I had a lot of help from Rick Hasen and Dan Lowenstein, who saved me from some real howlers in an earlier version.  And I’m a lot nicer to the founding fathers, as well.

Forthcoming sometime next year:  “When and How to Teach Election Law in the Undergraduate Classroom,” attached to this posting.

In the ongoing battle over absentee ballots in Colorado, we’ve heard the claims about disenfranchised military voters and we’ve heard the charges about partisanship.

Unfortunately, what we haven’t heard is some hard factual information that compares ballot return rates among active and inactive voters. Andrew Cole, spokesperson for Secretary of State Scott Gessler is quoted as saying “there were thousands of ballots mailed out to inactive voters in 2010 that were unaccounted for.”

I’ve tried to answer this question at the Denver County elections office. Total registration, active and inactive, was 297,558 according to the spreadsheet available here:

Of that total, 22,696 are “Inactive – Fail to vote”, or 7.63% of the total.

The number of mail ballots issued was 160,363, of which 121, 538 were returned and verified. 128,997 mail ballots were returned in total, leaving 31,366 total outstanding unreturned mail ballots, or 19.55% of the total.

What is unknown is whether this number is high or low, and whether the proportion is higher or lower among active vs. inactive voters. If we assume the proportions apply across the groups, then there would have been approximately 2400 mail ballots “unaccounted for” that were sent to inactive voters, with the remainder (nearly 29,000) sent to active voters.

While speculative—it is likely that the proportion of unreturned ballots is higher among inactive voters—these figures speak directly to the claim being made by Andrew Cole. And the problem of unaccounted for ballots, if viewed this way, is obviously much greater among active voters

In the better late than never category, the EAC’s NVRA report and associated data has been released on the EAC website.  No indication yet that the UOCAVA and Election Day reports are pending.

The codebook link is here, but the SPSS datafile won’t download. The Excel and DBF files seem to be working.

Looks like Cuyahoga County is thumbing their nose at the new Sec’y of State and mailing absentee ballot applications to all registered voters.  The state refuses to pay, and now they say they are going to try to outlaw the practice altogether.   

The report is here and the Seattle Times story is here.

Hat tip to Doug Chapin

Doug Chapin has a blog as part of the Program for Excellence in Election Administration. Given Doug’s knowledge of the field, I think this has to be an addition to the daily RSS feed.

In a recent posting, Chapin blogged about the challenging 2012 presidential primary calendar, and how constant shifting deadlines (and rosters of candidates) create administrative and budgetary challenges for administrators.

I’ll add a little spice to the mix: early voting makes the question of “when exactly is election day again” even more complicated. With the Federal Voting Assistance Program taking a muscular role in making sure that the MOVE Actis being fully implemented, Bob Carey is sure to pay close attention to presidential primary ballots.

“Election Day” starts 45 days before the first announced primary. If, as is being proposed, Florida moves its primary to January 31st, then the first presidential primary ballots will be mailed out on December 17th, and obviously prepared earlier than that.

The number of UOCAVA voters in NH is tiny – 4221 in the 2008 EAVS. But Florida reported 121,395 UOCAVA ballots transmitted in 2008 (largest in the nation). When *exactly* is Election Day, again, Doug asks? I have an answer: right around January 1st, 2012, when the first UOCAVA ballots are likely to start to arrive.

Crossposted to Election Updates

I like the story but I don’t like the metaphor used in this week’s Electionline.

Mindy Moretti writes:

Like alcohol during prohibition, it turns out that many Ohio voters actually liked many of the elections procedures recently banned by the state legislature.

The point is well-taken; the Ohio Legislature eliminated times and places for voting that we taken advantage of by 234,000 citizens in Franklin County alone.  Like the changes being made in a number of other states, including Florida, Texas, and Georgia, legislators argue that these changes will save money. The fiscal impact note accompanying the bill, however, provides only slim evidence:

This provision shortens the amount of time for in-person absentee voting, which could reduce some costs for county boards of elections for operating these absent voter locations.

The bill also banned clerks from mailing absentee ballot applications to all registered voters and paying for return postage, which will obviously save money on mailing:

The bill prohibits a board of elections from mailing any unsolicited applications for absent voters’ ballots, and instead specifies that a board only mail an absent voter’s ballot application to a voter who has requested  one.  Additionally,  the bill prohibits  a board of elections that mails an absent voter’s ballot application from prepaying the return postage for that application or for the absent voter’s ballot.   Instead, under the bill the voter is responsible for paying the postage costs.  This change will result in some reduction in mailing expenses, although not all counties pay for the postage for absent voter’s ballots or applications. Franklin County does pay these costs, and typically sends unsolicited absent voters’ applications to individuals that have historically opted to vote by absent voter’s ballot. During the 2010 general election, the county spent approximately $115,000 for mailing approximately 160,000 absent voter’s ballots for the 2010 general election.

But wait – will this save money for the state or just for the citizens of Franklin County?  And if it’s the citizens of Franklin County, why is the state legislature poking their nose into the county’s fiscal affairs?  And it’s not even clear if this will really save money on conducting elections (not just on mailing ballots).  After all, many of those vote-by-mail ballots are going to be cast in person at an early voting location or at the polling place on Election Day.

I was interviewed for the Ohio story and had a mixed response to the changes.  I don’t regret shortening the period for early voting; I am convinced that most early voters will adapt, and those voters who cast ballots four weeks out will happily cast ballots two weeks out.  I am much more concerned, however, about banning satellite early voting, which Bob Stein and others have shown increases turnout and hold no security risks.

But back to Mindy: while I agree with the tenor of the story, is this really like “alcohol during prohibition”?  After all, it’s not like we expect to see election speak easies pop up in Franklin County where Al Capone gladly takes your early ballot, for a small fee of course!

Whatever our metaphor, the lesson is clear: if you give voters more options, some will choose those options.  And they’ll choose them because they like them.  If you then take those options away, some voters will be unhappy.  It’s a choice that clerks face every election.  It’s one thing, however, for a writer to take creative license; its another thing to pass legislation.

What’s often lacking legislative debates over elections is careful, systematic analysis of the costs and benefits of the changes. Instead, legislators rely on anecdotes and ill-chosen metaphors, and clerks end up trying to manage the unintended consequences.

 Budgetary woes in California may limit citizen access to by-mail options to register and vote.

Electionline weekly reports that the new state budget cuts reimbursements to county clerks for these services.  At least some clerks are negotiating with their local county boards to see if they can shoulder the cost.

One twist on the story: this change may make it easier to identify the full costs of conducting elections in a “mixed” system since the costs will all be funded from a single pot.  Always looking for that silver lining …

Paul Gronke, Director of EVIC, on the changes to early voting in Ohio: 


A surprisingly balanced editorial in the Marin, CA Independent Journal lauds a vote by mail for encouraging turnout in a local school bond election. Turnout was 56%, 11% higher than the last local election held in 2009.

However, the rest of the story notes that Marin has one of the highest turnout rates in most elections, and that the campaign for this election was very well-financed, including multiple calls to registered voters encouraging them to return the by-mail ballot.   The editorial ends by once again attributing all the turnout increase to the administrative change (including a completely invalid comparison to turnout in LA County), nonetheless, overall it’s a pretty nuanced account.

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