Anticipating North Carolina's Early Vote

Anticipating North Carolina’s Early Vote

In North Carolina, voters must decide whether to replace democratic senator Kay Hagan with her republican opponent, Thom Tillis. Hagan, who was elected in 2008 with 53% of the vote, once again faces a difficult challenge. Per an October 11th SurveyUSA poll, Hagan leads by just three points, and 538 reports that only one poll has ever had her ahead of Tillis by more than six points. Some consider this one of the most competitive races in 2014, and it’s in one of the nation’s most purple states. In such a close race, every vote counts.

On top of that, the state’s legislature has made significant (and restrictive) changes to North Carolina’s election law, and we’ll want to know how these changes (which it now appears will remain in effect for the current election) affect turnout as we anticipate a possible Supreme Court hearing and decision.

We can better understand both the current Senate race and the new election legislation if we look at early and by-mail absentee voting in North Carolina. Not only does the state have an active “one-stop” (early) and by-mail voting electorate, the new legislation affects (among many other changes) early voting (by cutting a week off the early voting period and codifying early voting hours) and the ability for traditionally democratic voters (young and minority voters) to turnout (by, to name just two examples, eliminating same day voter registration and paid voter registration drives).

These facts about the NC election landscape mean that if we compare early and absentee voting numbers from the past to the 2014 numbers as they become available, we can anticipate in real-time whether Hagan should be worried about her chances of success, and whether the consequences of the new legislation are as restrictive as some suspect. Early voting in NC begins on October 23rd, and while absentee by-mail began on September 5th, there are still too few returned ballots to draw conclusions from the returns.

Over the next few days, I’ll point out a few trends that we should keep our eyes on. Unless otherwise noted, my data comes from the North Carolina State Board of Elections’ website. Continue reading

Election integrity and observation in a full vote by mail state

I have gotten onto the email distribution list of Election Oregon, a group that appears to be a spin off of True the Vote.

The more citizens that learn about the election process in this state the better, but I can’t imagine a more tedious election observation activity than watching a drop box in Oregon (follow this link to see all the individual drop boxes in the state)!

Here’s the plan:

We need individuals posted at each drop box on the last two days of the Election to follow every last ballot directly to your county’s Election office. We need people to volunteer in teams one to drive one to video record the entire journey. I would be happy to act as dispatcher on Election night. Only catching these vote fixer in the act with a video record will make our case.

The problem lies in the trajectory of the vote by mail ballot in this state.  Once a ballot is completed by an individual and dropped at a drop box, it follows this path:

  1. The sealed drop box is transported, generally at 8 pm on election day, sometimes earlier (and then replaced) in popular locations, by an employee from the county office.
  2. The box is  inspected and opened in a secure location at the county elections office.
  3. The ballots are marked and begin to be processed.
  4. Signatures are inspected and validated.
  5. Ballots are separated from the security envelopes and are inspected for stray marks.
  6. Voter intention, if in question, is determined and ballot remarking may occur.
  7. Ballots are scanned and tallied.

It is simply difficult to know at what point “vote fixing” could possibly occur once ballots are dropped in the box.

Most election experts agree that the points of vulnerability in voting by mail system occur when the ballots leave the hands of government officials–after they are mailed and before they are returned.

I’ve done some election observation myself, and it’s never exciting.  But spending all day videotaping a plastic box at a library even makes me feel sleepy!

 

Did non citizen votes deliver NC to Obama and assure Democrats a filibuster proof majority in the Senate in 2008? A new study argues that they did.

Partisan breakdown of the non-citizen vote, from Richman, Chattha, and Earnest (2014), courtesy of Elsevier Publications

A new paper by Jesse Richman, Gulsham Chattha, and David Earnest, available on first release in Electoral Studies, makes the controversial claim that:

We find that there is reason to believe non-citizen voting changed one state’s Electoral College votes in 2008, delivering North Carolina to Obama, and that non-citizen votes have also led to Democratic victories in congressional races including a critical 2008 Senate race that delivered for Democrats a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate…

The authors follow a creative strategy by leveraging the large sample sizes in the Cooperative Congressional Election Study  in 2008 and 2010, and vote validation that occurred in 2008, to show that somewhere between 3.3%-25.1% of non-citizens were registered, and 1.5%-11.3% of non-citizens turned out to vote.

Extrapolated to the general population, they estimate anywhere from 38,000 to 2.8 million ballots were cast by non-citizens, and the bulk of these were Democratic votes (see figure above, reproduced from the paper).

The study is the first careful look at non-citizen voting that takes advantage of vote validation, and is almost certainly going to enter into the debate over photo ID.

 

Hasen’s take on the “new” voting wars

Great article by Rick Hasen in Slate: The Voting Wars Heat Up.

Rick does a wonderful job highlighting how law and politics intersect in this arena

For a nice illustration of the conflict, see these articles by two dear friends, Ned Foley and Dan Tokaji.  Ned and Dan are right down the hall from one another.  Both are smart and reasonable, but on the issue of early voting in Ohio and undue burdens, they come down on different sides.

One thing is for sure–classes and seminars on election law at the Moritz College of Law must be interesting affairs!

EVIC's 2014 Early Voting Calendar and Spreadsheet

EVIC’s 2014 Early Voting Calendar and Spreadsheet

If you follow EVIC you already know that early and absentee voting laws and policies are complex and vary widely across the fifty states. That’s why EVIC publishes an early and absentee voting calendar and spreadsheet for every general election.

This year, we’ve updated our products and hope the additional information encourages further dialogue about how these rules affect voters. So, make sure to try out all the new bells and whistles. Below, we explain what our information means and provide some basic context. If you’re worried that we misrepresent any state’s election law or policy, do not hesitate to let us know and post below.

Finally, EVIC wants to thank Jonathan Harvey and Tony Moreno, from Reed College CIS, who helped program and design the new calendar. I also want to thank Alex Arpaia, who helped gather the early and absentee voting data.

More information below the split.

Continue reading

Evidence and Voter ID Revisited

The short summary of the Federal Appeals Court hearing on voter ID in Wisconsin had two interesting statements from the judges.

First:

Adelman found some 300,000 people in Wisconsin do not have IDs and determined requiring people to show IDs at the polls would discount far more legitimate votes than fraudulent ones. He concluded voter impersonation — the only kind of fraud the voter ID law would curb — is essentially nonexistent, noting state officials could not cite any examples of it.

But Sykes said Adelman’s findings are “hard to reconcile” with a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Indiana’s voter ID law. Easterbrook also questioned how Adelman could render his ruling in light of that decision.

“He took evidence and found the Supreme Court was wrong,” Easterbrook said.

I defer to the legal experts on what the Supreme Court said in the Crawford decision (see Dan Tokaji and Chris Elmendorf), but early on in Stevens’s decision, he wrote:

Indiana also claims a particular interest in preventing voter fraud in response to the problem of voter registration rolls with a large number of names of persons who are either deceased or no longer live in Indiana. While the record contains no evidence that the fraud SEA 483 addresses—in-person voter impersonation at polling places—has actually occurred in Indiana, such fraud has occurred in other parts of the country, and Indiana’s own experience with voter fraud in a 2003 mayoral primary demonstrates a real risk that voter fraud could affect a close election’s outcome. There is no question about the legitimacy or importance of a State’s interest in counting only eligible voters’ votes. Finally, Indiana’s interest in protecting public confidence in elections, while closely related to its interest in preventing voter fraud, has independent significance, because such confidence encourages citizen participation in the democratic process. 

The objection some scholars have is that the evidence is wrong, and that calls into serious question the basis upon which the Court rendered it’s decision.

There was no evidence of in-person voter impersonation in Indiana (see page 8 here) and there is no evidence in Wisconsin, either.  The 2003 mayoral primary fraud case involved absentee ballots, a method of casting a ballot that does not require a voter ID.  Thus, the 2003 case is irrelevant for Crawford, and is irrelevant in Wisconsin.

Perhaps the evidence in the Wisconsin case was different from Indiana.  Perhaps there was not a single, irrelevant case of absentee voter fraud that could be used to justify the imposition of voter id requirements.  Perhaps proportionally more voters in Wisconsin lack a photo ID than in Indiana.

And perhaps the quotes in the story are incomplete.

But they seem to imply that the facts from a different case in a different state with a different body of evidence cannot possibly yield a different conclusion than the Crawford case.  I hope that’s not the way that evidence works in the Courts.

New Voter Information App

The Voting Information Project just released a new app that should make life easier for voters in all states. New technology already helps voters, poll workers, election administrators deal with the mayhem of elections, and it seems inevitable that the role of handheld devices will only increase in the coming years.

The app works only on Apple products now, but should be ready for Android devices by Election Day. Check out a post about the app from PEW’s news page here. If you happen to use the device, let us know in the comments how it works!

Why we should retain postmark deadlines on vote by mail ballots

… more importantly, the “postmark” rule elevates the individual interest in having their ballot count above the collective interest in determining the outcome of an election fairly and efficiently.

The individual franchise is important because it helps to assure that political leaders are responsive to the public and lends legitimacy to the actions of political leaders.

We should work to assure that every Oregonian and every American has ready access to the ballot. This is why Oregon adopted vote by mail and is why many states have moved to hybrid election systems, with election-day, vote-by-mail, and early in-person balloting. We should work to develop new technologies that may allow for Internet voting in the future.

But we should also try to make sure that elections are decided quickly, without unnecessary delay. If this requires voters to remember to mail a ballot three days before the election or deliver it by hand to one of many ballot drop-box locations, this is a reasonable compromise.

The rest is here: http://www.pamplinmedia.com/wlt/96-opinion/226666-89111-dont-extend-time-for-turning-in-oregon-ballots

Voting turnout is affected by many things; or why journalists need to learn multivariate statistics

Voting turnout is affected by many things; or why journalists need to learn multivariate statistics

downloadMy good friend Tova Wang sent me this headline from the Columbus Post Dispatch:

Early Voting Hasn’t Boosted Ohio Turnout

In support of this headline,  reporter compares turnout in only three elections, only statewide, and only in presidential contests.  This is analysis is as unrevealing–and potentially misleading–as imaginable.

The key to understanding a complex process like voter turnout is to try to maximize, to the degree feasible, variation and covariation among all the important causes (variables).  Political scientists often consider dozens or more different influences on turnout and estimate highly sophisticated multivariate models.

But even a relatively simple exploration can be done far better than the one conducted by the Dispatch.

Let’s start with the presidency.  There are obvious reasons that the nation, and the world, focuses on the American presidential election.  It is almost always the most consequential election held in this country for the most powerful and influential political leader in the world.

But all these reasons are why the presidential contest may be the worst election in order to discern the turnout effects of something like early voting.  In the face of a billion or more dollars in campaign spending, blanket media coverage, and organizational mobilization, the impact of early voting is going to be small.  We may be able to uncover turnout effects, but the context makes it difficult.

At a bare minimum, compare midterm and presidential contests, and if at all possible, include off-cycle elections.

Next, even if limited to a study within one state, there is no good reason not to compare trends across counties.  In a large, heterogeneous state like Ohio, not only do the conditions for voting change across the state, but the voters change as well.

The reporter seems to recognize that African Americans in 2008 responded differently to the Obama/McCain contest in 2008 than they did to the Kerry/Bush campaign in 2004.   And the reporter notes that, due to legal uncertainties, the hours and days of early voting varied across counties in 2012.

So why not compare turnout effects across counties?  By not doing so, the reporter–whether realizing it or not–assumes that the all voting rules and procedures in the state of Ohio are identical and more importantly, that all Ohioans are identical insofar as they responded in different years to different candidates and to different election laws and procedures.

Two esteemed political scientists are quoted in the article and seemed to try to educate the reporter on these points.

Paul Beck’s quote starts with a general point which I think does not accurately reflect the state of the literature on early voting at this stage, but more important is the end of Beck’s quote, where he highlights the most consequential reasons that turnout may be higher or lower:

“People who vote early are people who are typically going to vote anyway,” said Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University. “So, early voting hasn’t really succeeded in turning out more people to vote. We’ve made it a lot easier to vote, but on the other hand, some people are very discouraged about politics and might not care how easy it is to vote.”

John Green’s quote, on the other hand, is exactly on point in my view:

“If all things are equal, early voting would increase voter turnout, but all things aren’t equal,” said John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron. “But there are many factors in each election: the closeness of the race, the excitement to vote for a candidate or the degree of anger in the electorate.”

I could not have put it better.  Early voting may not have increased turnout in Ohio, but without at least considering these other factors, the title and thrust of the story are not accurate.

Does a postmark deadline really help vote by mail voters? Study says no

Apropos of Doug Chapin’s recent posting on the proposed change to a “postmark” deadline in California, this study by the Washington Policy Center may be apropos.

The Center looked at the five largest counties in Washington and Oregon, both of which have full vote by mail with drop boxes, but Washington allows ballots to arrive if postmarked by Election Day, while Oregon requires ballots to arrive by 8 pm on Election Day.

The results are reproduced below, and show higher late ballot rates in Washington.

I will have more to say about this later, but at first glance, it appears that an Election Day deadline may serve voters better, prompting more to return their ballots on time.

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