A story in the San Jose Mercury News has the seemingly odd title: “Snail Mail the solution to slow Silicon Valley vote totals?”
And it is an odd story–the reporter is trying to get at a point but has botched it pretty badly under some inaccurate quotes and incomplete understanding about the technology of processing mail ballots and peculiarities of California election law.
Let’s start with the quote, about voting by mail and turnout. I’m not quite sure if Tony Green, chief spokesperson for Secretary of State Kate Brown, said what the reporter said he said–the one sentence lead in just doesn’t jibe with Tony’s quote:
Advocates say all-mail elections boost turnout while avoiding the equipment and personnel costs of traditional polling places.
“Oregon had the highest turnout of any state in the country in November,” said Tony Green, spokesman for that state’s elections office. He said they usually have very strong turnouts that are credited to the ease of voting by mail. “You have mailing costs, but significantly lower personnel costs.”
The quote is all about mailing costs and personnel–but there is that (accurate) statement that Oregon had the highest turnout of any state in 2014. Is this attributable to voting by mail? If it is, that would be something of a surprise, since I have shown in numerous places (most recently here with my colleague Peter Miller) that voting by mail makes a slight contribution to Oregon’s turnout rate–at best a few percentage points.
Oregon’s demographics are what mainly contribute to it being a high turnout state. I haven’t look in detail at the 2014 data, but I’d be very surprised if the comparatively high turnout in 2014 was because Oregon comparatively has lower percentages of those groups (notably African Americans and Latinos) who turned out at comparatively lower rates in 2014.
In addition, Oregon had a number of high profile ballot initiatives, into which outside donors sank tens of millions of dollars that smashed previous records for such spending.
I’ve had great interactions with Tony, as I’ve had with all of the election officials in Oregon, but the more accurate statement would be that VBM has led to clean registration rolls, lower costs, and high levels of voter satisfaction, even if it does not translate into substantial increases in turnout, at least in federal contests.
But the real gist of the story in the Merc has to do with how ballots are cast and counted in California. California has a very liberal set of balloting procedures, put in place so that no citizen is disenfranchised just because they happen to drop a ballot at the wrong precinct, or drop an absentee ballot at the precinct place, and now even if they mail the ballot by election day (rather than delivering it by election day).
(Kim Alexander of the California Voting Foundation details the various procedures in this extensive report.)
The main reason that California has a slow count is that a) millions of California voters hand deliver their absentee ballots to the precinct place on election day. These ballots are not read through the optical scanner at the precinct place–they can’t because the signatures need to be verified, the ballots need to be separated from the ballot envelope, the ballots need to be inspected (and potentially “remade” or “remarked”–and this can only be done under the scrutiny of an elections board), and, finally, the ballots can be counted.
The technology referred to by the reporter, in place in King County, WA, can not speed up the tallying of ballots in the Valley if and until California were to go fully by mail. The reason Washington, and Oregon, and Colorado, and other fully vote by mail states can process their mail ballots quickly is because all counting is done at the central office.
There are not tens of thousands of precinct places with millions of unprocessed vote by mail ballots accumulating in “red bags,” waiting to be delivered to the county offices after polls close.
All in all, the story is a mish mash. “Snail mail” really has little to do with the question of the slow count, and vote by mail won’t solve California’s slow count unless they get rid of precinct place voting altogether. I don’t see that on the horizon.
Sec’y of State Tom Schedler encourages voters to cast an early ballot: http://www.theadvertiser.com/story/news/local/louisiana/2014/11/21/know-early-voting-starts-saturday/19353791/
State Rep. Marcus Hunter claims that the early voting period needs to be extended because of Thanksgiving. http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/politics/2014/11/21/early-voting-runoff-election-begins-saturday/19350131/
Landrieu marching in an early voting rally: http://www.ksla.com/story/27459110/landrieu-kicks-off-early-voting-period-by-marching-with-voters
Another rally in Monroe, LA: http://www.myarklamiss.com/story/d/story/la-dems-hold-voting-rally/40289/sejB5OWYdk-ecIwmnLVSVA
Electionline has a great story on “vote shaming” and how some are reacting to the tactic. Christopher Mann, Assistant Professor of Communication and Political Science at LSU is prominently quoted in the story and does a good job explaining the academic research the underlies the technique.
Self promotion alert.
Here is a story profiling my distinguished chaired visiting professorship at Appalachian State University.
A set of companion bills (HB111, SB84) have been introduced in the Texas legislature that would allow for same-day registration during the period of early voting (SB84 looks like it is an attempt to institute same day registration for early and election day voting).
This has always struck me as an easy lift. At a recent conference, Charles Stewart referred to the “two percent rule,” indicating that most election reforms would result in, at best, a 2% change in turnout. I agree with Charles except for same day registration; we have lots of evidence that this reform results in a larger and consistently positive boost in turnout.
And since the same day registration occurs during early voting, there is no issue with jurisdictions not having enough time, staff, or resources on election day to make sure the registration is valid.
These may have no chance in the legislature, but it’s nice to see the debates occurring.
A number of changes in California law should result in more ballots being counted because voters have a few more days to return the ballots, and election officials have a few more days to resolve any outstanding issues with signatures.
But this will surely slow the count in California as officials process vote by mail ballots.
We undertake a comprehensive examination of restrictive voter ID legislation in the American states from 2001 through 2012. With a dataset containing approximately one thousand introduced and nearly one hundred adopted voter ID laws, we evaluate the likelihood that a state legislature introduces a restrictive voter ID bill, as well as the likelihood that a state government adopts such a law. Voter ID laws have evolved from a valence issue into a partisan battle, where Republicans defend them as a safeguard against fraud while Democrats indict them as a mechanism of voter suppression. However, voter ID legislation is not uniform across the states; not all Republican-controlled legislatures have pushed for more restrictive voter ID laws. Instead, our findings show it is a combination of partisan control and the electoral context that drives enactment of such measures. While the prevalence of Republican lawmakers strongly and positively influences the adoption of voter ID laws in electorally competitive states, its effect is significantly weaker in electorally uncompetitive states. Republicans preside over an electoral coalition that is declining in size; where elections are competitive, the furtherance of restrictive voter ID laws is a means of maintaining Republican support while curtailing Democratic electoral gains.
Jacob Canter and I are working on a longer post summarizing the various and sundry details of the college voting controversy that roiled the Appalachian State University campus, Boone, and Watauga County NC.
A quick map, courtesy of the NY Times, captures the partisan nature of the controversy pretty well. Three precincts in Boone city proper contain most of the ASU college students. And these precincts are pockets of blue in a red county.
A great new site with an unfortunate name, “HackOregon” (message to 20 somethings, not all end users view “hacking” as a positive), provides assorted visualizations of campaign spending in Oregon, using information available from Orestar.
The most revealing thing to me is the fact that ALL the initiative and referendum campaigns rely on substantial donations from out of state donors and from very wealthy individuals. Nearly every campaign ad I’ve seen this year charges that “outsiders” and “billionaires” are influencing Oregon elections. Welcome to the post Citizens United / McCutcheon world of campaign finance!
The site could use some improvement in the search mechanism; right now you have to know what (phony) name is being used by many committees in order to search for their spending. For example, search on “Measure 89” or “Measure 90” and you only get one or another of the campaigns.
Very nice visualizations!