My Voter File Moment at Vanderbilt My Voter File Moment at Vanderbilt

My day in Nashville has been wonderful–thanks again to John Geer and the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions for hosting me.

My lecture had one lowlight and one highlight.  I wonder if the highlight is shared by my good friends in the elections community such as Doug Chapin, Charles Stewart, Dan Smith, and others.

The lowlight is easy: I never realized that this was a course on elections, not introductory American politics!  When I answered in response to a question that the demographic profile of the early voter mirrored many of the biases in American politics that they have “read about in the interest groups chapter”–even using the  “what accent the heavenly chorus” quote from Schattschneider–I wonder if the students knew what class they were in.

To Geer’s credit, he told me afterward that the students will probably be panicked, and maybe that’s a good thing! Continue reading

Ballot Tracking in NC Ballot Tracking in NC

I am heading off to Vanderbilt University tomorrow to lecture to John Geer‘s introductory American politics class, and I am pretty sure there will be a relative in the audience!

I have been slashing away at the North Carolina absentee ballot file tonight, just to show the students what kind of ballot tracking goes in under the early voting regime.

One thing I stress at this point: there is not a lot to be learned.  I know reporters love to see these early numbers as indicators of something about the campaign, but we are talking about only 134,00o total ballot requests, and as you can see by the figure, only about a quarter have been returned.

The total expected turnout in North Carolina is well over four million.

In short, this ain’t a lot of ballots.  The pictures are pretty, but there is not a lot you can conclude.

P.S. To my Political Science 311 students: you’ll be generating these graphs after break!

Reporter’s FAQ for Early Voting

I did some interviews in 2008… a LOT of interviews.  We lost track eventually, but the contacts were well past 500 and total appearances past 1000.  I’ve been doing a lot fewer this year, in part because I don’t have two assistants working for me–Eva is working in San Francisco for the World Affairs Council and James is at Boalt Law School.

A second reason, though, is that I’m fielding the same questions as I did four years ago.  We used to have an Early Voting FAQ that seems to have gotten lost in our website redesign.

In that spirit, the most common questions I get: Continue reading

Early voting, democratic theory, and abominations

Image courtesy of

abomination [əˌbɒmɪˈneɪʃən]


1. a person or thing that is disgusting
2. an action that is vicious, vile, etc.
3. intense loathing
Francis Wilkinson doesn’t like early voting.  Clearly.  But an “abomination”?  That brings to mind a genetically mutated Godzilla monster destroying our democratic system.
Is that really what early voting does? Continue reading
How many people vote early? Or when 50% becomes 45% becomes 17%.

Image courtey of

There have been some breathless stories over the last few days that vastly overstate the number of Americans who are likely to cast an early ballot, in person or no-excuse absentee, in the next few weeks.

Kyle Inskeep of NBC News titled his Sept 21st story:  “Early Voting: Half of US Begins Voting Tomorrow.”

Michelle Franzen of MSNBC repeats the statement: “Early Voting Begins in Many States.”  The title on the video says “Early Voting Expands” except that early voting has not expanded substantially since 2008 and in at least three states (GA, FL, OH) has been somewhat restricted.  Details, details.

What’s the problem?  Inskeep is strictly accurate if, when you hear “half the nation” you think “25 of 50 states, not counting DC.”  But I think most of us think “half the nation” means half of the voting population. Just like the U.S. Senate, Inskeep counts Wyoming as “1” and California as “1” even though Wyoming’s population is only 1.5% of California’s.

44.8% lived in states that have started early and absentee voting as of September 22nd.  It’s a less sexy number than “half” but it’s the right one. Continue reading

Why don’t the Ohio early voting numbers line up? I don’t know!

I appreciate being the go-to person for early voting statistics and information, and I try to help reporters as best I can.  It can be hard, however, when a reporter challenges a piece of information that you gave them, which was drawn from official sources, with a number taken from a campaign.  I have no idea where campaigns get their figures.

The most recent set of inquiries come from Ohio. Someone in the Obama campaign believes that 28% of Ohioans voted in-person early or absentee.

The campaign may believe that, but the best information I have at my fingertips come from the Ohio Secretary of State’s website, the AP Elections Unit, and the EAC’s EAVS survey.  I show below why I discount the EAC information, so my best information is that approximately 30% of Ohioans cast an early ballot. Continue reading

The general election is here for early voters

Early in-person voting starts this week in Idaho and South Dakota!

Michael McDonald has already been tracking no-excuse absentee ballots in a number of states.

And now for a self-promotional moment ... Doug is right, data ARE good And now for a self-promotional moment … Doug is right, data ARE good

Crossposted from the comments section at the Election Academy of the University of Minnesota:

Data definitely ARE beautiful, as is correct grammatical usage.

If officials are skeptical of the merit of the residual vote rate, one source that illustrates its merits is the “Residual Voting in Florida” report coauthored by me and Charles Stewart. Look in particular at pg. 55-56, which I humbly suggest is a perfect illustration of Doug’s point.

Using data from Florida, we identify the two highest residual vote rate precincts in the state–two precincts that are wholly contained within elder care facilities. We further show that the rate in the two precincts is completely driven by high error rates on absentee ballots.

We can’t diagnose the disease in full. It may be that elderly citizens are making more errors because they can’t ask for help from poll workers when completing the ballot. It may be that the text is printed too small, causing difficulties for citizens with vision impairment. Or perhaps the ballot itself is confusing in unexpected ways.

But at least now we know where to look.

The takeaway chart is here: