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!

Rob Richie and I have been arguing for the use of ranked choice ballots for overseas voters, and potentially all absentee voters, in the presidential primary process. Our concern is that candidates who have withdrawn from the race remain on those absentee ballots, and overseas voters in particular have to mail their ballots back without realizing that some candidates have withdrawn.

The recent Ohio primary provides only mixed support. While we don’t have information on when the absentee ballot were returned, it does appear that Perry and Huntsman received a larger percentage of their votes on absentee ballots. Still, there are obviously a lot of election day voters who cast a ballot for one of these two candidates.

It might be interesting to observe “non running” candidates as a measure of voter dissatisfaction with the current crop of candidates. Nice dissertation topic? I’ve never seen anyone do this analysis before.

Cuyahoga Co., OH, 2012 PPP

Apologies to our regular readers for my absence for a few weeks. I’m back to update you on all things early voting.

Some of you may have seen an editorial in Roll Call that Rob Richie and I authored, arguing for ranked-choice voting in presidential primaries for overseas absentee ballots. If anyone has reactions, I’d love to hear them. I think this is a great idea, and I’m pondering whether I should work with Rich to push this more systematically in a few states for 2016.

Voting reform is pushing ahead in Connecticut. It looks like online voting registration–an initiative of the Pew Center on the States--will be put in place. The legislature may also relax no-excuse absentee voting requirements. This means my standing comment in powerpoint presentations about the Northeast may need to be amended!

Early voting rates in Ohio seem to be lagging behind 2008. Some local officials speculate that it may because of a fear that candidates will drop out, but I don’t find that particularly convincing. None of the leading four candidates is showing any signs of withdrawing at this point. As Mike Alvarez has argued in his book, it is probably because voters remain uncertain and candidate support is fluid in the Buckeye State.

Another Ohio controversy is brewing over changes to the period for early voting.

Another county’s results are plotted below, and while it’s too soon to assume a lot from just two counties, there is still a lot of election day votes cast for Cain, as a proportion of his total. Perry, Bachmann, and Huntsman look more like I’d have expected.

Miami-Dade, by mode of balloting

Interesting breakdowns of the vote totals by mode of balloting in Duval County, FL. Gingrich and Romney performed about the same in early, absentee, and election voting. Perry got a lot more absentee votes, no surprise there. As to Herman Cain? Most of his votes in Duval came on election day!

Choice Polling Absentee Early Voting Provisional Unscanned Total Percent
Michele Bachmann 43 155 8 0 0 206 0.24%
Herman Cain 119 74 31 0 0 224 0.26%
Newt Gingrich 23,005 5,433 5,307 0 0 33,745 38.72%
Jon Huntsman 54 133 12 0 0 199 0.23%
Gary Johnson 14 24 7 0 0 45 0.05%
Ron Paul 3,821 1,206 662 0 0 5,689 6.53%
Rick Perry 79 234 17 0 0 330 0.38%
Mitt Romney 21,641 7,558 5,926 0 0 35,125 40.31%
Rick Santorum 8,388 1,683 1,509 0 0 11,580 13.29%

As the campaign turns to Florida, absentee and early in person voting will be the lede for the next few days.

As those of you who follow this area know, tracking early ballots in Florida is a frustrating exercise (both Michael McDonald and I have written about this in the past).

The state makes freely available at the state website detailed early in person returns including individual vote reports. This is what allowed us to post turnout rates by race, age, etc in previous elections.

No-excuse returns, however, remain restricted to campaigns and candidates, and there is no good reason why. In the past, I’ve been told that this is because of concerns over election day crime – after all, if you knew the address of someone who’d voted absentee, you could rob them on election day. Wait, I respond, you now have no-excuse absentee voting…

All my posts recently about no-excuse absentee ballots in Florida have relied in news reports and analysis of the Miami-Dade returns. Miami-Dade, Orange, and Pinellas all make their data easily accessible. Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, and Duval lag behind.

Early in-person File Location Current turnout
Statewide Florida DoE 36,912
Absentee
Statewide Not available
Miami-Dade Miami Dade Elections Main Page 47,108
Broward Can’t find it
Palm Beach Can’t find it
Hillsborough Can’t find it
Orange Orange County elections 9,251
Pinellas Current elections page 41,230
Duval Can’t find it

I recognize the time pressures operating on local elections officials and I’m not trying to make more work for them. The frustrating thing is that the data are readily accessible at the state elections website, you just can’t get in to see them. And the local counties generate daily reports, some simply don’t post them.

Why does this matter? It matters to anyone who is trying to follow the election, report on the election, and mobilize citizens to participate in the election. For example, what does it mean when 41,230 absentee ballots have been returned in Pinellas and 47,108 in Miami-Dade, which is 2.5 times larger? (By the way, there are 220,024 registered Republicans in Pinellas and 367,298 in Miami-Dade, so it’s not all a difference of partisanship.)

Keeping this gate closed only benefits well-funded parties and candidates, and there isn’t any clear legal justification for embargoing the the information.

On the positive side, the names of the files follow regular patterns, so someone with more staff and programming skills than me could unpack these files (mainly PDFs) on a daily basis and track the returns.

Georgians begin no-excuse balloting today for the March 6 primary.  There are nine candidates on the ballot.

I’ve blogged a few times about the unanticipated infrastructure demands created by early voting. Most elections offices are designed to handle a few hundred citizens with questions about registration or disabled citizens needing use special access machines, not thousands or tens of thousands of voters showing up to cast a ballot.

This story from Jackson County, MO, just outside of Kansas City, illustrates the problem.

Five election dates, new legislative districts thanks to the 2010 census and even seemingly simple things like generating new notification cards for every registered voter. And the November ballot – with a presidential race, several statewide races and initiatives, state legislative contests and possibly local ballot issues – is expected to be long.

The Democratic director of the board, Bob Nichols, noted “We had people lined up outside and in our office.” Tammy Brown, Nichols’s Republican counterpart, added “It is a crazy year.”

Adapt or die, as my colleague Doug Chapin often notes, and in this case, adaptation was easy. The story doesn’t note who saw the empty storefront across the street, but the Board has rented it, and just like that, more space for voting, shorter lines, and less stress on the elections staff.