APSA Panel on Shelby County case

A very interesting panel coming up at the APSA meetings in Chicago is shown below.  My only worry is that Rick Hasen has already posted his paper on SSRN. Doesn’t Rick realize that APSA papers are not supposed to be written prior to a week before the conference?

Looks like a great panel, and I’ll definitely be there.

Law and Political Process Study Group
Panel 1   The Future of the Voting Rights Act After the Shelby County Case
Date: Thursday, Aug 29, 2013, 2:00 PM-3:45 PM
Location: Room assignments are pending. Check back soon for room assignments. Only those registered for the meeting can view room assignments. Subject to change. Check the Final Program at the conference.
Chair(s): Bruce E. Cain
Stanford University, be.cain48@gmail.com
Regional Differences in Racial Polarization in the 2012 Presidential Election: Implications for the Constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act
Charles Stewart
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, cstewart@mit.edu
  Stephen D. Ansolabehere
  Harvard University, sda@gov.harvard.edu
Racially Polarized Voting, Dilution, and Preclearance: Post-Shelby County
Richard L. Engstrom
Duke University, richard.engstrom@duke.edu
Shelby County and the Illusion of Minimalism
Richard L. Hasen
University of California-Irvine, rhasen@law.uci.edu
The Constitutional Structure of Voting Rights Enforcement
Franita Tolson
Florida State University, ftolson@law.fsu.edu
Discussant(s): Luis Ricardo Fraga
University of Washington, lrfraga@uw.edu
Guy-Uriel Charles
Duke University School of Law, charles@law.duke.edu


Tracking the Early Voter Tracking the Early Voter

Michael McDonald has a new column reporting early voting rates in 2012, compared to previous years, using the Current Population Survey’s Voting and Registration Supplement. The trends in early voting have been picked up by Rick Hasen and Doug Chapin, but Doug rightly highlights this caveat from Mike’s column:

[I]t is instructive to keep in mind that the Census Bureau statistics are drawn from a survey. We will get more information later this summer with the United States Election Assistance Commission reports early voting statistics from election officials. An interesting difference between these two sources is that election officials do not report when a voter cast their mail ballot; in some states, voters can return their mail ballots on Election Day. So, election officials will likely report a higher early voting rate than the Census Bureau as their statistics in some states include persons who voted by mail on Election Day.

Doug (and Mike) speculate that the differences may be due in part to no-excuse absentee voters who turn in their ballots on Election Day and tell the CPS that they voted “on Election Day”.

This is possible, but the postings highlight the ongoing challenge of collecting consistent and reliable information on the American elections system, especially information on things like early voting that are were not part of elections reporting systems just a decade ago.

Tracking the early vote has been a part of EVIC’s mission since our founding in 2004.  A decade ago, few states or jurisdictions tracked no-excuse or early in-person ballots, and most polling organizations didn’t pay much attention either.  Early voting crept up quietly on survey organizations; in 2000, our best estimate is that 16.26% of citizens cast a ballot prior to Election Day.  This figure jumped nearly 50% in 2004, when  22.7% of citizens cast a ballot prior to Election Day.  Anyone interested in American elections had to pay attention to the early vote.

There are three separate sources of information on the early vote.  The good news is that the sources correlate highly, both across states and over time.  The bad news is there is a persistent gap on the low-end, using the Current Population Survey’s Voting and Registration Supplement (VRS) and on the high end using data drawn from the Associated Press’s Election Services Unit.

In the table below, we report early voting totals from these three different sources for 2008 and 2010 (the CPS is used by McDonald in his column).  Next we report data from the Election Assistance Commission’s Election Administration and Voting Survey.  The third column reports information graciously provided by the Associated Press’s Elections Tabulation and Research Unit.

2008 28.45% 32.40% 34.00%
2010 24.95% 28.50% 30.50%


The CPS is a survey, one of the largest and best available, and the only way we have to track voter participation using different modes of balloting prior to 2004, when almost no other survey organizations were asking about alternative modes of balloting.

Prior to 2004, the CPS asked the question in a different way.  PES4 (2002 and prior) asked the respondent whether they “voted in person on election day or before, or by mail.”   From 2004 onwards, the CPS asked (PES5) “Did you vote in person or did you vote by mail?” and followed up with (PES6)“Was that on election day or before election day?”

McDonald’s and Chapin’s comments zero in on the number of respondents who cast a “by-mail” ballot but returned it on Election Day.  In some jurisdictions, the number of citizens who cast a ballot this way are not inconsequential.  According to Dean Logan, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk of Los Angeles County, 202,584 vote by mail ballots were delivered in person to polling places in 2012.  These totaled 6.3% of all ballots and 20.8% of no-excuse absentee ballots.  Nationwide, however, the totals are far lower.  In the 2012 CPS, only 458 or 59713 respondents, or 0.76% of all voters said the “voted by mail” and “voted on Election Day.  To Doug’s point about California, twice as many Californians gave this response than nationally (8.27% vs. 4.83% of vote by mail respondents).

It doesn’t appear that the question wording made much of a material difference in how citizens reported voting (see the graphic below), although the terrain was changing so rapidly that it would be nearly impossible to separate question wording effects from actual changes in rates.

Source: Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement

Source: Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement

Our second source is the EAC.  This is generally the best source for early voting returns, especially since 2008 when state response rates have improved dramatically.  There is only one minor quibble with the EAC, and it’s not with their data but their reports.  The reports calculate statistics exactly as the states report them, even though the agency continues to wrestle with non-response problems.  The careful user needs to be attentive to this fact.  For instance, in 2010, Table 28A in the EAVS has 4678 reporting jurisdictions and 90,810,679 total voters.  The same table reports that 8.2% of votes were cast early in-person, basing that result on 2318 jurisdictions.

The means that the EAC data probably slightly underreport the number of early in-person and no-excuse absentee voters.

Our third source is the AP.  The Associated Press’s Elections Services Unit is an interesting entity.  The AP is a no-profit cooperative of news organizations, and the Elections Unit begins to compile data from states and counties on early in-person and no-excuse ballots as soon as this information is available.  They use this information on election night to help supplement their vote tabulation work.  Post-election, they shift into a different mode, trying to assemble official results on total ballots cast, total vote, early votes cast/counted, mail ballot absentees cast/counted, provisional cast/counted, including digging down into precinct level certified results to compile some information not available from counties or states (including valuable breakouts of “advance” vs election day votes by candidate for key races).

In my past work, I’ve relied heavily on the AP’s data, because, unlike the EAC, they have reported results in a relatively consistent fashion back to 2000, and unlike the CPS, the data are ideally based on certified election returns and not on survey results.

These different data sources reflect different perceptions of the same reality.  The Census Bureau data is invaluable because it tells us what voters did behaviorally and over 20 or more years.  The EAC provides us insight into how states and local jurisdictions have categorized their ballots three to six months after the election.

If I were to make one suggestion, it would be to look closely at what is being done by the AP.  The AP has a strong incentive to continue to go back to local jurisdictions and make sure that its final figures our correct.

The same incentives should be applied to whatever entity continues to collect the data for the EAVS.  The EAC currently is focused on producing a congressionally mandated series of post-election reports.  After that point, they are little incentive–and no funding–to go back and correct or amend their data.  It would not be hard to provide a data collection and funding model that would incentivize not just timely reporting, but also ongoing data maintenance.



Committee to study election law and procedures in New Hampshire

The bill text is contained here: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/legislation/2013/HB0521.html

Hat tip to the Sunlight Foundation’s “Scout” system that I have signed up for and alerted me to this bill.

Full text of controversial Wisconsin election law proposal

The text of a bill being shopped for co-sponsorship by Rep. Jeff Stone is available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mLjnrnzcwYTxmG5gREKaFLD0sazb58DwZ4UgJjypIAk/edit

It’s not clear to me what the impact will be of the proposed changes to early voting.  It appears that Madison and Milwaukee kept their early voting locations open longer hours and on holidays, while other counties did not.  I’m generally not a fan of shortening early voting hours without a good rationale, but there is a reasonable argument to be made for standardized days statewide.  The typical response, which also has some credence, is that different counties have different populations and different situations.  I’d mostly prefer a floor on availability (a mandated level of equity if you will)  while allowing counties the option to provide more times and places.

The proposal disallows early voting on the Saturday and Sunday before an election, a mistake in my judgment.  A GAO report, among other sources, shows the positive impact on turnout and convenience of weekend voting, and eleven states seem to manage just fine with early voting ending on Monday while five more end it the last Saturday before Election Day.

Recent GAO report on voter accessibility

A recently released GAO report titled “Voters with Disabilities: Challenges to Voter Accessibility” should be of interest to the election community and to the new Presidential commission.

While challenges remain, there is no way to read this report in my opinion other than as good news.  HAVA and state and local responses to polling place problems identified in the debate over HAVA have clearly improved accessibility at the polls. From the summary:

Compared to 2000, the proportion of polling places in 2008 without potential impediments increased and almost all polling places had an accessible voting  system as states and localities made various efforts to help facilitate accessible voting. In 2008, based upon GAO’s survey of polling places, GAO estimated that 27 percent of polling places had no potential impediments in the path from the parking to the voting area—up from16 percent in 2000; 45 percent had potential impediments but offered curbside voting; and the remaining 27 percent had potential impediments and did not offer curbside voting. All but one polling place GAO visited had an accessible voting system—typically, an electronic machine in a voting station—to facilitate private and independent voting for people with disabilities. However, 46 percent of polling places had an accessible voting system that could pose a challenge to certain voters with disabilities, such as voting stations that were not arranged to accommodate voters using wheelchairs. In GAO’s 2008 state survey, 43 states reported that they set accessibility standards for polling places, up from 23 states in 2000.

Much of the data in the report is contained in two previous studies conducted during the 2008 election. It’s unfortunate that Congressional funding of elections-related research seems to be drying up.  How useful would it have been to replicate the GAO’s random selection and observation of 730 polling places in 2008?  That’s a election-science dream.

Gary Bartlett’s parting interview with electionline weekly

Following Doug Chapin’s lead, re-disseminating Gary Bartlett’s wonderful parting comments in electionline weekly after his replacement after 20 years as Director of the North Carolina Board of Elections.

Gary has accomplished many things in two decades, but for scholars, NC has long been known as among the best states in terms of data availability and dissemination. I hope the new Board continues along this track.

The Phony Baloney Vote Fraud Award for 2013

leftI can’t resist giving this claim out of North Carolina special prominence.  It has to be a contender for the phony baloney vote fraud claim of the year.

Among the changes being proposed in NC is an end to same-day registration during “one-stop” in-person absentee voting.

State Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger is quoted in the Greensboro News-Record supporting this change because of concerns over vote fraud (boldface added):

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham County, wants to look at shrinking early voting periods, which he said last week put stress on election workers and campaign coffers. He also wants to look at ending Sunday voting and same-day registration. Same-day registration raises concerns about voter fraud, and Sunday hasn’t traditionally been a voting day, he said.

The problem with this claim is that North Carolina already has in place the most fraud-proof system I am aware.

According to the State Board of Election website, and conforming to my own recollection, if a citizen shows up to a one-stop voting location and wants to register or change their registration and case at ballot at the same time.  I quote from the SBOE website (the last sentence is key):

Within two business days of an one-stop registration, the county board of elections will attempt to verify the registrant’s North Carolina drivers license or Social Security number, update the statewide registration database and search for possible duplicate registrations, and proceed to verify the registrant’s address. The registrant’s vote will be counted unless the county board determines that the person, for some statutory reason, is not qualified to vote.

It bears repeating: in North Carolina, an early vote cast after a same day registration is not counted unless the county board of elections can verify the validity of the registration.

I would hope the SBOE is calling up Sen. Berger and informing him about the procedures in place in his own state.

To NC Legislators: Rely on data, not anecdotes

A decade of reform since HAVA has led to many positive changes in American elections, not the least of which is that there are solid empirical data available to provide guidance to legislators and election officials who want to improve performance and conduct more efficient elections.

This is one of the goals of Doug Chapin and the team at the Election Academy and this is the topic of the Election Data Dispatches coming out of the Pew Center on the States.  Charles Stewart of MIT and Barry Burden of Wisconsin have been leading an initiative on Measuring State Election Performance that puts many of these indicators to use.

I realize that election reforms are seldom if ever non-partisan.  I am not naive about the intentions of political actors.  But I would at least hope that if a legislator is proposing a major change to the election system in a state, he or she would try to at least pretend to have some facts and not just make things up.

Unfortunately, fairy land seems to have descended upon the Tarheel State this past week. I suppose it’s all because Duke, UNC, and NCSU are out of the NCAA tournament.  (OK, that last comment was grossly unfair.)

Let’s take a selected list and ask if this claim can be substantiated:

Claim: State Sen. Bill Cook (R-Guilford) believes that few North Carolians vote in the first week of early voting:

Cook says his campaign took him to early voting sites in his rural district where there was rarely a line.

“I don’t think we need (the extra days),” he said. “The first week, you get lots of folks. The second week, nothing. It’s almost a desert.”

Fact: 58% of early voters, and 30% of all voters cast an early-in person ballot in the first week in 2012.

Claim: Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham County) says that “Sunday hasn’t traditionally been a voting day.”

Fact: No day has “traditionally been a voting day” other than Tuesday.  12 of the 32 states that provide early in-person voting mandate some voting on either Saturday or Sunda, while most other states allow local officials to make this choice.  It’s impossible without collecting detailed information at the county level to know just how many jurisdictions nationwide allowed Sunday voting, but it’s certainly not uncommon.  (The GAO issued a report on weekend voting just a few years ago on the topic of weekend voting.)

Claim: Greg Steele, chair of the NC Federation of College Republicans, says that cutting early voting in half will save money and 

would encourage people to research candidates before they vote.

“It would energize people into taking more time to be invested into what they’re voting for,” he said.

Fact: State Elections Director Gary Barlett takes on claim 1: “There is not going to be any savings at all by reducing the early voting period,” he said.

Claim two is hard to parse; apparently, people who vote in the first week of early voting don’t have enough time to research candidates, but voters in the second week do have enough time.  Steele expresses no concern about no-excuse absentee voters whose ballots are mailed out 45 days before the election.  What we do know from extensive research into the early voter is that these are voters who have already made up their minds and show no lower levels of political information or interest than Election Day voters (in fact, in most cases, quite the opposite).

Early voting is no an unalloyed good.  There are valid arguments that can be made against early voting.

The problem is that most of these reasons apply mainly to no-excuse absentee voting, not to early in-person voting, and the NC legislature seems unconcerned about by-mail ballots.

True the vote continues to print untrue things

I tried to be nice the first time to True the Vote, but as Fairvote pointed out to me on Twitter, their revised report (linked here: http://www.truethevote.org/news/true-the-vote-report-proves-widespread-claims-of-voter-suppression-false) only makes things worse.

All the evidence on turnout (debunked first by me then more devastatingly by FairVote on the Election Law listerv) have been removed, yet the claims of turnout effects remain on pg. 4 of their report:

Pg 4: “Further, voter turnout rates should have demonstrated drops in participation.In both cases, our research proves otherwise.”

 Necessary correction: The research as been removed and the previous research has been shown to be inaccurate.  

This comment about lines in Florida may have been in the first draft of the report, but is also inaccurate.  This is from pg. 5 of the report:

Pg. 5: “the combination of roll purges, early voting changes and photo ID requirements did not manifest any clear negative impacts in 2012. While some voters complained of long lines, especially during early voting, the average wait time was 50 minutes for Floridians.”

 Necessary correction: The average wait time in Florida was the longest nationwide by far.  It was nearly four times the national average of 14 minutes, and 50% higher than the next state on the list (Maryland, at 28.8 minutes).  

Data are reported here http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/02/05/us/politics/how-long-it-took-groups-to-vote.html.

If this is evidence of no “negative impact,” I’d hate to see what a negative impact looks like!

What makes this frustrating for an academic is that the impact of voter ID requirements on turnout and on wait time remains an open question, at least as far as I read the scholarship thus far.  The discussion isn’t helped along by badly misleading and poorly documented reports.