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.

Voter Turnout and Voter ID

True the Vote provides a nice report with information on voter ID laws and the politics surrounding these laws.  They do a service by aggregating the number of voter suppression reports by states and county.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that their conclusions about the relationship between voter ID and turnout are wrong, or more generously, unsupported by the evidence.

The report compares turnout in states in 2008 and 2012 and attributes EVERY CHANGE to the existence (or not) of a voter ID law.

Nothing else is considered, including those things that every observer knows are the primary drivers of voter turnout: the battleground status of the state, the competitiveness of other campaigns in the state, and overall campaign spending and election activity.

Compare two of the states they highlight: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.   In every state, total campaign spending was substantially higher.  In every state save one (Nevada) the ratio of campaign spending was much closer, in some cases dramatically so.

Campaign spending in 2012: http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2012/campaign-tracker/ and in 2008: http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/map/ad.spending/

I don’t know what the impact of voter ID laws were on turnout, but I am confident that the True the Vote report doesn’t shed much light on the question.

Long odds for election reform?

Hat tip to Rick Hasen for this story, Rep. Candice Miller, chair of Government Operations, who says the Federal government has no role in fixing problems with our voting system: http://www.dailytribune.com/article/20130226/NEWS01/130229602/miller-blasts-obama-s-plan-for-election-standards