We need to invent a catchy phrase in the elections community to describe overblown allegations of voter fraud. As Lorraine Minnite has documented, most charges of fraud don’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s important that Americans have faith in the security and integrity of the ballot, but it’s just as important that overblown charges of “fraud” be challenged.

Take the latest series of charges and counter charges regarding voting irregularities in Indiana. Rick Hasen noted the “latest salvo” from the state GOP chair.

I am careful to use the word “irregularities” and not “election fraud” because, regardless of the rhetoric, even a cursory examination of the list of charges only reveals one case that rises to any level of concern: allegations regarding absentee ballot fraud for a single UOCAVA ballot. (I’ve been searching fruitlessly for the reasons why there are 65 counts in the indictment; some stories refer to absentee ballot “applications” while other stories note a single ballot in question.)

Let’s review the other cases of the “culture of corruption.” The one getting the most press is “hundreds of signatures to get Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the primary ballot in 2008.” Let’s be clear what is being claimed–that without these signatures, Obama and Clinton, two of the main contenders for the presidency, would not have been on the ballot. I am not going to excuse illegal signature gathering (in my state of Oregon, we eliminated most of this by banning payment by the signature), but what kind of state runs what kind of party primary which would exclude Obama and Clinton from the ballot?

But voter fraud? No. No one falsified a ballot, changed a vote, hacked a machine, etc.

The third and fourth charges both refer to illegal transportation of ballots – political candidates or campaign staff delivering absentee ballots from citizens to a county office. Again, if illegal, it obviously should be stopped, but once again, “mishandling ballots” is not vote fraud.

Case number 5? A single woman in South Bend said an unknown person called her and tried to tell her she could now vote by phone and didn’t need to vote on election day. The woman wisely ignored the caller and …. voted on election day.

The local television station titled the story “Possible voter fraud in South Bend”. The state GOP says “calls were made” even though only a single allegation surfaced. Yet there was no voter fraud and no one’s right to vote was denied. For all we know, the call emanated from Crank Yankers!

The final charge concerns a voter registration drive conducted by ACORN. In order to meet quotas and to get paid, canvassers falsified names and signatures. Illegal: yes. Voter fraud: no.

Some common themes emerge in the Indiana stories. First, except for the first case, where the facts are still emerging, there is not a single case of actual voting fraud. Second, registration and ballot handling errors are all lumped under the tendentious label “vote fraud.” Third, reporters can sometimes be awfully lazy! And fourth, most of what was alleged in Indiana can be eliminated by banning payment by the signature or by the registration card–something we banned in Oregon a number of years ago.

I can’t add much to this excellent report by Doug Chapin at the Program for Excellence in Election Administration.

I will out myself as Geek #1, but I suspect my friends in the community know this already. The demographics on the military were as of 2008, and were obtained from a slide presentation from the Defense Manpower Data Center.

The comments about income and region were drawn from a project I worked on with the Triangle Institute for Security Studies that compared demographic and attitudinal profiles of the rank and file, officers, and civilians, the results of which appeared in a number of publications including Soldiers and Civilians: The Civil-Military Gap and American National Security. The surveys were administered from 1998-9, but I have not heard anything to indicate that the recruitment and volunteer patterns have changed substantially since.

Finally, the comment about the relationship between serving in a hierarchical organization which stresses the importance of voting (as well as providing voting assistance officers) and the possibility that members of the military might participate at higher rates than their demographic and income profiles would predict is admittedly speculative. I based my comments on extensive research on military sociologists, such as the late Charles Moskos, as well as a preliminary but intriguing pattern I found in vote validation studies conducted by the National Election Studies. While the total number of military respondents in the survey is small, there is a statistically significantly greater propensity to over report being registered (10% difference) and to over report turnout (17% difference).

What this means is, to take one example, in the 2008 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, 89% of the general public who said they voted were validated as having voted, compared to 73% of the military. These findings are preliminary because there were only 51 military respondents in the CCES, and I suspect (but do not know) that all were stationed in the US. (The CCES survey is publicly available here.)

A natural experiment may be occurring in Santa Barbara.  The City Council approved an all vote by mail election for the council election (to save money), which pits three conservative councillors against seven challengers.

The ballot envelopes are postage paid which should increase turnout. County officials are hoping for an increase in turnout from 2009, which they report was “nearly half of registered voters.”

The city clerk’s elections website is here but it’s not clear if ballot envelopes included postage in 2009 (hence no change in 2011).

Advocacy groups are reporting that county residents remain confused about whether they will receive an absentee ballot application automatically.

Plain Dealer story is here.

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

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