A recent local election in Red Willow County, NE is “credited for high turnout,” according to the lede (and attributed to claims by local elections officials).
Officials also praise the all-mail system that allows them to “keep the voter registration system updated, given the number of ballots returned undeliverable.”
Results were as follows:
Ballots Sent: 4735
Ballots Returned: 1821
Official Turnout: 38%
Turnout after undeliverable: 45%
2007 Special Turnout 31%
On the face of it, this seems impressive. But the devil is in the details.
It’s plausible that the voting by mail system increased turnout by 50% (from 31% to 45%) but making that calculation (presuming “the vast majority” of undeliverable ballots are voters who moved out of the county) raises issues about how the voter registration system is maintained and what election officials will do with these results.
The obvious first question is: why were 713 ballots undeliverable?
Election officials are quoted as saying that “the vast majority of the returned ballots stem from voters who relocated out of the area without updating their information with the clerk’s office.”
The implication is that 15% of the voter registration rolls in this county (or the state?) consists of deadwood–individuals who are registered in two NE counties or have moved out of state or who are deceased. 15% is a pretty high number for a rural county without a lot of in- or out-migration. Do we know if these individuals have simply moved within the county (for instance)? Do we know if these individuals have active registration records in two counties in NE?
Post election, local officials in this county may consider first, what they’ll do with this information. In fully vote-by-mail states, an undeliverable ballot prompts a forwardable postcard notifying the voter that their registration record is out of date. This follow-up step is critical.
(Officials imply that they are using the results to clean the rolls, but don’t say how.)
Second, officials should run the undeliverable records through the statewide registration system to assure themselves that voters aren’t registered in two counties.
Working my way through Electoral Studies recent releases (thanks for the RSS feed!) came across an interesting analysis by Shaun Bowler of a survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).
The survey asked a series of detailed questions about whether or not voters were happy with the amount of information that they had about a set of initiatives. But perhaps more interesting, the survey provided the opportunity for voters to explain the reasons they voted for some of the initiatives, and the results are pretty encouraging for those who argue that citizens can accumulate enough information to cast an informed ballot.
Most striking to me were two things.
First the relatively low percentage of “don’t knows” across 34 initiatives that had been on the ballot, shown below (hey Shaun, look up the “s1mono” scheme in Stata).
Second, voters were provided a list of reasons that they voted for the initiative legalizing marijuana. The reasons were, well, reasonable, and interest group information (the most oft-cited source of voter information) ranks very low on the list. (Sorry about the poor quality of the screen grab.)
All in all, a nice piece summarizing a lot of survey results over a decade, looking at voting on referenda and initiatives in California.
Full piece available here.
They have an interesting design, combining pre-election and post-election surveys and an exit poll–the former allow them to evaluate the impact of voting for the winner (or lower) on changes in perceptions of integrity.
The measures of integrity are are follows:
Our dependent variable measures citizens’ confidence in the integrity of the election. For the pre[post]-electoral survey, we use the following question: “In your opinion, how clean will [were] the presidential elections be [held last July 1st]?” Respondents chose among the following options: “Very clean,” “Somewhat clean,” “A little clean,” and “Not clean at all.” From the exit poll, we measure the voter’s confidence that her vote will be counted using the following question: “In general, how confident are you that the vote you cast for president will be respected and counted for the final result?” Respondents chose among the following options: “Very confident,” “Some- what confident,” “A little confident,” and “Not at all confident.”
The summary of findings are below. One note (not in the quote); the presence of election observers had no impact on perceptions of integrity.
On one hand, we show that confidence in the electoral process among supporters of the incumbent party decreased only after realizing that their candidate had lost. This change in the perceptions of electoral integrity responds to a pure “losers’ effect,” in which supporters of a losing candidate try to explain her defeat as a consequence of a poor electoral administration. On the other hand, we show that the discredit of electoral integrity among supporters of a party that has never won the presidential election is consistent over time. In this case, the skepticism from leftist partisans arose from both the systematic manipulation against left-wing parties during the twentieth century, and the dis- course of electoral distrust expressed by left-wing parties during recent presidential campaigns.
The full paper is available on early release.
I’m not sure if this legislation will go anywhere, but S0626 in the Rhode Island State Senate would allow for early in person voting in the state.
The bill includes:
- Early in person starting 21 days before the general election, ending the Saturday before Election Day (13 days for primaries)
- Voting would occur “at locations to be determined by each local board and approved by the state board”
- Hours for early voting would be 9-4:30 on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and 12-8 on Thursday and Friday
My three pieces of advice to the Legislature, should they move forward:
- Past work, including my own research, has shown a marked preference for voting on the last Sunday prior to an election. Given that Rhode Island is a small state, and given provisions in the bill that specify that ballots are going to be collected each day by an official from the state board, I’m not sure why they chose to end early voting on that last Saturday.
- The bill is confusing about what technology is going to be used. Part (f) specifies that “the state board shall provide the local 5 boards with the ballots, ballot applications, tabulation equipment, ballot storage boxes, voting 6 booths, instructions as to voting, and other supplies necessary to effectuate the provisions of this 7 section.” But part (e) specifies that the ballots will be filled out and sealed in an envelope; e.g. not processed or tabulated: “The early voter shall be provided with a voting 11 booth identical to the voting booths used on the regularly scheduled election days. Once the early 12 voter has completed the ballot, the early voter shall place the ballot in the ballot envelope and seal 13 the envelope. An official of the local board shall mark the envelope with the appropriate voting 14 precinct designation and return the envelope to the early voter. The early voter shall place the 15 envelope in the ballot box.” The implication is that the early in-person voting technology is actually “in person” absentee. Charles Stewart and I show that this will result in higher residual vote rates, since voters are not given any immediate feedback about any errors on the ballot. Why not have an optical scan machine at each early in-person voting location?
- The legislation makes no statement about how many early in-person voting locations will be required. This can lead to inequities during the early in-person voting period. Some states establish population floors or have other formula in place that help local officials determine how many early in-person locations they are expected to put in place.
The annual announcement for the ICSPR Summer Program, what we used to call “summer camp for social scientists”, came across the transom. The summer program used to be a place where advanced graduate students and faculty gathered each summer in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the campus of the University of Michigan, to learn new statistical skills and polish up on old techniques.
But it’s grown to be much more than that, with lots of short one-week courses on specialized topics, many of which would be of interest to technical support staff in elections offices, lawyers, advocates, and others who work in the community.
This announcement below particularly struck me as potentially of interest to state elections officials, regional elections associations, non-profits engaged in elections data collection, and of course the EAC.
Many of these entities already engage in some form of data archiving but there seems to me little attention paid to curation for re-use. While everyone doesn’t have the time or resources to send a staff member to the workshop below, it strikes me that it would be very valuable for the elections community to begin to build bridges with the community of data librarians. There are pretty obvious areas of shared interest.
The ICPSR Summer Program is offering a five-day workshop on Curating and Managing Research Data for Re-Use, July 27-31, 2015. This workshop is for individuals interested or actively engaged in the curation and management of research data for sharing and reuse, particularly data librarians, data archivists, and data producers and stewards with responsibilities for data management.
Instructors Louise Corti (UK Data Archive), Jared Lyle (ICPSR), and Veerle Van den Eynden (UK Data Archive) will discuss best practices and tools for data curation, from selecting and preparing data for archiving to optimizing and promoting data for reuse. ICPSR social science quantitative datasets and UK Data Archive qualitative and cross-disciplinary data collections will serve as case studies and participants will track the datasets as they make their way through the data assessment, review, processing and curation pipeline.
Participants will learn about and gain proficiency in the full range of life cycle activities: data review and preparation; confidential data management; effective documentation practices; how to create, comply with, and evaluate required data management plans; digital repository requirements and assessment; and running user support and promotional activities for data. Emphasis will be placed on hands-on exercises demonstrating curation practices and on discussion for sharing local experiences and learning from others. Additional context and expertise will be provided through invited keynote lectures by research data experts.
Participants will leave with knowledge and experience of how to review, assess, curate, and promote data collections for long-term preservation and access.
Enrollment is limited to 25 participants. Registration is available through the ICPSR Summer Program Web site.
Here is the report from Jeff Mapes of the Oregonian. Unfortunately for advocates of efficient and effective elections systems, the bill passed on a nearly straight party vote (one Democrat voted nay).
The text of House Bill 2177 is contained here.
A new article by the ever-active Seth Masket and Michael Miller examines the impact of publicly financed elections in Arizona and Maine on candidate extremism. There are arguments on both sides of this issue; the authors seem sympathetic to the viewpoint that removing private money from the system may in fact help ideologically extreme candidates by removing “market forces.” I suspect that conventional wisdom is just the opposite.
Nonetheless, the findings are pretty clear. After comparing the voting records of legislators in both states, partitioned into those who have been “clean from the start” and those who entered the legislature using traditional funding, there is essentially no difference in ideology, at least as revealed by roll call votes.
Polarization, they conclude, is driven by “massive historical forces,” and is unlikely to be impacted by public financing. Long and short: there may be many reasons to adopt public financing, but legislative moderation (or extremism) is not one of them.
Iowawatch.org has written a nice analysis of straight ticket voting in Iowa, based on data newly released by the Iowa Secretary of State’s Director of Elections, Sarah Reisetter. (The story has been picked up by a number of papers in the state, including the Des Moines Register.)
It’s wonderful that Iowa is releasing this information; the county by county breakdowns, further broken down by absentee and in-person voting, is available on a Tableau spreadsheet at Iowa Watch. (Although a constructive suggestion to Director Reisetter and newly elected Secretary of State Paul Pate: use social media to your advantage. Your Twitter feed is four years old and has a grand total of zero tweets; your Facebook page has never been updated; and there is no press release or URL that I can find with these data or an announcement of the data. It’s hard to crowd source policy recommendations when the data are hidden.)
The main story line, however, is about efforts in the state legislature to remove the straight ticket option from the Iowa ballot. Rep. Jim Cownie says that removing the straight ticket option will “remove some partisanship from the [election] process”, while former U.S. Representative Jim Leach, now a visiting professor at the University of Iowa Law School, writes that removing the option will be in the “best interests” of Iowa voters, and that the option is there because “activists in each party who have believed at various points in time that it benefits them.” Unattributed “critics” cited in the story forward the claim that “(w)hile it helps candidates with party affiliations, it also results, critics fear, in voters skipping the rest of the ballot, overlooking ballot initiatives, township races and the retention of judges.” (Political science refers to this as “roll off”.)
There is no doubt that including a straight ticket option on the ballot increases the proportion of voters who cast a straight ticket. But it is not clear that the other claims made by Leach, Rep. Cownie, or “critics” stand up to scrutiny.
I contacted two experts on straight ticket voting, Barry Burden of the University of Wisconsin and David Kimball of the University of Missouri, St. Louis, co-authors of a 2002 University of Michigan Press book on split ticket voting and 1998 APSR article on the same topic. I posed these questions to Burden and Kimball, with their responses below.
- Do you think having a straight ticket option on the ballot increases roll off? Answer: yes, slightly, but it’s more a function of ballot design than the straight ticket option per se.
Kimball: In my research with Martha Kropf we found that the straight-party option only slightly reduces roll off in presidential and gubernatorial elections. We also find that the straight party option substantially increases roll off on ballot measures – people who check a straight party tend to think they are finished voting and don’t realize the feature does not apply to nonpartisan portions of the ballot.
- Does the straight ticket option increase party polarization / partisanship? Answer: no, or very unlikely.
Burden: I don’t see what mechanism would cause the straight-party option to increase polarization (of candidates or voters). Maybe it makes candidates less able to differentiate themselves from partisan tides and ideological movements. One could argue that it might do the opposite, by making simple party labels more important than issues.
Kimball: The trend is that several states have dropped the straight party option over the last two decades as polarization has increased. Actually, I don’t think the straight party feature has any impact on polarization, although I have not tested that claim.
- Does the straight ticket option encourage voters to “vote the candidate” or result in more informed voting? Answer: a strong no.
No direct response from Burden and Kimball other than a confirmation of my own summary of the extant literature:
Gronke: Your 1998 paper, if I read it correctly, shows that providing the straight ticket option reduces Pres/Senate ticket splitting (no huge surprise there) but more interestingly that more distinct ideological positions by candidates *decreases* split tickets (doesn’t this run contrary to the claim by Jim Leach in the story that the straight ticket option will increase polarization?).
I also found this oldie goldie by Jack Walker that does a nice job summarizing a few decades of research into the topic, fairly conventional findings (these days): more complex ballots increase roll off, straight ballot options are chosen by better informed voters (not less informed), etc. Both results, again in my view, argue against Leach’s claims.
To summarize: there is some evidence that having the straight ticket option on the ballot increases roll-off in down ballot, non-partisan races, but mainly because it is not made clear to voters that the straight ticket option does not apply. That may be fixed via good ballot design. There is little evidence that the straight ticket option increases partisan polarization and there is longstanding and consistent evidence that removing the straight ticket option makes voting more complicated and difficult.
One final empirical point of reference is North Carolina, which eliminated straight ticket voting as part of a package of election reforms in 2014. While there are not data yet to be analyzed from the 2014 election, 56% of voters in the state used the straight ticket option in 2012.
A number of stories have been appearing in regional press outlets concerning the impact of voting law changes in North Carolina, most prompted by a new analysis released by Democracy North Carolina (linked in the first story below).
A quick rundown of sources with quick annotations.
- The N&O, as it’s fondly referred to in the state, is still pretty much the newspaper of record. This story http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/12/25/4429126/vote-still-out-on-impact-of-states.html by Colin Campbell details some early analyses by Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina with rejoinders by Susan Myrick of the Civitas Institute. (Can’t find any printed reports by Myrick.)
- This story http://www.macroinsider.com/politics/data-show-nc-unaffiliated-voting-surged-in-2014-h10907.html highlights another portion of Hall’s report that shows how a surge of unaffiliated voters played an important role in Tillis’s Senate victory over Hagen.
- In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Robert Popper, previously Deputy Chief in the Voting Rights Section from 2008-13 and now Judicial Watch, argues that higher turnout in NC in 2014 belies any claims that voting law changes suppressed the vote. http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-voter-suppression-myth-takes-another-hit-1419811042
- Nate Cohn of the Upshot / NY Times provides another angle on the partisan impact of turnout in NC in 2014. There was strong turnout among many groups in NC, Cohn argues, but these groups broke for Tillis. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/16/upshot/why-even-a-good-midterm-turnout-for-democrats-in-north-carolina-fell-short.html
A new article in the American Political Science Review by four graduate students at Harvard University uses a creative field experiment to show that local election officials are less likely to respond to informational inquiries from individuals with “putatively Latino names.”
In the article, titled “What Do I Need to Vote? Bureaucratic Discretion and Discrimination by Local Election Officials”, the authors describe the results of a large (N=6825) contact efforts, spread across 46 states. The emails contained requests for information about voting or about requirements for a voter ID and are fairly generic:
The text of the voter ID email was as follows:
I’ve been hearing a lot about voter ID laws on the news.
What do I need to do to vote?
(Jose Martinez, Jake Mueller, Luis Rodriguez, or Greg
The control email was as follows:
I’ve been wondering about this. Do you have to vote in
the primary election to be allowed to vote in the general
(Jose Martinez, Jake Mueller, Luis Rodriguez, or Greg
These are fairly
generic emails, but there was a statistically significant lower probability of receiving any response and receiving an informative response for those emails sent from names that appeared to be Latino. See the table for the key results (click on the image for a larger view).
The authors are quick to note that this is not an article about election officials per se, but about discretion provided to “street level bureaucrats” in implementing laws and regulations. However, they also note that this may raise concerns about the impact of voter ID laws on specific populations.
For interested readers, the full abstract is below:
Do street-level bureaucrats discriminate in the services they provide to constituents? We use a field experiment to measure differential information provision about voting by local election administrators in the United States. We contact over 7,000 election officials in 48 states who are responsible for providing information to voters and implementing voter ID laws. We find that officials provide different information to potential voters of different putative ethnicities. Emails sent from Latino aliases are significantly less likely to receive any response from local election officials than non-Latino white aliases and receive responses of lower quality. This raises concerns about the effect of voter ID laws on access to the franchise and about bias in the provision of services by local bureaucrats more generally.