Hot off the presses! https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/avr-impact-state-voter-registration
We are nearing a final release of the 2018 Democracy Fund / Reed College Local Election Official survey. Our current discussion is all about the “bins”. In other words, what is the best way to categorize local election officials, and by implication local election jurisdictions, so as to provide some meaningful categories for comparison but not lump together very disparate locations.
There’s no magic formula for making this choice, as David Kimball and Brady Baybeck showed so effectively in the 2013 Election Law Journal article,”Are All Jurisdictions Equal? Size Disparity in Election Administration.” As of 2008, Kimball and Baybeck showed how the population of local election officials is dominated by small jurisdictions, yet the majority of registered voters live in larger jurisdictions (see Figures 1 and 2, reproduced from their article).
Kimball and Baybeck chose to report their results by “small”, “medium”, and “large” as shown in the figures, because they argued these categories reflected fundamental distinctions in the nature of election administration:
To simplify some of the analyses that follow, we divide the universe of local jurisdictions into three size categories: small (serving less than 1,000 voters), medium (serving between 1,000 and 50,000 voters), and large jurisdictions (serving more than 50,000 voters). We chose 1,000 voters as one divid- ing line because jurisdictions with fewer than 1,000 voters are generally small towns that have no more than a couple of polling places and a handful of poll workers. We expect these jurisdictions to have a different election administration experience than larger jurisdictions. In addition, roughly one-third of the jurisdictions served less than 1,000 voters in recent presidential elections, so this serves as a natural break in the data.
We chose 50,000 voters as the other dividing line because jurisdictions serving more than 50,000 vot- ers tend to be in densely populated metropolitan areas with a large central city. Thus, the largest jurisdictions have different infrastructure and transportation networks than the medium-sized jurisdictions, which are mostly rural and exurban counties. Together, these dimensions characterize what we define as small, medium, and large jurisdictions in a variety of analyses below. The smallest jurisdictions are primarily in the upper Midwest and New England, with a smaller number in the Plains. Large jurisdictions are concentrated in the major metropolitan centers of the United States.
Our 2018 distributions look quite similar to what David and Brady found. Below, we’ve reproduced histograms displays of jurisdictions, first counties and then townships, by populations of registered voters. Most notable is how very many local election officials serve in townships in the United States (predominantly in Michigan, Wisconsin, and in New England) yet how very few (comparatively) voters there are in those jurisdictions (note that we have excluded jurisdictions that serve 100,000 or more registered voters, for the purposes of making the display readable–those jurisdictions administer elections for 35% of all registered voters).
While the final report is not yet complete (coming attractions!), we have tentatively decided to split the difference, in hopefully what is an instructive and not Solomonic division.
We will report our results in these bins:
- 0-5,000 registered voters. These jurisdictions comprise 25% of our LEO respondents and 2.9% of registered voters
- 5,001 – 25,000 registered voters. These jurisdictions comprise 30%of our respondents and serve 12.7% of registered voters.
- 25,001 – 100,000 registered voters. 30% of respondents and 18.5% of voters
- 100,001 – largest. 15% of responses and 66.9% of voters.
The discerning reader will notice that the last category covers a lot of voters. This is unavoidable, because this category includes not very many LEOs, relatively speaking, and our survey guarantees confidentiality to our respondents. We can report some results with the final bin broken into two smaller bins, but we must honor the commitment we made to our respondents.
This is the reality of American election administration. It’s a classic case where diversity and decentralization are both a source of strength but also can create inequities in funding and voter access.
The National Vote at Home Institute has brought together a “powerful, diverse, bipartisan and non-partisan group of election reformers… to strengthen American democracy”.
Vote at Home announced that Paul Gronke, EVIC Founder and Director, will now serve on their Circle of Advisors. Gronke reacts to the news:
Proud to be a member of the Circle of Advisors for the National Vote At Home Institute. The set of advisors includes many experienced election administrators, elected officials, and advocates. I’m pleased that EVIC’s record as a non-partisan purveyor of research, data, and information on non-precinct place voting, including of course vote at home, can contribute the the Institute.
The announcement from Vote at Home including a full list of members and the newly announced directors can be found here.
For more information about Vote at Home, check out their webpage here.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has a new mantra for California voters: “no stamp, no problem.”
That’s great for equity and voter access, but it will be fascinating to see how this changes voter behavior. In California, voters may choose to return ballots to a local precinct place or the county office, in addition to using the mail. How many will continue to use these options when postage is provided? It will be interesting to see how many do so in the next few election cycles, and how this alters ballot processing across the state.
Today’s electionline story describes 25 houses in Hamden, CT that have been incorrectly assigned to election districts since the last redistricting cycle in 2011, and have been the wrong ballots. There are charges that voters have been “disenfranchised” though it’s unclear whether the ballots were counted for the “wrong” race, or only some races were counted.
The process obviously needs to be investigated, and Secretary of State Denise Merrill is calling not just for a detailed investigation of Hamden’s procedures, but a statewide audit when it became clear that there were additional districting errors, including candidates who were elected in districts where they were not residents.
There are a lot of moving parts here and a quick scan of the various stories show an early tendency on the part of journalists to move quickly to use a partisan lens. It appears to be more an accident of unfortunate events that a Democratic registrar in Hamden has been on medical leave during the election, leaving a single person in charge, who happened to be a Republican, and the district was won by a Republican in a relatively close race (though one where the winning margin of 77 votes exceeded the number of voters who were misassigned).
While we will all need to wait to see the outcome of the audit, election scientists have been aware of this mis-mapping problem for a while because of a series of presentations that Dr. Michael McDonald and Dr. Brian Amos have given at our recent conferences. McDonald and Amos show that mis-assignments are seldom intentional, and most often result from out of date shape files (the geo-spatial files that are used to assign geolocations to larger geographical entities, such as election precincts and districts) and mis-alignments between “street files” (the lists that jurisdictions use to match street addresses to precincts / districts) and the actual geographic boundaries of the district.
I urge interested readers to follow this link to learn more about the great work being done by McDonald and Amos, and how their technology can help to improve election accuracy.
Thanks to Paul Manson and the students in Political Science 377 who worked with me on the graphic.