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.

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.

New research in Political Analysis on overreporting turnout bias in surveys

New research in Political Analysis on overreporting turnout bias in surveys

Courtesy of Oxford University Press

Courtesy of Oxford University Press

Michael Hanmer, Antoine Banks, and Ismail White have a new paper in Political Analysis that returns to a longstanding problem in voting and survey research: overreporting bias among survey respondents.

From the abstract:

Voting is a fundamental part of any democratic society. But survey-based measures of voting are problematic because a substantial proportion of nonvoters report that they voted. This over-reporting has consequences for our understanding of voting as well as the behaviors and attitudes associated with voting. Relying on the “bogus pipeline” approach, we investigate whether altering the wording of the turnout question can cause respondents to provide more accurate responses. We attempt to reduce over-reporting simply by changing the wording of the vote question by highlighting to the respondent that: (1) we can in fact find out, via public records, whether or not they voted; and (2) we (survey administrators) know some people who say they voted did not. We examine these questions through a survey on US voting-age citizens after the 2010 midterm elections, in which we ask them about voting in those elections. Our evidence shows that the question noting we would check the records improved the accuracy of the reports by reducing the over-reporting of turnout.

What is neat about this paper is that the authors suggest a relatively simple way to reduce (but not eliminate–see the attached graphic) the bias.

It’s also notable that the research comes out of the TESS (Time Sharing Experiments in Social Science), an innovative and low-cost project funded by the Political Science Program of the National Science Foundation (Congress: are you listening?).

Chapin exposes rampant vote fraud in Ohio!

Just kidding.  

Doug Chapin at the Election Academy highlights a report out of Ohio showing that, of the 210 cases described, 40 (all from Franklin County” were “referred for more investigation” and only 2 resulted in any prosecution, one for a man who voted for President in another state but for local initiatives in Ohio, and a second for a petition gatherer who falsified names on a petition.

The latter case, of course, does  not constitute voting fraud.

The results is 1/210, or .004 of the cases, constituted actual voter fraud.  Zero cases of voter impersonation at the polls.  Zero cases of illegal immigrants voting.  Zero cases or organized voter fraud at all.  As one Republican county prosecutor put it: “There’s a couple of isolated incidents of people making bone-headed decisions.”

I don’t expect to see many news stories helping to educate skeptical Americans that vote fraud is not, in fact, rampant in Ohio or in other states.

Important new research on using the CPS to study voter turnout

Important new research on using the CPS to study voter turnout

The Current Population Survey’s Voting and Registration Supplement is the gold standard to understand voter turnout in the United States.  The study is the largest ongoing survey of voting participation in the United States, and is used not only by political scientists, election lawyers and civil rights advocates, but is also cited by Supreme Court Justices.

CPS Screen Shot

Michael McDonald  of the United States Election project has been warning for years that CPS turnout estimates were beginning to deviate in worrisome ways from data collected from exit polls, validated surveys, and official election returns.

New research in the Public Opinion Quarterly by Aram Hur and Christopher Achen validates McDonald’s claims.

From the abstract:

The Voting and Registration Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS) employs a large sample size and has a very high response rate, and thus is often regarded as the gold standard among turnout surveys. In 2008, however, the CPS inaccurately estimated that presidential turnout had undergone a small decrease from 2004. We show that growing nonresponse plus a long-standing but idiosyncratic Census coding decision was responsible. We suggest that to cope with nonresponse and overreporting, users of the Voting Supplement sample should weight it to reflect actual state vote counts.

Important reading for anyone who uses the CPS.

2013 in Review, Elections Edition from California Forward

I just received an interesting set of proposals for improving election administration in California, courtesy of California Forward (I have no affiliation with this organization, but the leadership appears to be non-partisan).

Among the ideas they support:

  • California Forward Action Fund (CFAF) supported Assemblymember Mullin’s AB 1135 which expands tools that are used to verify signatures on vote-by-mail ballots.
  • Senator Padilla’s SB 360 will enable California to move forward with the development of new voting systems that reflect today’s electorate.
  • The group is called Future of California Elections (FOCE). California Forward is a member of this group because we believe that modernizing out elections system is a cornerstone critical to restoring a vibrant and responsive democracy in California.
  • California was the first in the country to designate the state’s Health Benefit Exchange as a voter registration agency under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
  • The League of Women Voters of California is leading a study to develop a Best Practices Manual for Official Voter Information Guides (

A full list of their ideas and proposals is here:

Another nice TurboVote job lead

Another job at TurboVote / DemocracyWorks came across the transom: Data lead on the Voting Information Project. This looks like an exciting opportunity for the right person who wants to take the jump into big data and election administration.

Of babies, bathwaters, and non-partisan elections

Phil Keisling, Oregon’s Secretary of State from 1991-1999 and currently director of the Center for Public Service at the Hatfield School of Portland State University, wants mayors to be elected in non-partisan elections, held at the same time as general elections.  He is worried about low turnout in partisan primaries held in odd year elections (in the recent NYC mayoral primary, turnout was 22% overall, only 13% among registered Republicans).  He worries that partisan election systems “relegate minority-party and non-affiliated voters to “observers-on-the-sidelines” status while forcing candidates through the same partisan paces that are driving our national politics into the ditch.”  ”(E)fficiently delivering core municipal services or revitalizing downtowns” has little to do with the issues that currently animate party divisions in Washington.  Swich to non-partisan elections, Phil argues, to increase turnout, attract young people to the polls, and revitalize trust in government.  (The full argument is here:

Phil Keisling has a well-deserved reputation as an election innovator for pushing through vote by mail in Oregon.  He advocated for the top-two primary in Oregon.  And he continues to work to improve civic policies and engage young people in government.

But on this point–as on the top-two primary proposed in Oregon in 2008–Phil and I will have to politely disagree.  Let’s not toss out the party baby along with the dirty bathwater, especially if the bathwater is being generated in Washington, D.C., not in our local municipalities.

Phil’s unhappiness with the direction of the national Republican Party may be blinding him to the positive role that political parties can play in structuring politics not just in the United States, but in every democratic political system yet devised by man.

John Aldrich, a political scientist at Duke, famously asks “Why Parties?“, and his answer is that

parties serve to combat three fundamental problems of democracy: how to regulate the number of people seeking public office; how to mobilize voters; and how to achieve and maintain the majorities needed to accomplish goals once in office.

Parties are a “name brand”, according to another political scientist,”providing credible information about how politicians are likely to act in office.”  Parties serve as training grounds for new political actors, recruit candidates for office, and provide avenues for upward political mobility.  Partisanship among individual voters remains the most important predictor of the vote, and helps voters make order out of a bewildering variety of political claims and issues.

Political parties are obviously not a panacea, and political divisions are deeply problematic in America today.

But let’s not cure the disease by killing the patient.  The problem as I see it is that Phil lumps together different institutional forms–most notably closed partisan primaries with general elections–and concludes that all party labels must be a bad thing for turnout and for voting.

There is a good argument to be made for opening up partisan primaries to unaffiliated voters, as many states do, or perhaps having a “top two” or some other “open” system.  It’s not clear that this will result in substantially increased turnout in primary elections, as Phil claims, but it would allow those voters who don’t want to officially affiliate when registering to vote to participate in the primary.

But to leap from there to non-partisan general elections is a leap too far.  Voting in a non-partisan general election, according to Brian Schaffner and Matt Streb, is like watching a football game where the teams aren’t wearing uniforms.  No one knows who is ahead, who is behind, or who to root for.

Non-partisan elections do not increase turnout–they depress it.  Non-partisan election do not result in more-informed voting, but instead they force voters to replace one cue (party) with others (interest groups), and most problematic, they end up empowering incumbents.

Nor is there any guarantee that a party label assures a victory.  Phil makes the unfortunate error of claiming that winning a partisan primary in New York City is tantamount to victory in the general election.  Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Guiliani would beg to differ.

Once we get beyond non-partisanship, Keisling advocates for a number of positive reforms.  Align local and state elections with the federal general elections?  Absolutely.  Experiment with innovations like instant runoff voting, which avoid the need for partisan primaries?  Great idea.

But abandon political parties?  Unless you want to strengthen incumbents and interest groups and weaken voter control, it’s not a good idea.

New Elections Director in Oregon

Jeff Mapes reports in the Oregonian:

Still left untold is the story behind Steve Trout’s departure.

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