In a recent editorial, the Oregonian asserted that more citizens are choosing to wait to turn in their ballots until Election Day. The piece claims that this behavior reveals a sort of synthesis of the pro- and anti-mail ballot arguments rolled into one: Election Day traditions are able to survive even while no one is forced to follow them.

This is a nice idea, and I have no doubt there are still quite a few citizens who vote on Election Day because that’s how their parents did it. But the data just does not support the claim that more citizens are suddenly beginning to realize the value (whether it be intrinsic—as the article asserts—or perhaps even utilitarian) of last-day voting.

Here is a graph showing the number of ballots casted on Election Day in Oregon elections from 2000-2010, as a percentage of total ballots submitted:

Percentage of Ballots Returned on Final Day of Voting

(Data found at: Oregon Secretary of State.)

Since 2000, the level of last-day voting has decreased a few times, but has regularly hovered around 25%. It is not that I think the Oregonian is plain wrong—I have no reason to doubt that a portion of the individuals voting on Election Day do so because their parents did the same—but these numbers do not reveal any sort of aggregate chance in behavior.

Notice much change? It is not that I think the Oregonian is utterly false—the 20-odd % that still chooses to vote on election day can make those decisions for whatever reason they want—but there is no trend in the last 10 years that seems to show Oregon citizens as changing their behavior in any aggregate way.

Now, the Oregonian may have a hunch about this new trend, but it will take additional research and evidence to convince me otherwise.

BTW – this post is not written by your regularly EVIC blogger, Paul. My name is Jacob Canter, and I’m the new RA for Paul. I’ll be adding to the blog every so often, hopefully providing something interesting to look at and think about. Feel free to ask questions and requests posts in the future.

I found absentee ballot counts in Dane County, WI but I don’t have the energy to search all the other townships and counties in the state.  There are  lots of reports of heavy absentee voting in the recall election, which could be a result of mobilization efforts, or could mean that Wisconsin voters have made up their minds, or both.

It would be nice if the Govt Accountability Board posted something on their website.   The recall election page is here but there are no returns.

Candidate Support by Result Reports, Portland Mayors Race

(Graphic courtesy of Kari Chisholm, BlueOregon.com).

I have noted in the past that a substantial percentage of Oregon ballots are hand delivered by voters to county offices or satellite drop boxes on election day.

The state’s major paper, the Oregonian, seems to have finally taken note of this trend, likely because in the most recent mayoral contest, the first returns were based primarily on “by mail” ballots while the final returns included ballots dropped off on election day.  The results were quite different.  Early returns indicated that Charlie Hales was ahead by as many as 10 points over Jefferson Smith, while the final returns showed them apart by only 4.4% (37.2% to 32.9%).

Final returns are here and the hour by hour reports are here (scroll down to view reports 1-10).

There has been some local speculation about what this indicates about who supports Smith (young voters?  late deciders?) and how his GOTV operation worked.

What’s interesting to me as a scholar of early voting, however, is what this shows about the voting by mail system.  Observers who are less knowledgable about VBM describe the system as if every ballot came through the postal service, but election officials in Oregon, Washington, California, and other states know that a significant number of “by mail” voters still hold their ballot until the end and deliver it “in person” on election day.

I appreciated Doug Chapin’s posting about David Kimball (FULL professor now, folks) and Brady Baybeck’s paper titled “Size Matters in Election Administration“, presented at OSU Moritz School of Law’s “HAVA at 10” conference.

I’ll leave you to Doug’s posting for the nitty gritty, but I wanted to add an important thought for anyone who does comparative election study in the United States: because “size matters” so much in the U.S., a lot of other things matter as well, and it’s vital to take them all into account. It may be the case that large jurisdictions face different problems than small jurisdictions.

But it’s not enough to just show that large jurisdictions process, for example, 89% of the provisional ballots cast in the U.S., because large jurisdictions also 63% of the voters.  It’s the difference between the two–89%-63%–that is the quantity of interest. Furthermore, it may not be “size” that matters, but other things that covary with size: number of lower income voters, number of Latino voters, or the number of mobile voters.

My first takeaway from Kimball and Baybeck was: excellent first take at the disparate situation faced by jurisdictions in the U.S.

And my second takeaway was:  someone out there needs to connect the characteristics of LEO’s, jurisdictions, states, and citizens to really help disentangle these effects.  This is a great next project for some enterprising graduate student at CalTech, MIT, University of Maryland, Ohio State, University of Minnesota, University of Utah, or University of Missouri-St Louis (to name a few of the usual suspects!).

As reported in today’ Helena Record.

I’m not clear whether or not this race is competitive for the GOP, but if any have a good chance to be the next SoS of Montana, I hope they will look closely at the empirical evidence on SDR/EDR, vote by mail, voter turnout and vote fraud.

There are good reasons to oppose voting my mail–it removes ballots from the hands of government officials, it lengthens the voting period, it increases voter error (overvotes and undervotes).  While the amount of voter fraud is miniscule, it’s also the case that most notable cases of fraud are associated with absentee ballots.  However, states with VBM have experienced almost no fraud, have very high voter turnout, and lots of citizen engagement in elections.

I can see no reason for the candidates to oppose same day registration, which has been consistently shown to be cost effective and consistently shows a substantial positive impact on voter turnout.  There is no evidence of a partisan advantage to same day registration.  All this information comes from the Nat’l Conference on State Legislatures, as about a non-partisan source on these matters as one would want: http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/same-day-registration.aspx

Volume 15, Issue 2 of the NYU Journal of Legislation and Public Policy has some interesting articles on Citizens United and election law.  You can peruse the volume here: http://www.law.nyu.edu/journals/legislation/issues/Volume15Number2/index.htm

I just attended a panel with Laura Stephenson and Andre Blais, two of the primary investigators for the “Making Electoral Democracy Work” project on comparative campaigns, voting,and elections.  There is an election administration component to their project, although the depth of research in that area is not yet clear.

This is a website and project to monitor for the future.

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/

Recent stories on the uber-hip SXSW have mentioned the Obama campaign’s use of “big data” analytics and how other campaigns are setting up similar operations for 2012.

The GOP has also learned from Obama’s successful effort to recruit early voters. A nice story in the National Review focuses on Mitt Romney’s success in “banking” the early voters, mainly absentee by mail voters. Romney will surely continue this effort in the general election, assuming he’s the nominee.

Thanks to James Hicks, my longtime programmer and soon to be successful litigator out of Boalt Hall, for updating earlyvoting.net!