer whatever he is going to do. But I don’t think he ought to leave this uncorrected on the record. He either offer proof of his assertion, or he ought to apologize — it’s one or the other. You can’t have it both ways, even if you’re the chief justice of the United States.

News text atop the post from The Associated Press; transcript from the WBUR Newsroom

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  • sunmaster14

    I listened to this interview on my commute, and I thought it was a little suspicious that Galvin didn’t give any hard numbers or any detail about why Robert’s claim was false. Sure enough, I get to my computer to check the most recent census data for voting broken down by race and by state (see Table 4b at http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/socdemo/voting/publications/p20/2010/tables.html), and I find out that Galvin is incensed because Massachusetts is only 2nd worst in voter registration ratios, ahead of Washington, and 3rd worst in voter turnout ratios, slightly ahead of Kansas and Washington. And, yes, this uses the data for only citizens, not all residents (which was Galvin’s only substantive point).

    You can debate how relevant this all is, and I’m sure you can argue that data from 2012 would be different, since it was a Presidential election year (with a Black President running for reelection no less), but Robert’s claim is only a slight exaggeration based on the latest study. I consider Galvin’s hyperventilating to be extremely dishonest. It is also dishonest of WBUR not to do a little legwork to get the facts. It only took me 30 seconds of searching with Google and about 5 minutes of data analysis with Excel.

    • ss4444

      ACTUALLY, looking at that same table, you also have to look at the margins of error associated with each state’s statistic. First, filter by “black alone”; next look at column on citizens who voted. Massachusetts appears in the 10th position on a sort by % here (not 2nd, – not lowest). Notice that 17 states – 1/3 of all US States – don’t even show data values in this column – because their sample values were too small. The MA data sample is somewhat small too, and so it has a wide margin of error (MOE). The only statement you can make about MA black voter participation (citizens) based on this survey, is that between 27.8% and 50.8% of black citizens voted (that is: 39.3% +/- 11.5%). The “reality” could be anywhere within this range (with 90% confidence). The real % actually COULD be 50.8%, based on this data, which would suggest that MA has the HIGHEST % of voter turn-out among this population if other states are actually in their lower ranges. In other words, nobody can responsibly take this data set of 33 states with varying MOEs and conclude that MA has the worst, or even a poor record. Galvin was right to call him out for this. The Chief Justice or his staff should know better how to analyze data if they are going to call it up into a statement in a forum that entails such broad and critical consequences.

      • sunmaster14

        Your reading comprehension is not so great. Read again what Roberts claimed.

        • ss4444

          Nope, nothing wrong with my reading comprehension. I’m aware that Roberts went for the “registered” stat over the actual “voted” stat – just as he went for the pop that included non-citizens instead of going for the citizen pop (those actually eligible to vote!) He had 4 choices in that one table, and he went for the first lowest stat he could find for Massachusetts to try to make his point. (Not to mention the 17 states he left out, the MOE spreads and all that). Some people would call that taking a cheap shot. As a person interested in honesty in reporting facts – which stat would you have chosen to best represent access to the electoral process? Be honest.

          • sunmaster14

            You’re still missing my point. Roberts chose as his metric the ratio of the voter turnout percentage for whites to the voter turnout percentage for blacks. So, for example, Massachusetts could have a way above average turnout percentage for blacks (which it actually doesn’t) and still score worst in the nation (if the white turnout percentage was stratospheric).

          • sunmaster14

            Oh, and as to your question, I don’t think any of these stats are particularly useful. However, Roberts made a fair rhetorical point that it’s not so clear cut that Mississippi needs oversight and Massachusetts doesn’t. He obviously picked on Massachusetts because it’s the bluest of the blue states, but as several people have pointed out here, Massachusetts might actually deserve to be picked on for legitimate reasons.

          • JHWBB

            None of what you say, sunmaster, is any reason for Section 5 of the VRA to be struck down.

            If you think MA ought to be a selected district for oversight, just say so.

    • Guest

      PS – Maybe next time spend more than 5 minutes in your own analysis?

    • zzowee

      My prediction (for what it’s worth) is that Roberts will capitulate in some passive form such as a footnote.

  • Mike McCormack

    I believe that Mr Galvin misses the point of the voter rights act. The intent is not to try to get “negligent” voters to the polls, it is to ensure that the powers that be do not play dirty tricks such as failing to provide enough ballots to minority precincts. I doubt Massachusetts, were it included in the preapproval list, would ever get off.

    • liquidity

      I can not resist pointing out that I found without doubt, racism is more deeply seated and vindictive in Massachusetts than in the deep south. It is at its most venomous in South Boston.

      • LaVerne Wheeler

        it is not worse, but certainly on par – as much of the commentary here indicates

      • RajRam

        I wish someone had this on an easel during the Supreme Court debate. http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map

      • MAredneck

        I’d bet Roxbury has the most racists, but it is not called racism there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/terry.bennett.79 Terry Bennett

    We have Supreme Court Justices who are starting to vote party lines, instead of Constitutionally. We have Thomas voting on Obamacare and other issues of the medical field while his life earns over 2,000,000 dollars a year from the medical industry. We have Scalia talking racial entitlement, which is aberrant behavior befitting a drug screen! If we have a crooked Supreme Court, where do we look for HONEST decisions? How do we fight a crooked Supreme Court?

    • joanne

      You obviously only dislike justices who don’t vote along your party lines, so please stop the idiocy. Roberts had the deciding Obamacare vote, so I guess he’s a big time liberal…unbelievable…lol.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PNOPJK4V5PCPLGCSWAKBO6KAHM nancyka

    Sounds like what one would expect from a Supreme Court judge appointed by Bush.

  • bear118

    Seems to me that even if Roberts were correct, a significant factor could be the dearth of contested races in districts with a high proportion of minority voters (e.g. Boston). If the election results have been essentially predetermined, anyone who finds it even remotely inconvenient to vote might well have stayed home. You probably have the same dynamic happening in any state where Republicans are the dominant party. So in other words, it’s not a particularly useful measurement for the case at hand.

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