USA Today story on the “Didyouvote.org” Facebook app

This story was apparently prompted by an earlier post I made at earlyvoting.net and a FB discussion on the political science interest group, but also news about the Alaska flyer listing voting histories.

The question she asks is whether “shaming” will increase turnout (political scientists know the answer) but even if it does, is this something we want to encourage?  My own unscientific poll of Facebook friends: hell no!

Byline is by Fredreka Schouten, Paul Gronke is quoted about halfway down.

Non-Citizen Voting and Why Political Scientists who are Publicly Engaged May Need an Editor

There has been a lot of ink spilled over a recent article in the Monkey Cage that suggested that “Non Citizens Could Decide the The November Election.”  At last count, the post had generated 3305 comments, the most by far in the history of the Monkey Cage.

The blog posting was based on a forthcoming article in Electoral Studies, which had a less provocative title (“Do Non Citizens Vote in US Elections“) but does contain this highly charged claim:

These results allow us to estimate the impact of non-citizen voting on election outcomes. 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 conservative websites, such as the National Review and the Drudge Report, that publicized the findings, seem to have missed the final statement in the article:

For those who wish to further restrict participation by non-citizens, however, our results also provide important cautions. Simple resort to voter photo-identification rules is unlikely to be particularly effective.

My interest here is less in the possible problems with the study; John Ahlquist and Scott Gelbach and Michael Tesler, in separate Monkey Cage postings, have done a nice job summarizing these.

And to the credit of Jesse Richman, the lead author of the study, he has not shrank from the public gaze and has engaged with his critics at Rick Hasen’s Election Law blog in particular.

But I have to add that this quote, in a recent “Fact Checker” article in the Reno Gazette-Journal, is just brutal.

UPDATE: After this story posted, Richman replied via email:

“We agree with your rating of a ’4′ because:

“A. Noncitizen voting might tip one or two extremely close races but is unlikely to tip the balance in the Senate, and certainly not in the House.

“B. Science is a process of finding, validation, replication and rebuttal. We are at the very beginning of the process. Colleagues have raised reasonable questions about the data we used–problems that we acknowledge in both the study and the Monkey Cage. It will take some time and additional research to increase confidence in our findings.”

Horse.  Stable Door.  Too Late.

The damage form this study may have already been done.  Doug Chapin, someone who bridges political science and policy, has already written (“Is Political Science Blowing It’s Close Up?”) about the impact of this study (and the Montana experiment) on when and how election administrators may engage with scholars.  I am attending a conference of election officials in just a few weeks, and I am certain I will have to defend our discipline from those who are already skeptical about working with scholars.

Any political scientist, and particularly those who work in the elections administration and election policy fields, need to be worried to see a quote like this from one of our supporters and friends:

But if political scientists aren’t careful – either in monitoring their own or their colleagues’ research and publishing decisions – the interest in political science-driven stories will wane. Or worse, it could become yet another (albeit more numerate) weapon in the ongoing rhetorical wars between the parties.

It will also make it harder for researchers and election officials to “play nice” with one another on projects of mutual interest – which for me would be the unkindest cut of all.

My professional association is working hard to convince politicians and policy makers that our scholarship can be relevant.  But we as members need to be very circumspect about how we publicize our work, particularly in the context of a dynamic and competitive election campaign.  This is not about a few citations or a few appearances on local news shows.  This is about political power, and those in power can be quite unforgiving.

 

More on GlacierGate: If non-partisan judicial elections are not a democratic good, can we conduct research intended to actively undermine them?

Thomas Leeper, in a recent blog posting, makes what strikes me as a very problematic claim to try to justify the Montana field experiment.

Leeper asserts that non-partisan elections “do not obtain the democratic benefits that their advocates hope for,” and that “judicial elections are not necessarily a democratic good.”

I defer to Prof. Leeper for the justifications of these claims; I have no reason to doubt his summary of the literature.  I find his arguments intuitively and theoretically appealing.

But how can this possibly justify the Montana field experiment?  Leeper is arguing that scientific research that in the process of conducting the research actively undermines a democratic election practice cannot be criticized if the process itself is of questionable democratic value.

Please note, I am not saying that political scientists should not subject election procedures to the closest possible empirical and normative scrutiny.  But Leeper misses the point, made by myself in an earlier post and by Melissa Michelson on the New West Blog, that this experiment did not just study the impact of providing partisan cueing information on voter turnout in a non-partisan election, by its very scope, could have undermined the practice itself.

There are 671,031 registered voters in Montana, so this mailer was sent to 15% of the electorate.  Depending on how many of the recipients had already intended to vote, using the 2010 turnout as a baseline, as much as half the total voting population received this mailer!

Choose your guide to research ethics in the social sciences.  Here is one from Notre Dame, and second from Iowa State.  I didn’t choose these with any particular intent in mind; they were just two of the first that came up after a Google search of “ethical guidelines for social science research.

Others may disagree, but I fail to see how this study attempted to, at a minimum:

  • Consider and anticipate effects on third parties that are not directly included in the research (judicial candidates, supporters of non-partisan elections in Montana)
  • Show respect for the values and views of research subjects, even if they differ  from those generally accepted by society at large (if we accept Leeper’s argument that non-partisan elections are a net bad, and so if the experiment undermined the Montana election it’s OK since those who believe this are simply wrong)

The example used in research ethics 101 is this: we cannot be absolutely sure that someone does not have HIV (today the example used would be Ebola) unless we tested all of their blood. The problem with this test: it would kill the individual.  We should minimize to the degree possible the impact of our measurement on the thing we are measuring, and this research design fails this test.

Finally, I’m really amazed that this research is justified on the grounds that private entities are doing this anyway.  John Patty writes:

I will point out quickly that this type of experimental work is done all the time by corporations.  This is often called “market research” or “market testing.”  People don’t like to think they are being treated like guinea pigs, but trust me…you are.  And you always will be.

Corporations are not subject to an IRB. I we hold ourselves to a higher standard than simply what makes money for Anheuser Busch.

More on the non-citizen voting article

A provocatively titled posting at the Monkey Cage suggests that Non Citizens Voting Could Decide the 2014 Election.

I discussed the Electoral Studies article that the Monkey Cage posting is based on at Early Voting.net, and expressed concerns then that the article made a number of very heroic assumptions to be able to claim that non-citizens were voting in significant numbers, and even more heroic assumptions to assume that these votes “created the filibuster proof majority in 2008,” as the authors claim.

Now the authors have doubled down, writing on Monkey Cage that non-citizens “could decide” the 2014 election, whatever that means in the context of House, Senate, gubernatorial, state legislative, and other races.

I’m engaged with my professional association in trying to show the public relevance of political science, but this isn’t exactly what I had in mind.  There are heated public debates going on right now about the voter identification, and regardless of which side of this debate you are on, it’s dangerous to inject yourself into this debate based on a first look at a question like this, based on what many other scholars consider to be extremely tenuous assumptions.

Rick Hasen has posted a very nice followup on his blog that summarizes the situation far better than I can.

For those readers interested in the more detailed criticisms, I’ve provided a link to the whole thread from the Election Law listserv.  (Against listserv policy, apologies to fellow list members.  Suffice it to say that there are trenchant criticisms, and I’ve encouraged those posting to enter the public dialogue.)

I encourage readers to pay especially close attention to any critiques provided by Michael McDonald.  McDonald is the expert on identifying the number of non-citizens among the population, an exercise he engages in every two years in order to produce his estimates of the voting age population (VAP), voting eligible population (VEP), and voter turnout.

This one is not over, I am sure of that, and I expect to see additional scrutiny and replications in the next few months.  This will not be soon enough to avoid inevitable post-election charges that in-person voter impersonation is rampant.

 

 

Powerful blog posting on the Montana field experiment

Powerful blog posting by Michelle Michelson about the controversial political science field experiment that sent voter information cards to Montana voters.  She makes some extremely effective points that anyone interested in conducting field experiments should pay attention to.

Measure 90 and Trends in Party Registration in Oregon.  How long until Unaffiliated is the largest "Party"?

Measure 90 and Trends in Party Registration in Oregon. How long until Unaffiliated is the largest “Party”?

I just generated some comparative statistics on party registration in Oregon that may be pertinent to voters thinking about Measure 90, the Top Two Primary.

The numbers are pretty amazing.  Registration in the state is about even with 2012–itself an important metric of a growing state.

You can compare county by county to see where population growth is concentrated–Benton, Clackamas, Crook, Deschutes, Jackson, Jefferson, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, and Yamhill are the only counties that have more registrants than in 2012–while other growing counties like Washington and Benton are barely in the negative.  Typically, voter registration falls in off year elections.

However, what is even more fascinating is the pattern in party and non-party affiliation.  Unaffiliated registrants are the only category growing among the three major categories (other parties, such as the Independent party, are seeing growth as well).

Some of the totals are stunning–Unaffiliated registrants up 9.06% in Benton, 7.98% in Clackamas, 12.42% in Deschutes, 11.6% in Jackson, 11.28% in Marion, 10.10% in Multnomah, 9.17% in Washington, and 9.74% in Yamhill.

Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican registration is down between 5% and 8% in most of these counties.  Whatever we do about our primaries, we cannot continue to shut out the largest segment of registered voters.

Change_In_Registration_by_County

 

EVIC in the News: NPR All Things Considered story on Absentee Voting

Paul Gronke is interviewed by Pam Fessler in this story: http://www.npr.org/2014/10/22/358108606/want-your-absentee-vote-to-count-dont-make-these-mistakes

New Fast Track article on ELJ: Ballot Bungles in Australia

Ballot Bungles: Lessons from the Australian Senate

Michael Douglas

Election Law Journal: Rules, Politics, and Policy, Fast Track Articles

Abstract | Full Text HTML | Full Text PDF (200 KB) | Full Text PDF with Links (201 KB)

NC Case continues onward…

The NC legal case continues, even as the election approaches.  The legal wrangling has to stop and the voting has to start at some point.

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!

 

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