Paul Gronke, Director of EVIC, was quoted in the New York Times today on the potential problems with a top-two primary system in California.

There have been accusations of absentee vote fraud in Lincoln County, WV, when 75% of absentee ballots that were requested were returned, and 90% of those favored one group of candidates.

The response of county officials is not encouraging:

“Our office encouraged every voter to participate in the democratic process, whether it be early voting at the courthouse, at local voting precincts or absentee voting,” Scraggs read from the statement. “An increase in any of the options is an encouraging sign that the democratic process is alive and well.

“Therefore, who would think that having more people vote is a bad thing?” Scraggs read.

This is a wonderful example of how election forensics can detect likely election fraud.  While the technology is complicated (see Walter Mebane’s papers and Alvarez, Hall, and Hyde’s book), the intuition behind the statistics is simple.

In short, 75% absentee ballot return is not “high” or “low” unless you compare it to some standard.  The problem is that it’s impossible to discover absentee ballot return rates from the state’s website.  Since overall turnout was juist 42.99% in 2008, however, that 75% return rate does seem high (keep in mind that absentee voters have actively requested a ballot, already indicating their preference for voting).

As to the totals for one faction vs. the other, the county elections website shows no vote totals at all for 2008!  This makes judging the 2010 results a bit sketchy. 

Data = transparency!

From Stateline, Kat Zambon has a piece noting the efforts by some local election officials to help voters cast their ballots through innovation and new technology.

She focuses particularly on developments in early voting:

Some 32 states now allow people to vote early, and 29 allow people to vote absentee for any reason — so called “no excuse” laws that are tailored exclusively to voters’ convenience. Iowa is making it possible for absentee voters to track their ballots like a FedEx package. And in Oregon, which also has a primary election today, all ballots now are cast through the mail. (Today is merely the day that ballots mailed in over the past few weeks are to be counted.)

The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has proposed a set of draft regulations that would encourage widespread development of internet voting capabilities for the first time. Responding to requirement of the MOVE Act (2009), the EAC aims to reduce the number of UOCAVA voters whose ballots go uncounted due to “distance and unreliable mail service.” From the NYT:

Nearly three million overseas and military voters from at least 33 states will be permitted to cast ballots over the Internet in November using e-mail or fax, in part because of new regulations proposed last month by the federal agency that oversees voting.

The move comes as state and federal election officials are trying to find faster ways to handle the ballots of these voters, which often go uncounted in elections because of distance and unreliable mail service.

A longer commentary will follow on Monday.  For now, the story is below.  Wyden and other senators introduced a bill this week that would make it easier for states to adopt VBM and no-excuse absentee voting, citing turnout boosts and cost savings.

Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen has criticized new provisions in a bill moving through the legislature, arguing that making voter registration automatic when citizens establish or change a drivers license opens the system up to fraud.  By not requiring citizens to sign a form confirming their information, Van Hollen says the bill will “create many problems.”

I may be missing something, but I’m not sure how having voter registration information match the information on a drivers license is an invitation to fraud.

A judge in Cameron County, TX (Brownsville) has impounded ballots in anticipation of a potential contested election. Some poll watchers charged that the signatures on absentee applications did not match the envelopes.

This is not all about absentee voting, however. One campaign charged the precinct place ballot boxes were left unsealed at the end of election day.

The final tally was 2159 to 2110.

Paul Gronke delivered a presentation at the conference of the National Association of Secretaries of States, entitled “The Secretary of State’s Guidebook to the Early Voting Obstacle Course.” We’ve made available both the Powerpoint presentation he used, and a PDF copy of the handout.

Oregon has been entirely vote-by-mail for nearly 10 years (even longer for non-federal elections). Voters can return their ballots in the mail, or they can drop them at elections offices and special ballot drop boxes located around the state. Over at Election Updates, EVIC’s Paul Gronke postulated that the particularly high number of late ballot returns in this election—36% in the last two days—could have been the cause of delayed counting in Oregon (particularly Multnomah County).

Ballot return trends over the past decade, however, don’t appear to support this theory. We know from past experience that many voters hold on to their ballots until election day; they have done so since the inception of vote-by-mail. The graph on the left shows the raw numbers of ballots returned in the last two days (this includes election day). The right graph shows the same as a percentage of total ballot returns. Clearly, the sheer volume of returns is not unprecedented—every general election, bar 2004, has had a high rate of late returns. I’ll see if I can track down some Multnomah-specific data to see if the county differed from the statewide pattern.

EVIC Director Professor Paul Gronke recently discussed the increasing popularity of early voting with Robert Siegel on All Things Considered.

You can hear the interview at NPR’s website.

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