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.

Election Day in Ukraine: First Impressions Election Day in Ukraine: First Impressions

Untitled 2It has been a peaceful morning of balloting in Kherson, Ukraine.  I am here monitoring elections as part of an international mission.  I’ve met hundreds of other observers from the United States, Canada, Germany, and many other countries.  All are hard working and dedicated individuals who are interested in helping to cement democratic development in the country.

Kherson is in the south of the country, and is best known as the dying place of John Howard, famous British prison reformer. (I haven’t visited the pub named after Howard just yet.)






Because Kherson is located just west of Crimea and has more than 50% of the population who report Russian as their native language, you’d think that this region would be tense.  We had to sit through extra security briefings before we were deployed to the area.

But the two words that would describe the election thus far are busy and calm.  The election is busy because the lines are long and voter interest is high.  These lines aren’t helped by the economic crisis in the country which has resulted in understaffed polling places and too few voting booths. Things aren’t so different in the United States!

Nonetheless, voters seem to be in good spirits, perhaps helped by the beautiful, warm, sunny summer Sunday, and generally calm–except when they’ve had to wait for an hour to vote!

I hope for a free and fair outcome, one that may help the country move forward.  I’m sure everyone here hopes for the same.

Who gets to review elections in Louisiana?

A piece of legislation in the state of Louisiana came across the transom, courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation’s Scout service, that “provides for a “study of voting technology, processes, and procedures.”

It’s fairly standard stuff, but what I found interesting is this part of the list of proposed committee members:

(11) One member appointed by the governor from a list of nominees submitted by the presidents of Centenary College of Louisiana, Dillard University, Louisiana College, Loyola University New Orleans, Tulane University, and Xavier University of Louisiana,each of whom shall submit one nominee who shall not be an elected or appointed public official.

My friend and colleague Chris Mann is now at LSU and is nationally known expert on voting technology, and I bet there are a few other Tigers well-positioned to help such a committee.

Geaux Tigers?

Research on perceptions of voting fraud

Nice new article by Emily Beaulieu, “From Voter ID to Party ID: How Political Parties Affect Perceptions of Election Fraud in the U.S.”
in Electoral Studies (currently available in early access but this may be gated for some).

Here’s the abstract

This paper uses a survey experiment to assess what individuals understand about election fraud and under what circumstances they see it as a problem. I argue that political parties are central to answering both these questions. Results from the 2011 CCES survey suggest respondents are able to differentiate between the relative incentives of Democrats and Republicans where fraud tactics are concerned, but whether voters see these tactics as problematic is heavily influenced by partisan bias. The results show little support for the notion that partisan ideology drives fraud assessments, and suggest support for the idea that individual concerns for fraud are shaped a desire for their preferred candidate to win. These results offer insights that might be applied more broadly to questions of perceptions of electoral integrity and procedural fairness in democracies.

The changing vote by mail electorate in California The changing vote by mail electorate in California
Courtesy of California Civic Education Project (

Courtesy of California Civic Education Project (

Courtesy of Los Angeles County Clerk/Recorder Dean Logan’s twitter feed, researchers at the University of California, Davis’s California Civic Engagement Project has released a fascinating analysis of vote by mail usage in the Golden State.

Some of the patterns are not surprising to anyone who has followed vote by mail for a while: by-mail voters tend to be older and white and Asian.  The report pays particularly close attention to lower Hispanic usage rates of VBM, but I’m a bit disappointed that there is no report of African American usage, which Charles Stewart and I have shown has grown enormously in Florida and other southeastern states.

Party differences are, as always, complex.  A greater proportion of Republican affiliators use vote by mail, but because Democrats hold such an enormous registration advantage in the state, a larger proportion of the vote by mail electorate overall is Democratic (43%) vs. Republican (33%) and No Party preference (18%).

MonkeyCage: “Election integrity” is not “election fraud”

The MonkeyCage features a nice by Pippa Norris, Richard Frank, and Ferran Martinez I Coma on new research coming out of the Electoral Integrity Project.  The post reports on a recent international survey of election experts ranking 66 countries on a variety of measures of election conduct and administration.

Unfortunately, someone made an ill-advised choice to tag the post “election fraud.”

It may be the Pippa and her colleagues indirectly invited this provocative tag.  The first line of their posting reads:

In many countries, polling day ends with disputes about ballot-box fraud, corruption and flawed registers.

Followed in the next paragraph by:

Where there are disputes, however, which claims are accurate? And which are false complaints from sore losers?

The report does not really evaluate the validity of election disputes, nor does it provide a measure of election fraud, however.  What is being reported by the EIP is innovative and valuable: evaluations by expert observers of the perceptions of electoral integrity (this is the accurate title of the dataset available from Harvard’s Dataverse) by 855 election experts.

This is not the same thing as “election fraud,” and the report at the EIP website says this (emphasis added):

To address this issue, new evidence gathered by the Electoral Integrity Project compares the risks of flawed and failed elections, and how far countries around the world meet international standards.

EIP shows that there is a strong correlation between expert assessments and liberal democracy (measured by Freedom House and Polity V indicators), thus validating the measure.  But it’s important to be clear what the measure is, and is not.  For instance, the US ranks relatively low because international experts (and the ODIHR) don’t like the way we draw our district lines or our system of campaign finance.

Neither do many American observers, but I’ve never seen any claims that our no-holds-barred campaign finance system translates into election fraud.  Our highly politicized redistricting system distorts the translation of public preferences into legislative seats, but it similarly does not, to my mind, have any relationship to fraud.

This is not a criticism of the EIP or of MonkeyCage. It simply brings to mind Rick Hasen’s description of the ongoing disputes over election fraud and voter suppression in The Voting Wars.

Both grab the headlines and fire up activists, but there is little empirical evidence of either occurring much in the United States.

The recent EIP report says a lot about “election integrity,” “election administration,” and simply “elections” (the appropriate tags), but “election fraud”?  The answer to that lies in the future.

Nate Persily is in the cage

Nice posting by Nate Persily on Monkey Cage:

EVIC research in Presidential Commission on Election Administration

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration, also known as the Bauer-Ginsberg Commission, has issued its final report.  Rick Hasen, waking and working before all of us, has already provided a great summary of findings and recommendations.  I’m particularly excited to see the Election Toolkit produced by the Voting Information Project.

I testified before the Commission in Denver, accompanied by Jacob Canter (exp. ’14).  Our work last summer was partially supported by the Alta S. Corbett Summer Research Program of Reed College.

Congratulations to Nate, Charles, Tammy, Ann, Chris, Ben, Bob, Trey, and all the commission members and staff!

Oregonians are an independent lot

Jeff Mapes of the Oregonian writes about a watershed political moment in Oregon: more than 30% of Oregonians now do not affiliate with one of the two major parties on the voter registration rolls.

Social Science and Statistics in the PA Voter ID Decision

Courtesy of Pennsylvania DMV

I’m often asked, particularly by junior faculty, about how social scientists get involved in litigation.  A good way to learn how statistical reasoning gets used in legal cases is to review cases.  The “All About Redistricting” website maintained by Justin Levitt at Loyola Law School, and the “litigation page” at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, for example, are treasure troves of case materials.

The recent Pennsylvania trial court ruling striking down the state’s voter ID law is only the most recent instance where a court relied heavily on evidence produced by social scientists and statisticians.  (All the page numbers referenced below refer to this decision.)

The full set of documents pertaining to the case can be found at the Moritz site (unfortunately many of the documents are low quality scans and can’t be searched).

The Findings of Fact are a good place to start (pg. 54 of the decision) because they summarize the source of the evidence submitted to the court and can often used to quickly identify expert witnesses.

The Moritz site is pretty comprehensive for this case, including most of the expert witness reports.  The social scientists used in the case were:

  • Dr. Bernard Siskin did most of the statistical analysis for the plaintiffs. Siskin was a long time professor of statistics at Temple and now appears to be a full time expert witness, mainly working on employment discrimination.  
  • Dr. William Wecker is another statistician who works exclusively as an expert witness; previously he was a tenured professor of business at the University of Chicago.  Unfortunately, I could not find Wecker’s report on the website.
  • Dr. David Marker, a senior statistician at Westat, a statistics and data collection firm that I believe started in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, but which has grown worldwide.   Marker was hired solely to evaluate the survey methodology used by Dr. Matthew Barreto in research that has often been cited as demonstrating racial and ethnic disparities in access to voter ID in Pennsylvania.
  • Dr. Lorraine Minnite is an associate professor at Rutgers-Camden and a well-known expert on vote fraud.  Minnite was brought in by the plaintiffs to examine the content of the legislative debates regarding the need for voter ID and the prevalence (or not) of voter fraud in Pennsylvania.  Her report starts at page 20 here and is an entertaining read for anyone interested in legislative intent.  The court determined, for instance, that there appeared to be a “legislative disconnect from reality” (pg. 41 of the decision), and Minnite shows that, whatever the merits of voter ID, the speculations of legislators often outstripped reality.
  • Dr. Diana Mutz is a professor of political science at University of Pennsylvania best known for her work on political communication, political psychology, and public opinion.  I was surprised to find Mutz’s name among the witnesses; her testimony was used by the plaintiffs to try to show that the state had insufficiently advertised how citizens could obtain an ID.

Aspiring expert witnesses can learn at least two lessons from this case.

Learn the tools: Siskin’s report is a virtual manual for matching complex databases to estimate racial and ethnic disparities.  A key piece of evidence was Siskin’s estimate of the number of PA citizens who did not have valid photo IDs.  The work involved fuzzy set matching of Penn DOT and voter registration databases (pg. 62 “Scope of Need”; pg. 17 of the expert witness report); he used “BISG” methodology to estimate racial disparities even though his data sources did not contain racial or ethnic identifiers (pg. 20 of the report); and relied on “Open Street maps” data to estimate drive times for residents without IDs to the closest drivers license office (pg 27 of the report).

You don’t necessarily need to use the most advanced technology (Siskin uses SPSS for all of his statistical estimation), but your methodology must be scientifically sound.

Honor scientific standards of evidence:  Wecker was hired by the defendants solely to, in the words of the Court, “refute Dr. Siskin’s work.”  The court’s treatment of Wecker’s evidence is illustrative of what happens if your evidence can be criticized for not following conventional scientific practice.  The court refers to the testimony as “flawed and assumption laden”.

Compare this to the court’s treatment of Marker, and by implication Barreto, both of whom followed valid scientific standards.

A nice introduction to expert witness work was penned by Dick Engstrom and Mike McDonald in 2011.  It’s a nice exercise to read Engstrom and McDonald’s useful essay and then review expert witness reports in this and other cases.