I was at a meeting in Austin this weekend for a series of Pew initiatives, and the costs of elections remained a regular point of discussion.  Thus, this story from Walton, GA caught my eye.  The Board of Elections apparently told the County commissioners that they could produce a faster count, but only at the cost of paying to have staff “sequestered” to start counting absentee ballots before the polls close.

This is a point I’ve raised many times before–it is possible to have a speedier count and have no-excuse absentee ballots, but it requires a jurisdiction to begin processing those ballots as they arrive, and not wait until election day (or election night).  Save such procedures (and costs), a slower count is unavoidable. 

The losing candidate in California’s 11th congressional district is charging that mishandled vote by mail ballots caused him to lose the race.

The challenge partially turns on the rules governing witness challenges to signature verification. The losing candidate claims that campaign volunteers should have been able to challenge signatures.

Two registrars, including Steve Weir of Contra Costa, who has previously served as head of the county clerk’s association, respond that challenges are only valid if a) voters have falsified their identities or b) staff are not following proper procedures.

Full story in the Lodi News-Sentinel. 

We’re delighted to announce that EVIC Director Paul Gronke is taking over from Dan Lowenstein and Rick Hasen as co-editor at the Election Law Journal. He will sharing these duties with Daniel Tokaji, Professor of Law at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law.

The full announcement, also found in the next issue of the Journal, is attached.

This month’s Canvass on election counts, including quotes from yours truly! 

A story in today’s Arizona Daily Star was brought to my attention today by some colleagues.  The money quote is here:

Of the 1.7 million ballots cast, nearly 300,000 were early ballots that weren’t early after all, but folks dropping them off in unprecedented numbers at their polling places, which then triggered a new round of verification to make sure the ballots were authentic. There were another 84,000 provisional ballots that had some problems with registration or identification.

These strike me as really big numbers: 17% of ALL ballots in AZ were no-excuse ballots that dropped off at a precinct place on election day?

More than half of Arizonans cast early ballots, so this translates into at least 35% of no-excuse ballots dropped off at a precinct place on election day, a number that is a low estimate since it divides the no-excuse ballots by ALL early votes, including early in person (the SoS website does not discriminate between the two modes).

These would be shockingly high figures, if they were right. In comparison, Los Angeles County reported to me that 14.9% of all no-excuse absentee ballots cast in 2008 were dropped off at a precinct place on election day, and those ballots constituted 3.6% of the total ballots cast. As I have reported in the past, 15%-30% of ballots in Oregon are hand-delivered (or arrive through the mail) at county offices or a library drop box on election day, but these are not local precinct polling places.

A bit of detective work has revealed that the story cannot possibly be accurate, unless there has been a massive population shift in Arizona and Maricopa no longer constitutes more than half the state.

According to Maricopa, they sent out 866,440 no-excuse ballots and the return rate was 77% (approximately 667,000 returned). Of the 665,065, 117129 were returned to a polling place on election day, or 17.6%, a figure similar to what Los Angeles County experiences.

That leaves less than 400,000 additional early votes cast in the state, according to the SoS office.  It just doesn’t seem realistic that over half of those were no-excuse ballots returned on election day.

Why does this matter? It does for two reasons.

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This story in the Corvallis Gazette Times caught my eye.  State Sen. Frank Morse wants to ban third party delivery of ballots. 

This time in Ashland, OR:

 http://blog.oregonlive.com/mapesonpolitics/2010/11/late_surge_of_ashland_votes_tu.html

The lesson?  Never count your votes until the votes are counted.  And “early” early voters are very likely to be very different from “late” early voters.

We knew it would not take long for a candidate to claim a final surge missed by early voters.

Florida 2008 PPP, Early In-PersonFlorida 2010 General, Early In-Person Votes

Comparisons between rates of early voting in different election cycles are fraught with peril – in general, it’s important to compare this year to past midterm elections. That said, looking at the 2010 and 2008 numbers in Florida reveals a pretty impressive showing for Republicans.

Democratic voters are far below their 2008 turnout rate, which is precisely what we’d expect for a midterm election. The Republican rate, however, is not far off that of the 2008 presidential election!

These are just early in-person data*, but this makes the strong Republican turnout even more remarkable: Typically, Democrats take advantage of early in-person voting at much higher rates.

*Absentee-by-mail returns, which account for around 50% of Florida’s early voting, are restricted to political parties.

Michael McDonald has published his pre-election forecast of early vote at 28% of the total vote.

This strikes me as far too low; early voting constituted 15% in 2000, 20% in 2002, 22% in 2004, 25% in 2006, and 33% in 2008. It strikes me as very unlikely that the percent of ballots cast early would decline so substantially from 2008, even with the noted enthusiasm gap among Democrats.

I’ll similarly stick out my neck and project the percent of early ballots at 33%, the same as in 2008.

I think I see where Michael is getting his estimate – he shows approximately 18 million early ballots thus far (although there are some noticeable gaps in state reporting, and we don’t have the hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots in CA that will be dropped off today), and is comparing that to his overall turnout estimate of 40 million.

Michael and I differ on two points.  First, he still reports on his webpage the early voting totals in 2008 as 30%, relying on the CPS. I think the much more reliable AP numbers peg the percent of early vote as 32.6%  Second, I think he is projecting a decline in percent voting early, as witnessed from 2004 to 2006.  I suspect to see less of a drop, as a few more states adopted relaxed early voting laws, and as many more Americans got used to voting early in 2008.

Unfortunately, Michael and I were never able to settle this bet in 2008 because of the lack of reliable data on early votes. Hopefully, he can buy my that bottle of whiskey in 2010!   

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