State of Florida legislature: free the absentee ballot reports!

As the campaign turns to Florida, absentee and early in person voting will be the lede for the next few days.

As those of you who follow this area know, tracking early ballots in Florida is a frustrating exercise (both Michael McDonald and I have written about this in the past).

The state makes freely available at the state website detailed early in person returns including individual vote reports. This is what allowed us to post turnout rates by race, age, etc in previous elections.

No-excuse returns, however, remain restricted to campaigns and candidates, and there is no good reason why. In the past, I’ve been told that this is because of concerns over election day crime – after all, if you knew the address of someone who’d voted absentee, you could rob them on election day. Wait, I respond, you now have no-excuse absentee voting…

All my posts recently about no-excuse absentee ballots in Florida have relied in news reports and analysis of the Miami-Dade returns. Miami-Dade, Orange, and Pinellas all make their data easily accessible. Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, and Duval lag behind.

Early in-person File Location Current turnout
Statewide Florida DoE 36,912
Statewide Not available
Miami-Dade Miami Dade Elections Main Page 47,108
Broward Can’t find it
Palm Beach Can’t find it
Hillsborough Can’t find it
Orange Orange County elections 9,251
Pinellas Current elections page 41,230
Duval Can’t find it

I recognize the time pressures operating on local elections officials and I’m not trying to make more work for them. The frustrating thing is that the data are readily accessible at the state elections website, you just can’t get in to see them. And the local counties generate daily reports, some simply don’t post them.

Why does this matter? It matters to anyone who is trying to follow the election, report on the election, and mobilize citizens to participate in the election. For example, what does it mean when 41,230 absentee ballots have been returned in Pinellas and 47,108 in Miami-Dade, which is 2.5 times larger? (By the way, there are 220,024 registered Republicans in Pinellas and 367,298 in Miami-Dade, so it’s not all a difference of partisanship.)

Keeping this gate closed only benefits well-funded parties and candidates, and there isn’t any clear legal justification for embargoing the the information.

On the positive side, the names of the files follow regular patterns, so someone with more staff and programming skills than me could unpack these files (mainly PDFs) on a daily basis and track the returns.

Super Tuesday begins: No Excuse Absentee Voting in GA

Georgians begin no-excuse balloting today for the March 6 primary.  There are nine candidates on the ballot.

Expanding early voting infrastructure in Jackson County, MO

I’ve blogged a few times about the unanticipated infrastructure demands created by early voting. Most elections offices are designed to handle a few hundred citizens with questions about registration or disabled citizens needing use special access machines, not thousands or tens of thousands of voters showing up to cast a ballot.

This story from Jackson County, MO, just outside of Kansas City, illustrates the problem.

Five election dates, new legislative districts thanks to the 2010 census and even seemingly simple things like generating new notification cards for every registered voter. And the November ballot – with a presidential race, several statewide races and initiatives, state legislative contests and possibly local ballot issues – is expected to be long.

The Democratic director of the board, Bob Nichols, noted “We had people lined up outside and in our office.” Tammy Brown, Nichols’s Republican counterpart, added “It is a crazy year.”

Adapt or die, as my colleague Doug Chapin often notes, and in this case, adaptation was easy. The story doesn’t note who saw the empty storefront across the street, but the Board has rented it, and just like that, more space for voting, shorter lines, and less stress on the elections staff.

How many of the votes have already been cast in Florida?

A little mathematics and some web browsing skills, and it looks like somewhere between 8% and 17% of the ballots in Florida have already been cast.

Keep in mind that, as of today, four candidates (Bachmann, Cain, Huntsman, and Perry) were on these ballots, and three (Bachmann, Huntsman, and Perry) were still actively competing well into the absentee balloting period.

We’ll use Miami Dade County to make our calculations, but this same exercise can be done throughout Florida (and you can bet the Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum forces are making these calculations daily).

Miami Dade County, reports 42,149 absentee ballots returned as of close of business yesterday, totaling 32% of the 130,491 ballots mailed out. The Miami Herald reports 143,000 ballots voted statewide, just over 30% of absentee ballot requests.

Continue reading

Early Voting Center in the News

Early voting story by Richard Wolf of the USA Today. 

Early voting in upcoming primary states

Upcoming primaries, and the percentage of votes cast early in 2008:

State Primary Date Early Voting Rate in 2008
Florida 1/31/2012 54%
Arizona 2/28/2012 53%
Michigan 2/28/2012 25%
Georgia 3/6/2012 53%
Ohio 3/6/2012 30%
Tennessee 3/6/2012 60%
Vermont 3/6/2012 29%
Illinois 3/20/2012 22%
Wisconsin 4/3/2012 21%
Texas 4/3/2012 66%

It is surprisingly difficult to predict the percentage of ballots that will come in early, via in-person voting or no-excuse absentee ballots, in the upcoming primaries.  Many states have only recently begun to report individual voting histories that include the mode of ballot return, and even if they do have that information, even fewer provide the date.

At least one well-known data aggregator – Catalist – doesn’t capture the date of the ballot return on its permanent database, although that information is collected in real-time during election season.

Florida is a nice example: it does a wonderful job reporting early voting data, including the exact date that the ballot was cast. Individual no-excusse absentee records, however, are only available to registered party committees and candidate organizations.

To make things even more complicated, we know that Republican voters have historically tended to use no-excuse absentee ballots at a much higher rate than Democratic voters.

With all these caveats, the table reports the percentage of ballots that were cast prior to election day in the 2008 general election for selected upcoming states. Any state reporting less than 20% advance voting has been excluded. If you are trying to project backwards, most states now mail their domestic no-excuse ballots 45 days before the date of the election, the same time they are required to mail UOCAVA ballots.

Update on early and absentee balloting in Florida
Absentee (In person) voting has begun in Missouri

Citizens who have registered to vote absentee can start to vote “in person” absentee in Missouri.

There aren’t a lot of Missouri absentee ballots cast–they are an “excuse required” state according to NCSL and according to our figures, 6.2% voted absentee in 2010 and 11% voted absentee in 2008.  We have not collected data on absentee voting in the primary (and can’t find it on Missouri’s website).

630,000 Florida absentee ballots include Perry, Bachmann

Orlando Sentinel: Whatever happens in the next few weeks, 630,000 absentee ballots are already in the mail. Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann are on these ballots.

2010 EAC Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) Released

The 2010 Report and datasets have been released by the EAC.

Regardless of what happens to the Election Assistance Commission, I hope Congress continues to require and fund the Election Administration and Voting Survey (as well as the NVRA and UOCAVA surveys.

All three provide invaluable insights into the conduct of American elections voting, the most fundamental act of democracy and citizenship. Without the national perspective provided by these three data reporting instruments, it becomes much more difficult to impossible to monitor, evaluate, and improve the democratic process, whether it be making sure everyone who is eligible has a chance to register; that uniformed personnel and overseas citizens have sufficient time to vote; or that each American citizen, regardless of state, county, or township, has a full and equal right to vote.