Minnesota discovers the dangers of complexity Minnesota discovers the dangers of complexity

I’ve been reading a lot more about public policy in the past few years, undoubtedly the result of the insidious influence of Doug Chapin and Thad Hall. The field has made great strides since I was in graduate school two decades ago. I cut my teeth on John Kingdon’s Alternative, Agendas, and Public Policies (now a Longman “classic”–what does that say about me!). Now the field is replete with “punctuated equilibria,” “policy narratives,” and “advocacy coalition frameworks” (all describe in Paul Sabatier’s classic text).

While these complex models of unpredictable systems may frustrate a quantitative generalist like myself, they are obviously necessary. And Minnesota’s recently passed election law demonstrates this fact as well as anything.

As Mark Fischenich writes so effectively in the Mankato Post, the law seems straightforward to legislators, but election officials realize that the “devil is in the details.” And a lot of devilishness there is!

Among the potential legal and administrative conflicts that were apparently not considered by legislators:

  • UOCAVA problems: if the law is read strictly, overseas (and other absentee) voters will be unable to cast a ballot because they cannot show an ID.
  • Same day registration problems: identity has to be verified “prior to casting a ballot”, but what does that imply for someone who shows up to register and vote at the same time?
  • Provisional avalanche: If all these same-day registration voters and voters without sufficiently validated IDs are given provisional ballots, will this result in an unanticipated avalanche?

I have written about the interdependencies of various aspects of election laws in the past, and I’m trying to finish a project on early voting that lays many of these out. But the examples and anecdotes keep changing. Voter ID adds a new layer of complexity!

Maybe Doug and Thad can sort this one out.

* Image courtesy of http://www.mindmapinspiration.com/