I have been asked to weigh in by a number of my colleagues after Dan Meek alerted the widely read Election Law listserv of communications between Steve Trout, the Director of Elections in Oregon, and the Postmaster General regarding Oregon ballots with insufficient postage.

What I told the emailers, and Rick when he was in town on Saturday, is that there is a backstory here.  It may not speak to the specifics of the postage question, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.

Now Jeff Mapes of the Oregonian is on the story, as is a local television station, so I’ll lay the rest out for readers to evaluate.  It’s a lot more than most of you want to know!

The short story is that Kate Brown, Oregon Secretary of State, is in a fierce race with a Republican challenger.  Oregon Secretaries of State almost never lose, and Brown is likely to win by a small margin.  There is some bad blood between Brown and Meek, and even more between Brown and Robert Wolfe, who is running against Brown on the Progressive Party label. Continue reading

Early Voting Rates in Ohio

These data are “fresh” as of end of day Friday, and downloaded from the Secretary of State’s website.

Data from the Ohio Secretary of State as of 11/2/2012

Really superb new piece by Ansolabehere and Hersh in the forthcoming Political Analysis.  While the underlying technology is pretty fierce, Steve and Eitan do an excellent job, I think, in making the material accessible.  Anyone who has been skeptical about survey self-reports should read the paper–it provides optimism and pessimism on both sides.

From the abstract:

Social scientists rely on surveys to explain political behavior. From consistent overreporting of voter turnout, it is evident that responses on survey items may be unreliable and lead scholars to incorrectly estimate the correlates of participation. Leveraging developments in technology and improvements in public records, we conduct the first-ever fifty-state vote validation. We parse overreporting due to response bias from overreporting due to inaccurate respondents. We find that nonvoters who are politically engaged and equipped with politically relevant resources consistently misreport that they voted. This finding cannot be explained by faulty registration records, which we measure with new indicators of election administration quality. Respondents are found to misreport only on survey items associated with socially desirable outcomes, which we find by validating items beyond voting, like race and party. We show that studies of representation and participation based on survey reports dramatically misestimate the differences between voters and nonvoters.

It’s currently free access at http://pan.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/4/437.abstract

Harvesting the Florida Early Voting Files: A Users Guide

Charles Stewart has been updating the Florida early voting returns on a daily basis, so I’m not going to reproduce his work here.  Readers will have to be satisfied with a lame bar chart.

Getting to the Florida files proves to be a lot more complicated than North Carolina.  Florida is probably the second-easiest state to work with, so that tells you how difficult, opaque, and at times expensive it can be to work with voter files.  I look forward to a day where states agree upon common data formats or at least to make voter files more readily accessible.

The first challenge in Florida is that 67 separate early voting files need to be “harvested” from the Elections website.  This is more complicated than it might appear at first blush, but web harvesting is an important skill for anyone who works with data from the web.

The attached PowerPoint illustrates the steps, including some power user Unix commands to quickly manipulate the files using the terminal window.  These steps can be performed using a graphic user interface in Windows or on a Mac, but, like web harvesting, anyone who manipulates data files of this size and number needs to learn (or relearn) the command line.

Processing the files in Stata turns out to be relatively simple–the files are all formatted the same way.  Click here for the do file.

Enjoy!

Early voting script being used in WI by GOP

Nice posting by Peter Hamby of CNN:

Just got this email:

Dear Prof. Gronke,

 I, and my colleagues, have been unable to satisfactorily answer this question, “If by law voting shall be held on the “first Tuesday after the first Monday in November” how is it that we have ‘early voting?'”   My state of Michigan does not have early voting so I/we don’t have any first hand experience with this practice. I first posed this question to Dr. Michael McDonald and he replied that early voting is legal as the result of a Supreme Court case involving the state of Oregon, but he was unable to recall the name of the case.  As an expert in these matters, I was hoping that you might be able to provide the name of the case so that I can do further research and be better able to supply an informed answer.

 Thank you in advance,

Here is my response.  This probably should be part of another FAQ.

Thanks for the great question.

The time, place, and manner of holding elections, as you are aware, is “prescribed in each state”, but “congress may at any time by law make or alter such Regulations” as specified in Section IV Article 1 of the Constitution.    The law establishing the first Tuesday was passed in 1844 (see here if you’re going to show this in a class, it’s pretty cool): http://memory.loc.gov/ll/llsl/005/0700/07590721.tif

The Constitutional basis of holding early voting is actually a case involving Texas.  In a 1999 suit, the Voting Integrity Project brought suit against the Secretary of State of Texas charging the early voting in the state violated 2 USC 7 (the statute shown above).

The District Court denied the motion for summary judgment, the 5th Circuit affirmed, and the Supreme Court declined to review.

The 5th Circuit decision is here: http://federal-circuits.vlex.com/vid/voting-integrity-project-elton-bomer-18387341

The argument of Texas, affirmed by the Court, is that because the election is not decided or  “consummated” prior to the 1st Tuesday, then this means early voting does not conflict with Federal statute.  This relies on a very specific meaning of “election” which, in the words of the court, and relying on the Foster case.

Foster is instructive on the the meaning of “election.” 522 U.S. at 68, 118 S.Ct. at 466. The Court observed first that the term “election” in federal election statutes “plainly refer[s] to the combined actions of voters and officials meant to make a final selection of an officeholder.” Id. at 71, 118 S.Ct. at 467. In striking down Louisiana’s open primary statute, the Supreme Court held only that elections must not be “consummated” before federal election day. Id. at 72, n.4, 118 S.Ct. at 468.

It may interest you to know that jurisdictions honor the letter of the law in another way.  While it is true that citizens can cast early ballots, these ballots are not actually tallied until Election Day.  In some states,your vote sits on an electronic memory card.  In Oregon, the physical ballots are not even scanned until Election Day.

If the election was held today, President Barack Obama would lose the state of Wisconsin because where his base is, we have not turned out the vote early,” Mayor Michael Hancock told a Democratic rally. “The suburbs and rural parts of Wisconsin – the Republican base – are voting. President Obama’s base has yet to go vote.

So reports Alan Blinder in the Washington Examiner.

Why dumb quote of the day.  The election isn’t being held today, Mayor Hancock.  The early electorate and the Election Day electorate are very different, particularly in Wisconsin, which has come to the early voting world rather late.

This is not the first time, and won’t be the last time, we see wild inferences being drawn from the early vote.

First Three Days of Early In Person Voting In Florida

Keep in mind that Democrats and African Americans are far heavier users of early in person voting. We cannot gain access to the absentee ballot files. That being said, here are results for the first three days.