Unexpected Early Voting Results: Good tides for Hagan in NC Unexpected Early Voting Results: Good tides for Hagan in NC

There were two structural–as opposed to political–reasons to worry about Senator Kay Hagan’s (D.) chances of winning reelection this midterm. The first? It’s a midterm election! This means lower turnout due to less educated voters foregoing the election. The quasi-technical term “less educated voters” usually means young voters and minority voters–the people who just so happen to vote for democrats.

The second? New election legislation in North Carolina has dramatically changed the voting landscape. One consequence is that the first week of early voting was cut off, which means that there are fewer days to use North Carolina’s very popular one-stop voting mode (in 2012, over 40% of voters returned their ballots before Election Day). It seemed unlikely, given this change, that early turnout would be as high as it could be, which would, in yet another way, hurt Hagan’s chances.

So: Bad tidings for Hagan, who also faces a tough challenge from her republican opponent Thom Tillis. 538’s forecast for this race has Hagan winning, but only by a hair, and the vote share is well within the margin of error.

Bad tides, maybe. But the first few days of early voting may tell a very different story. Check out figure 1, which presents the proportion of democrats, republicans, and unaffiliated voters who turned out in both 2010 and 2014. Two points stand out. First, voters in NC are turning out early at a much faster rate this year than in 2010. So much faster, in fact, that, with eight days until Election Day, the proportion of democrats to vote early this year is already the same as the proportion to vote eight days out in 2010. Again, that’s with five fewer days to vote (I made the same point in my previous post).

Now, republicans and unaffiliated voters aren’t too far behind, so clearly voters, in general, aren’t too perturbed by the change in the number of early voting days. But let’s consider what it means that (a) democrats are turning out at a fast rate this year, and (b) that their fast turnout rate is faster than the rate republicans and unaffiliated voters are turning out.

nc_inperson_2014_2010_oct28

Figure 1

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More on GlacierGate: If non-partisan judicial elections are not a democratic good, can we conduct research intended to actively undermine them?

Thomas Leeper, in a recent blog posting, makes what strikes me as a very problematic claim to try to justify the Montana field experiment.

Leeper asserts that non-partisan elections “do not obtain the democratic benefits that their advocates hope for,” and that “judicial elections are not necessarily a democratic good.”

I defer to Prof. Leeper for the justifications of these claims; I have no reason to doubt his summary of the literature.  I find his arguments intuitively and theoretically appealing.

But how can this possibly justify the Montana field experiment?  Leeper is arguing that scientific research that in the process of conducting the research actively undermines a democratic election practice cannot be criticized if the process itself is of questionable democratic value.

Please note, I am not saying that political scientists should not subject election procedures to the closest possible empirical and normative scrutiny.  But Leeper misses the point, made by myself in an earlier post and by Melissa Michelson on the New West Blog, that this experiment did not just study the impact of providing partisan cueing information on voter turnout in a non-partisan election, by its very scope, could have undermined the practice itself.

There are 671,031 registered voters in Montana, so this mailer was sent to 15% of the electorate.  Depending on how many of the recipients had already intended to vote, using the 2010 turnout as a baseline, as much as half the total voting population received this mailer!

Choose your guide to research ethics in the social sciences.  Here is one from Notre Dame, and second from Iowa State.  I didn’t choose these with any particular intent in mind; they were just two of the first that came up after a Google search of “ethical guidelines for social science research.

Others may disagree, but I fail to see how this study attempted to, at a minimum:

  • Consider and anticipate effects on third parties that are not directly included in the research (judicial candidates, supporters of non-partisan elections in Montana)
  • Show respect for the values and views of research subjects, even if they differ  from those generally accepted by society at large (if we accept Leeper’s argument that non-partisan elections are a net bad, and so if the experiment undermined the Montana election it’s OK since those who believe this are simply wrong)

The example used in research ethics 101 is this: we cannot be absolutely sure that someone does not have HIV (today the example used would be Ebola) unless we tested all of their blood. The problem with this test: it would kill the individual.  We should minimize to the degree possible the impact of our measurement on the thing we are measuring, and this research design fails this test.

Finally, I’m really amazed that this research is justified on the grounds that private entities are doing this anyway.  John Patty writes:

I will point out quickly that this type of experimental work is done all the time by corporations.  This is often called “market research” or “market testing.”  People don’t like to think they are being treated like guinea pigs, but trust me…you are.  And you always will be.

Corporations are not subject to an IRB. I we hold ourselves to a higher standard than simply what makes money for Anheuser Busch.

More on the non-citizen voting article

A provocatively titled posting at the Monkey Cage suggests that Non Citizens Voting Could Decide the 2014 Election.

I discussed the Electoral Studies article that the Monkey Cage posting is based on at Early Voting.net, and expressed concerns then that the article made a number of very heroic assumptions to be able to claim that non-citizens were voting in significant numbers, and even more heroic assumptions to assume that these votes “created the filibuster proof majority in 2008,” as the authors claim.

Now the authors have doubled down, writing on Monkey Cage that non-citizens “could decide” the 2014 election, whatever that means in the context of House, Senate, gubernatorial, state legislative, and other races.

I’m engaged with my professional association in trying to show the public relevance of political science, but this isn’t exactly what I had in mind.  There are heated public debates going on right now about the voter identification, and regardless of which side of this debate you are on, it’s dangerous to inject yourself into this debate based on a first look at a question like this, based on what many other scholars consider to be extremely tenuous assumptions.

Rick Hasen has posted a very nice followup on his blog that summarizes the situation far better than I can.

For those readers interested in the more detailed criticisms, I’ve provided a link to the whole thread from the Election Law listserv.  (Against listserv policy, apologies to fellow list members.  Suffice it to say that there are trenchant criticisms, and I’ve encouraged those posting to enter the public dialogue.)

I encourage readers to pay especially close attention to any critiques provided by Michael McDonald.  McDonald is the expert on identifying the number of non-citizens among the population, an exercise he engages in every two years in order to produce his estimates of the voting age population (VAP), voting eligible population (VEP), and voter turnout.

This one is not over, I am sure of that, and I expect to see additional scrutiny and replications in the next few months.  This will not be soon enough to avoid inevitable post-election charges that in-person voter impersonation is rampant.

 

 

Early Voting in NC: First Impressions Early Voting in NC: First Impressions

Early voting in North Carolina began on Thursday (October 23rd), and continues until Saturday, November 1st. One of this year’s most competitive Senate elections, between Senator Kay Hagan (D) and her opponent Thom Tillis, may come down to the state’s early returns (early voting in NC being incredibly popular). On top of that, the legality of major (and controversial) new election legislation in North Carolina–legislation that, among other changes, cut the first week off of early voting–may come down to a decision by the Supreme Court. Both reasons make knowing how the early returns look this election especially important.

After only two days of early voting, there isn’t much to say about the results. I want to show two quick graphs, however, that may augur next week’s results. The first graph shows the proportion of democrats, republicans, and unaffiliated voters that have already returned their ballots.

 

ncabs_proportion_inperson_byparty copy

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Measure 90 and Trends in Party Registration in Oregon.  How long until Unaffiliated is the largest "Party"? Measure 90 and Trends in Party Registration in Oregon. How long until Unaffiliated is the largest “Party”?

I just generated some comparative statistics on party registration in Oregon that may be pertinent to voters thinking about Measure 90, the Top Two Primary.

The numbers are pretty amazing.  Registration in the state is about even with 2012–itself an important metric of a growing state.

You can compare county by county to see where population growth is concentrated–Benton, Clackamas, Crook, Deschutes, Jackson, Jefferson, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, and Yamhill are the only counties that have more registrants than in 2012–while other growing counties like Washington and Benton are barely in the negative.  Typically, voter registration falls in off year elections.

However, what is even more fascinating is the pattern in party and non-party affiliation.  Unaffiliated registrants are the only category growing among the three major categories (other parties, such as the Independent party, are seeing growth as well).

Some of the totals are stunning–Unaffiliated registrants up 9.06% in Benton, 7.98% in Clackamas, 12.42% in Deschutes, 11.6% in Jackson, 11.28% in Marion, 10.10% in Multnomah, 9.17% in Washington, and 9.74% in Yamhill.

Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican registration is down between 5% and 8% in most of these counties.  Whatever we do about our primaries, we cannot continue to shut out the largest segment of registered voters.

Change_In_Registration_by_County

 

Anticipating North Carolina's Early Vote Anticipating North Carolina’s Early Vote

In North Carolina, voters must decide whether to replace democratic senator Kay Hagan with her republican opponent, Thom Tillis. Hagan, who was elected in 2008 with 53% of the vote, once again faces a difficult challenge. Per an October 11th SurveyUSA poll, Hagan leads by just three points, and 538 reports that only one poll has ever had her ahead of Tillis by more than six points. Some consider this one of the most competitive races in 2014, and it’s in one of the nation’s most purple states. In such a close race, every vote counts.

On top of that, the state’s legislature has made significant (and restrictive) changes to North Carolina’s election law, and we’ll want to know how these changes (which it now appears will remain in effect for the current election) affect turnout as we anticipate a possible Supreme Court hearing and decision.

We can better understand both the current Senate race and the new election legislation if we look at early and by-mail absentee voting in North Carolina. Not only does the state have an active “one-stop” (early) and by-mail voting electorate, the new legislation affects (among many other changes) early voting (by cutting a week off the early voting period and codifying early voting hours) and the ability for traditionally democratic voters (young and minority voters) to turnout (by, to name just two examples, eliminating same day voter registration and paid voter registration drives).

These facts about the NC election landscape mean that if we compare early and absentee voting numbers from the past to the 2014 numbers as they become available, we can anticipate in real-time whether Hagan should be worried about her chances of success, and whether the consequences of the new legislation are as restrictive as some suspect. Early voting in NC begins on October 23rd, and while absentee by-mail began on September 5th, there are still too few returned ballots to draw conclusions from the returns.

Over the next few days, I’ll point out a few trends that we should keep our eyes on. Unless otherwise noted, my data comes from the North Carolina State Board of Elections’ website. Continue reading

Election integrity and observation in a full vote by mail state

I have gotten onto the email distribution list of Election Oregon, a group that appears to be a spin off of True the Vote.

The more citizens that learn about the election process in this state the better, but I can’t imagine a more tedious election observation activity than watching a drop box in Oregon (follow this link to see all the individual drop boxes in the state)!

Here’s the plan:

We need individuals posted at each drop box on the last two days of the Election to follow every last ballot directly to your county’s Election office. We need people to volunteer in teams one to drive one to video record the entire journey. I would be happy to act as dispatcher on Election night. Only catching these vote fixer in the act with a video record will make our case.

The problem lies in the trajectory of the vote by mail ballot in this state.  Once a ballot is completed by an individual and dropped at a drop box, it follows this path:

  1. The sealed drop box is transported, generally at 8 pm on election day, sometimes earlier (and then replaced) in popular locations, by an employee from the county office.
  2. The box is  inspected and opened in a secure location at the county elections office.
  3. The ballots are marked and begin to be processed.
  4. Signatures are inspected and validated.
  5. Ballots are separated from the security envelopes and are inspected for stray marks.
  6. Voter intention, if in question, is determined and ballot remarking may occur.
  7. Ballots are scanned and tallied.

It is simply difficult to know at what point “vote fixing” could possibly occur once ballots are dropped in the box.

Most election experts agree that the points of vulnerability in voting by mail system occur when the ballots leave the hands of government officials–after they are mailed and before they are returned.

I’ve done some election observation myself, and it’s never exciting.  But spending all day videotaping a plastic box at a library even makes me feel sleepy!

 

Did non citizen votes deliver NC to Obama and assure Democrats a filibuster proof majority in the Senate in 2008? A new study argues that they did.

Partisan breakdown of the non-citizen vote, from Richman, Chattha, and Earnest (2014), courtesy of Elsevier Publications

A new paper by Jesse Richman, Gulsham Chattha, and David Earnest, available on first release in Electoral Studies, makes the controversial claim that:

We find that there is reason to believe non-citizen voting changed one state’s Electoral College votes in 2008, delivering North Carolina to Obama, and that non-citizen votes have also led to Democratic victories in congressional races including a critical 2008 Senate race that delivered for Democrats a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate…

The authors follow a creative strategy by leveraging the large sample sizes in the Cooperative Congressional Election Study  in 2008 and 2010, and vote validation that occurred in 2008, to show that somewhere between 3.3%-25.1% of non-citizens were registered, and 1.5%-11.3% of non-citizens turned out to vote.

Extrapolated to the general population, they estimate anywhere from 38,000 to 2.8 million ballots were cast by non-citizens, and the bulk of these were Democratic votes (see figure above, reproduced from the paper).

The study is the first careful look at non-citizen voting that takes advantage of vote validation, and is almost certainly going to enter into the debate over photo ID.

 

Hasen’s take on the “new” voting wars

Great article by Rick Hasen in Slate: The Voting Wars Heat Up.

Rick does a wonderful job highlighting how law and politics intersect in this arena

For a nice illustration of the conflict, see these articles by two dear friends, Ned Foley and Dan Tokaji.  Ned and Dan are right down the hall from one another.  Both are smart and reasonable, but on the issue of early voting in Ohio and undue burdens, they come down on different sides.

One thing is for sure–classes and seminars on election law at the Moritz College of Law must be interesting affairs!

EVIC's 2014 Early Voting Calendar and Spreadsheet EVIC’s 2014 Early Voting Calendar and Spreadsheet

If you follow EVIC you already know that early and absentee voting laws and policies are complex and vary widely across the fifty states. That’s why EVIC publishes an early and absentee voting calendar and spreadsheet for every general election.

This year, we’ve updated our products and hope the additional information encourages further dialogue about how these rules affect voters. So, make sure to try out all the new bells and whistles. Below, we explain what our information means and provide some basic context. If you’re worried that we misrepresent any state’s election law or policy, do not hesitate to let us know and post below.

Finally, EVIC wants to thank Jonathan Harvey and Tony Moreno, from Reed College CIS, who helped program and design the new calendar. I also want to thank Alex Arpaia, who helped gather the early and absentee voting data.

More information below the split.

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