The first paper, “The Problems of Minimal Support: Considerations for an Establishment Survey of Local Election Officials”, is co-authored by Jay Lee and Paul Gronke.

Here is the abstract (click https://blogs.reed.edu/earlyvoting/spsa_sampling_paper/ to view the full paper).

In this paper, we provide evidence to support the use of a specific sampling algorithm for drawing random samples of local election officials (LEOs) in the United States, using the sampling package in the R statistical package. The paper is part of a larger project that examines the backgrounds, professional orientations, and opinions of LEOs in order to better characterize their role as “stewards of democracy.” The enormous diversity of local jurisdictions and the hyperfederalized institutional structure of American elections combine to create methodological challenges to drawing a random sample that allows generalizations both about LEOs and also about the American voting experience. The paper explores the statistical foundations of a number of unequal inclusion probability sampling methods implemented in the sampling package. We show using simulations that the extremely skewed distribution of jurisdictions (by population size) causes anomalies in the sampling method, resulting in overly variant samples and extreme values for sampling weight when using the minimal support sampling algorithn. We further show that the “random systematic” sampling method is superior, resulting in lower variance estimates, and is just as easy to implement as “minimal support”.

The second paper, “Staffing the Stewards of Democracy: the Demographic and Professional Profile of America’s Local Election Officials”, is co-authored by Paul Manson, Natalie Adona, and Paul Gronke.

Here is the abstract (click https://blogs.reed.edu/earlyvoting/staffing-the-stewards/ to view the full paper):

Drawing on the results of two national surveys of local election officials (LEOs) in 2018 and 2019, we explore the demographic and professional profile of America’s “stewards of democracy” and compare our data to other surveys of the local bureaucracy and civil service. Our demographic findings are consistent with prior surveys of LEOs, in which we find that the typical LEO in the United States is female, white, over 55, and earns just over $50,000 a year. We are interested in comparing the demographic profile of the typical LEO to other local officials and government employees. We want to understand if there is something unique about election administration that leads females to advance to leadership positions, and in many cases, choose to run for office, in order serve as the local official administer- ing elections and supporting our democratic system. We compare our results with employment data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as a first step into answering these questions as well as exploring larger questions of representative bureaucracy. We also offer a first look at LEO job satisfaction and data that provide a glimpse into how people enter into the profession of election administration.

I’m following news coverage of the first election with early voting in New York State. I’ve been studying early voting for over fifteen years, and have dealt with a lot of journalists over time. It’s a learning experience for journalists new to the early voting “beat”.

One pattern that we see in almost every state is that older voters gravitate toward early voting (though this pattern typically changes as the system matures, as voters and campaigns adapt to early voting).

But otherwise, these first patterns are always fascinating. The linked story is from Erie County, NY does a nice job unpacking why elderly voters are so heavily represented among the early vote.

First, it looks like most early voting centers were places in senior citizen homes and community centers. And voter response is predictably high among those who frequent these locations.

Second, it’s a low profile election, and these are typically dominated by frequent voters, and elderly voters are far more likely to be frequent voters.

Good job, Buffalo NPR, WPFO!

There’s a good story at 538.com by Nathaniel Rakich on the turnout effects of automatic voter registration. He does a good job identifying the boundaries of the potential effects, and is sensitive to the difficult problem of identifying the counter-factual.

Gronke quote about behavioral economics and opt-in / opt-out implementation:

And then there’s the behavioral economics of it all. Reed College professor Paul Gronke told FiveThirtyEight that social science research has generally found that an opt-out system (like AVR) is more effective than an opt-in one (like having to actively register yourself).

The research continues!

Early Voting and the Iowa Caucus: Can They Coexist?

A great article in Salon by the always insightful Steven Rosenfeld illustrates the difficulties of implementing national party mandates for a fully inclusive primary system while retaining the unique in-person and face to face features of the Iowa caucus.

The immediate takeaway from the article is that the phone-based system for “virtual voting” that was proposed in Iowa and Nevada has severe security risks, and it’s been abandoned. The bigger question, it seems to me, is whether or not requiring absentee (and presumably early) voting in Iowa will fundamentally alter the dynamics of this contest, with reverberations down the line in our sequential nominating process.

In Why Iowa, Professors David Redlawsk, Caroline Tolbert, and Todd Donovan provide a full-throated defense of Iowa’s first in the nation caucus. Two parts of their argument are distinct from caucus rules–they defend a sequential process and Iowa’s position in that process.

The bulk of the book, however, focuses on the caucus itself, and how the caucus rules; public learning, information, deliberation and participation levels; and media coverage are unique to the caucus.

From an election administration and electoral process perspective, it’s not clear to me that a requirement for some kind of “absentee voting” can be squared with the caucus as it is currently designed.

It seems to me–and Dave, Caroline, and Todd will surely correct me if I’m wrong–that their argument about the merits of the Iowa caucus is largely one driven by locality and place. You need to be in Iowa, experiencing the candidate visits, canvassing, media scrutiny, and engaging in conversations with your fellow citizens. We may cynically dismiss the role of face to face politics in this day and age, but their results show that face to face politics really matters in Iowa.

How can one participate in a caucus if the ballot is cast by phone or over the internet, weeks before the event? Isn’t this fundamentally a different kind of voting?

We might have had an answer in 2020 (yay research!) but for now, virtual voting in Iowa looks like it’s not in the cards.

By Ellen Seljan, Paul Gronke, and Matthew Yancheff.

Abstract:
Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) systems register to vote all eligible individuals who transact with proscribed government agencies, most commonly the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMVs). Many individuals interact with the DMV due to the need to renew their drivers’ licenses. Because licences expire on birthdays, an individual’s birth date can be used as an exogenous reason why some individuals are registered to vote in time for an election, whereas others are not. Our analysis compares registration and voting rates for individuals with birth dates prior and subsequent to the voter registration deadline. After calculating a causal effect of AVR on turnout at the individual level, we extrapolate this effect to the overall effect of AVR on total voter turnout by state.

Download the paper here.