"Un-spinning" the early vote: No, this campaign is not that different; No, early voters don't regret their vote; No, most voters are not undecided. “Un-spinning” the early vote: No, this campaign is not that different; No, early voters don’t regret their vote; No, most voters are not undecided.

Journalists are hungry at this point for any information that might give them some special insight into the eventual outcome in November, and early voting seems particularly valuable because, unlike a poll, early voting reflects, obviously, actual voting.  What’s much less clear is what we can conclude from early turnout at this juncture.  As Michael McDonald warns routinely in his blog posts, these are early indicators, and may reflect changes in campaign mobilization, changes in state and local practices, along with voter interest and enthusiasm.

We have, for example, no research that I know of that correlates absentee ballot requests, returns, and eventual vote totals in a state.  Comparisons between 2016, 2012, and 2008 seldom take into account in a systematic way spending rates and mobilization efforts by campaigns.  Speculation about these things may make for good copy, but I don’t spend a lot of time poring over these numbers.

I am quite willing to speak to reporters, however, on the topic of “voter regret,” and whether early voting is “bad” because of the dynamic nature of “this year’s campaign.”  These questions come in predictably just about this time, when the early vote totals really start to pile up, and reporters are on full alert, filing multiple stories about the campaign.

Here’s the basic math: only a relatively small percentage of total votes have been cast at this point (two weeks out from Election Day).  And a relatively small percentage of registered voters (and an even smaller number of likely voters) are truly undecided at this late stage.  This translates into a tiny theoretical percentage of voters who will cast an early vote and who are likely to change their vote, ignoring in that calculation lots of research indicating that most early voters are decided voters who are not going to be swayed by information provided over the next two weeks.

The best estimate we have of the total numbers of ballots cast at this point is 6.5 million. This is take from McDonald’s daily update on twitter. screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-4-35-32-pm

This sounds like a big number, but we expect over 130 million ballots to be cast in 2016.  The early vote totals to date are about 5% of the total expected.  Three days ago (October 21), it was less than 4%.  Five days ago, the total was under 2%. That bears repeating: 20 days before the election, less than 2% of ballots were cast early.

Now, let’s see how many voters are really likely to be undecided at this stage of the campaign.  According to Lynn Vavreck, a YouGov conducted three weeks ago found just 8% of registered voters were undecided. These undecided “… are less interested in politics and the news, less partisan, and less likely to hold opinions on issues dominating campaign discussions. Essentially, they think less about politics.”  A HuffPollster study conducted a week ago found a somewhat higher percentage of undecided, 14%, yet Natalie Jackson found little space for movement within this segment.

Now we can put everything together.  Who are these “early” early voters?  Are they voters who will change their minds?  All the evidence we have accumulated from past elections says “no.”  Few early voters report that they regretted their choice, and most early voters report that they made up their minds relatively early.  They tended to be more ideological and partisan than the average voter.  Now, we have never  had a study that samples early voters on the fly, after they cast their ballot, and follow up later on.  Instead, we have to rely on post-election reports, and there may be  some rationalization going on.

Nonetheless, as much as it may disappoint reporters, for the vast majority of citizens, the campaign is essentially over.  It’s possible that there may be a late breaking scandal, or late breaking information, or a late breaking event that could move millions of citizens to reevaluate these two candidates who have been in the klieg lights for nine months.  Every reporter is dying to break this year’s October surprise.  But those surprises almost never occur, and given how strongly voters feel about these two candidates, there is very little that will move voters at this point.

Election “day” has begun!  Enjoy the ride.

Debunking the “Vote Rigging” Claims: Very Important Posting by Rick Hasen

Very important posting by Rick Hasen, pulling together many links and stories debunking the “vote rigging” claims coming out of the Trump campaign.  Rick deserves all the credit for assembling this valuable list of resources; I am posting here only so that there is a permanent link for reporters, advocates, and academics.

A Silver Lining from Trump Vote Rigging Claim: Republicans Repudiating Voter Fraud Myth
Posted on October 18, 2016 9:06 am by Rick Hasen
Here’s Jennifer Rubin in today’s WaPo:

Claims of massive fraud and efforts to discredit the election system are preposterous on their face, but injurious to our democratic system. Long before Trump arrived on the scene Republicans helped manufacture an environment in which the talk show/Breitbart/Sean Hannity set actually thinks massive fraud is possible. Republicans insistent on ensuring the integrity of the election system with voter ID requirements (which are overwhelmingly popular with voters) too often made it sound as if impersonation and double voting are commonplace. They are not. For example, in Florida in 2014 the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher turned over 14 names of people who possibly voted twice. Roughly 400,000 people voted in the county that year.

As the Associated Press reported, a 2012 study found millions of out of date voter registrations or people registered in multiple states, but “the report cited no evidence that those errors had contributed to any significant voter fraud. Instead, it pointed to estimates that at least 51 million U.S. citizens are eligible but not registered to vote.” (If you’ve moved from one state to another you likely did not “unregister” in your former state of residence; that’s not fraud.) Contrary to Trump’s latest hysteria, “Most experts say voter fraud is extremely rare in the U.S., with one study by a Loyola Law School professor finding just 31 known cases of impersonation fraud out of 1 billion votes cast in U.S. elections between 2000 and 2014.”

When I was on the News Hour yesterday, Al Cardenas of the Republican Party of Florida was adamant that massive voter fraud is not a problem.

There have been responsible Republicans on this for years, and more coming on line now, like Mark Braden, John Fortier, Chris Ashby, Rob Kelner, Ohio SOS John Husted, and others.

And then there’s the path of Mike RomanHans von Spakovsky, Kris Kobach, and others. That is the road that should not be taken.

Let’s hope after this election we see a turning point for the GOP, which can start with recognizing that voter fraud is an isolated problem not a massive one, and end with a repudiation of laws, such as very strict state voter identification laws, which make it harder to vote but do nothing to prevent fraud or instill voter confidence. Doing so is not only the right thing for Republicans to do, it is in their self-interest. Expanding and appealing to an electorate which is not old and white is the only way for GOP survival on a national scale.

Posted in campaignsfraudulent fraud squadThe Voting Wars

“Controversial Republican Mike Roman to run Donald Trump’s ‘election protection’”
Posted on October 18, 2016 9:04 am by Rick Hasen
Must-read from Ben Jacobs of The Guardian:

Donald Trump’s “election protection” effort will be run by Mike Roman, a Republican operative best known for promoting a video of apparent voter intimidation by the New Black Panthers outside a polling place in 2008.

Roman is to oversee poll-watching efforts as Trump undertakes an unprecedented effort by a major party nominee by calling into question the legitimacy of the popular vote weeks before election day….

Multiple sources have confirmed to the Guardian that Roman, who also previously ran the Koch network’s now defunct internal intelligence agency, will oversee the Trump campaign’s efforts to monitor polling places for any signs of voter fraud.

Roman is best known for his role in promoting a video that showed two members of the New Black Panthers – a fringe group that claims descent from the 1960s radicals – standing outside a Philadelphia polling place dressed in uniforms, with one carrying a nightstick. Police are called and the two men leave.

Posted in chicaneryfraudulent fraud squadThe Voting Wars

 “Donald Trump says the election is ‘rigged.’ Here’s what his supporters think that means.
Posted on October 18, 2016 9:00 am by Rick Hasen

At a campaign rally here  Monday evening, Dave Radtke, 66, said he expects Democrats will load people on buses in Chicago and bring them to Wisconsin to vote, where legal residents are allowed to register on Election Day. Josh Eilers, 22, said he expects Democrats will go to Chicago and pay homeless people to vote for Hillary Clinton, something that he says happens “way too much.” Sue Rosenthal, 74, said “something seems off” with early voting programs in large cities that she says allow a stream of people to have access to voting machines ahead of Election Day. Gene A. Wheaton, 68, said the Democrats will use “any means necessary” to win, so he worries about “the stealth thing that they can do electronically or some other way to really either erase somebody’s valid vote or get a bunch of people in secretly voting to load it up for the other side.”

Trump supporters were insistent that such  fraud is rampant and that major media outlets are conspiring  to hide the issue. While many said they are glad that Wisconsin now requires an identification to vote, they said polls need more security measures.

Posted in campaignschicaneryfraudulent fraud squad 

“Election officials brace for fallout from Trump’s claims of a ‘rigged’ vote”
Posted on October 18, 2016 8:58 am by Rick Hasen

Donald Trump’s escalating effort to undermine the presidential election as “rigged” has alarmed government officials administering the vote as well as Democratic and Republican leaders, who are anxiously preparing for the possibility of unrest or even violence on Election Day and for an extended battle over the integrity of the outcome.

Hillary Clinton’s advisers are privately worried that Trump’s calls for his supporters to stand watch at polling places in cities such as Philadelphia for any hint of fraud will result in intimidation tactics that might threaten her supporters and suppress the votes of African Americans and other minorities.

The Democratic nominee’s campaign is recruiting and training hundreds of lawyers to fan out across the country, protecting people’s right to vote and documenting any signs of foul play, according to several people with knowledge of the plans.

Posted in campaignschicaneryfraudulent fraud squadThe Voting Wars

“Election Law Expert: Rigged Election ‘Extraordinarily Unlikely”
Posted on October 18, 2016 8:56 am by Rick Hasen
Ned Foley on NPR.

Posted in election administrationThe Voting Wars 

“McConnell, denounce Trump’s ‘rigged election’ comments”
Posted on October 18, 2016 8:53 am by Rick Hasen
Josh Douglas for CNN.

Posted in campaignschicanery 

“Trump’s Claims of ‘Rigged’ Election Could Hurt His Own Campaign, Research Shows”
Posted on October 18, 2016 8:52 am by Rick Hasen
Byron Tau for the WSJ:

But his rhetoric could also have the impact of hurting his own campaign, according to some of the latest research into the topic.

In one experiment conducted by Adam Seth Levine of Cornell University and Robyn L. Stiles of Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication, different groups of voters were given different messages in an online ad touting voter registration — including “Registering is quick, easy, & free,” “Wealthy buying elections,” or “The system is rigged.”

Researchers found that the negative messages like “Wealthy buying elections” and “The system is rigged” were less effective in generating clicks than a more positive message like “registering is quick, easy, and free.”

This is also why in recent days we have seen the Clinton team pivoting to a message that voting is easy from one talking about Republicans trying to make it more difficult to vote.

Posted in campaigns

  “Trump poses an unprecedented threat to the peaceful transition of power”
Posted on October 18, 2016 8:39 am by Rick Hasen
WaPo editorial:

Now, for the first time in modern history, a major-party candidate rejects both sides of that equation. If he loses, Donald Trump says, it will be due to cheating that makes the result illegitimate. If he wins, he will imprison his defeated opponent.

Many Americans may not have given much thought to what a breathtaking departure this represents, because until now we have had the luxury of never having to think about such things. We have been able to take for granted the quadrennial peaceful transition of power. We watch from a distance when political parties in one foreign country or another take up arms after losing an election. We look, as at something that could never happen here, when a foreign leader sends an opponent to jail or into exile. This can happen in Zimbabwe, we think, or Russia, or Cambodia, but not here. Not in the United States.

Posted in campaignschicanery

 “Shameful Silence on Donald Trump’s Lies About Vote-Rigging”
Posted on October 18, 2016 8:36 am by Rick Hasen
NYT editorial:

Instead of disavowing this absurdity outright, Republican leaders sit by in spineless silence. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, are the two most powerful Republicans in the country and should be willing to put the national interest above their own. Both know full well that there is no “rigging,” and yet between them they have managed one tepid response to Mr. Trump’s outrageous accusations: “Our democracy relies on confidence in election results,” Mr. Ryan’s spokeswoman said, “and the speaker is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity.”

This is like standing back while an arsonist pours gasoline all over your house, then expressing confidence that the fire department will get there in time.

Posted in campaignschicanery

PBS News Hour Interview with Me and Al Cardenas on Trump Vote-Rigging Claims
Posted on October 17, 2016 7:19 pm by Rick Hasen
Posted in chicaneryelection administrationfraudulent fraud squadThe Voting Wars 

“Election officials, Clinton team brace for fallout from Trump’s ‘rigged’ claims”
Posted on October 17, 2016 4:31 pm by Rick Hasen
WaPo reports.
Posted in campaignschicaneryfraudulent fraud squadThe Voting Wars 

“Donald Trump’s ‘Rigged Election’ Claims Raise Historical Alarms”
Posted on October 17, 2016 4:27 pm by Rick Hasen
Zack Roth for NBC News.
Posted in chicaneryfraudulent fraud squadThe Voting Wars

 “Trump claims without evidence that the election is rigged, but officials say that’s not how voting works”
Posted on October 17, 2016 4:19 pm by Rick Hasen
The LA Times reports.
Posted in Uncategorized

 “Voter Fraud; It would be literally insane to try to steal an election in the way Donald Trump is alleging.”
Posted on October 17, 2016 3:16 pm by Rick Hasen
I have written this piece for Slate. It begins:

In recent days, Donald Trump has been aggressively pushing the idea that the election is about to be stolen from him through voter fraud and dirty tricks. The Republican candidate, though, has not been a paragon of clarity when it comes to how the election is being rigged against him—Monday morning he tweeted that Hillary Clinton allegedly being fed questions before a Democratic primary debate was a kind of “voter fraud!” Here’s what we know, though, about what he’s said and why his claims that the election is being stolen have no basis whatsoever in reality.

It concludes:

Finally, vote-counting at county offices and elsewhere is a transparent act, with Republicans, Democrats, and good government groups watching the counting. When voting anomalies occur, generally because of human error, they are quickly caught and publicized on Twitter, and then corrected. Most election administrators doing the tabulating and reporting are dedicated public servants who want the process to be as transparent as possible to promote public confidence—not a cadre of Clinton-backing globalists who have secretly infiltrated the most local level of Democratic participation for just this moment.As the Columbus Dispatch reported of the prospect of rigging Ohio’s elections: “ ‘It would take Mission Impossible,’ said Terry Casey, a Republican consultant in Columbus who sat on the Franklin County Board of Elections for 14 years and is a former chairman of the Ohio Board of Voting Machine Examiners.”

None of this of course will convince die-hard Trump supporters and some Republican voters who have been primed to believe Democrats are regularly stealing elections. I hope they won’t get violent or intimidate voters on Election Day, as is seeming increasingly—and frighteningly—likely. For those of us living on planet Earth, we should dismiss Trump’s claims of vote-rigging as the rantings of someone who is either too stupid to know how voting works or too disingenuous to tell the truth.

Posted in election administrationThe Voting Wars 

“Donald Trump’s Pants on Fire claim of ‘large scale voter fraud’”
Posted on October 17, 2016 3:11 pm by Rick Hasen
Politifact reports.

Posted in Uncategorized  

“‘No justification for concern about widespread voter fraud,’ Jon Husted says”
Posted on October 17, 2016 2:54 pm by Rick Hasen
The Columbus Dispatch reports.
Posted in Uncategorized 

“Election officials scoff at Trump’s claim of ‘rigged’ vote”
Posted on October 17, 2016 2:54 pm by Rick Hasen
Reid Wilson reports for The Hill.
Posted in Uncategorized

 “Trump says the election could be rigged. Here’s why it won’t be.”
Posted on October 17, 2016 12:04 pm by Rick Hasen
I spoke with Alex Cohen of KPCC’s Take Two.
Posted in campaignschicaneryfraudulent fraud squad

 There He Goes Again Dep’t; A Collection of My Responses to Trump’s Irresponsible Vote Rigging Rhetoric
Posted on October 17, 2016 8:49 am by Rick Hasen
This morning Donald Trump tweeted the following:

Donald J. Trump

Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!

5:33 AM – 17 Oct 2016  



I responded with a 15-tweet tweetstorm.

Some of my earlier posts and articles on this topic:
(Literally) Waking Up to the Danger of Trump’s Vote Rigging Comments to Democracy

Trump’s Irresponsible Vote-Rigging Statements Literally Putting Our Democracy at RiskDonald Trump’s Dangerous Vote Rigging Comments Follow Years of Republican Voter Fraud Hysteria (TPM)

If you’re worried about rigged elections, look at Trump’s tactics first

Posted in chicaneryfraudulent fraud squadThe Voting Wars

30 million plus absentee ballots are out .. and election “day” has begun

The 2016 election “day” has begun!

It is 46 days before Tuesday, November 8th and 25 million or more absentee ballots are in the mail for delivery to voters.

Why today?  The Military and Overseas Voting Empowerment Act, passed in 2010, mandated a 45 day transit time for overseas ballots.

In response, most states have also moved the time when they send domestic absentee ballots to correspond to the 45 day timeline.  The (unintended) consequence is that 30 million or more ballots hit the mails, on their way to voters, today and tomorrow.

The race is on!

In the 2012 election, data collected by the Election Assistance Commission showed that over 33 million domestic absentee ballots were transmitted and over 27 million were eventually returned and submitted for counting. (Due to incomplete reporting by states to the EAC’s Election Administration and Voting Survey, these are both underestimates.)

Some battleground totals from 2012:

State Ballots Trasmitted Ballots Returned
Arizona 1.9 million 1.5 million
Florida 2.8 million 2.3 million
Georgia 1.9 million 1.9 million
Iowa 739,000 684,000
Michigan 1.3 million 1.25 million
Ohio 1.3 million 1.25 million

To be clear, not all states mail their absentee ballots this week.  (I wish I could provide a precise list, but it’s quite difficult to obtain–many states respond to the question “when they are ready” or “it’s up to the counties.)


Voting problems, reporters, and the dog that didn’t bark

With apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog election breakdowns and complaints  in the night-time our state or locality.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time election ran well.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident real story.”[2]

A great new initiative was just announced by ProPublica (hat tip to Rick Hasen). ElectionLand is described  as a national reporting initiative that will cover voting problems during the 2016 election.

Participants include Google News Lab, WNYC, UniVision, and a number of other national and regional news networks.  Reporters and organizations that sign up will receive:

  • Real-time alerts about problems happening at polling locations in your coverage area, including long lines, machine breakdowns, an uptick in provisional balloting, ballot confusion, fraudulent voting and more.
  • Inclusion and promotion of your election stories on social media and the Electionland liveblog.
  • Customizable alerts for real-time data about the candidates and races you care about, drawing on federal campaign finance data, congressional voting data, trending searches, and more.
  • Reporting recipes, tip sheets, and community calls.

This all sounds great but…  the focus here is all on voting problems.  Voting problems make for good copy. But do voting problems in some areas reflect on the typical voting experience?  Does the existence of problems in some areas mean that the system as a whole is functioning poorly?

The answer generally is “no.”   Lorraine Minnite demonstrated this six years ago in a book that should be required reading for any journalist who participates in ElectionLand.  Charles Stewart, Michael Sances, and I recently showed that charges of a “rigged” election erode American confidence in our election system even though the charges bear little resemblance to the realities of American election administration.

I hope that ElectionLand participants don’t take the easy route, focusing on stories about election breakdowns, snafus, and possibly even outright fraud–with over 10,000 jurisdictions and 150 million voters, there are surely going to be some problems–while ignoring an elections system that generally functions well.

The problems are problems, and they need to be fixed.  But let’s not reinforce the all too common belief that our system is permeated with fraud, beset by problems, and easily manipulated.  Unfortunately, that kind of story is seldom clickbait.


Why best practices are so important for absentee ballots: Austrian edition Why best practices are so important for absentee ballots: Austrian edition
Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 11.54.47 AM

BPC Report on Voting by Mail

Those of you who follow my twitter feed or this blog have seen me engage in friendly debates with Doug Chapin and Tammy Patrick over best practices for absentee ballots and voting by mail.  It is always in a spirit of helping to figure out the best way to handle the growing number of absentee ballots in the United States and avoid election meltdowns.

This came to mind today as I read about the unprecedented decision by the Austrian highest court to order a new run-off election, apparently because of “irregularities” in how local election officials handled absentee ballots. According to testimony, absentee ballots were processed (which generally means signatures checked, ballots separated from secrecy envelopes, and ballots scanned or otherwise counted) on election day, and without proper monitors, rather than starting at 9 am the next morning, as required by law.

There was no evidence of purposeful manipulation and no indication that the irregularities changed the outcome.  Scientific analysis shows no evidence of election fraud.  Yet what the Court described as “sloppy management” led the jurists to overturn a national election at political moment where the European integration project is at risk.

Tammy, Doug, and I may have our friendly disagreements about some aspects of the vote by mail process, but we all agree that absentee ballots are subject to some unique risks because they leave the hands of government officials.  Slow counts because of archaic absentee ballot counting rules can needlessly create a space for conspiracy theories.  (I could be wrong, but I know of no American states at this point that don’t allow officials to start to at least begin to process the absentee ballots on or before Election Day, subject to appropriate scrutiny of course.)

I’m heartened to see a newly released Bipartisan Policy Center report, The New Realities of Voting By Mail in 2016.  It contains many excellent recommendations for voters, election officials, the USPS, and state legislators.  Many of these same recommendations could improve election integrity in other countries, where, according to the ACE Network, more than 20% of ballots are cast by mail (with totals much higher in many nations).

Evaluating Pollsters and Polls: Portland Local Edition Evaluating Pollsters and Polls: Portland Local Edition

The “quants” have taken quite a hit this year, most notably Nate Silver’s mea culpa.  I’m not going to summarize the discussions song and verse, I’ll just refer people to the excellent commentators at Huffington Pollster (political science PhD!) and Monkey Cage, among others.   Where they differ from many media outlets is that they almost never trumpet the result of a single poll.  The results of a single poll are seldom newsworthy and are much more prone to error.

What is certainly wrong is the kind of muddled, ostrich head in the sand by Virgil and Carl, who have decided that since they stuck their fingers in the air (and by way, were clearly reading newspaper coverage and polls) and did a better job this one year in a few primaries than Nate Silver, that therefore all polls and all quantitative analysis of elections is pure bunk.

That’s hogwash, but what worries me is how many of my friends and colleagues seem to believe this kind of clap trap, and mainly because they are acting like regular old human beings.  They remember the polls this year that were off–and therefore newsworthy–without remembering the vast majority that were right on target.

Which brings me to a mild defense of my good friends at DHM Research and a mild criticism of my good friend at the Willamette Week, Aaron Mesh.

Aaron lists DHM as one of the “losers” in the May primary:

DHM Research

The Portland pollsters not only failed to predict Sen. Bernie Sanders’ win in the Oregon Democratic primary—they missed it by a whopping 28 percentage points.

Yep, that poll result for the Clinton/Sanders race was a real boner, and John Horvick of DHM deserves credit for being up front about the bad estimate.

But just like one poll is not the best way to predict a race, one race within a larger poll is not the best way to evaluate a firm.  If you look across all the candidate races that DHM asked about in their May poll, things look a lot different.  Mesh focused on the tree–the presidential contest–while ignoring the forest.

In the GOP contests for President, Sec’y of State and Governor’s race, the average “miss” was between 1.7% and 2.4% (all estimates shown below allocate the “don’t knows” proportionally–thus understating any last minute shifts in sentiment).  In the mayor’s race, even with a large pool of candidates and a high percentage of “don’t knows,” the average miss was just 1.5%, and Wheeler’s margin was off by just 3%.

Something was going on in the Clinton/Sanders race, but the pattern of other results indicate that it was probably something about that contest, about respondents willingness to provide answers, or volatile sentiments more than it was something about response rates, survey methodology, or firm bias.

More importantly, coverage of the poll points out a weakness in Oregon’s political and media environment–we really have just a single dominant polling firm with only a scattered set of other polls being conducted, mostly by national firms using robo-calls, without many of the detailed questions that a local or regional pollster would ask.

We’d all be better informed, and less likely to focus on a single result, if there were a few more players in the field.

Anyone who wants to spreadsheet used to create these figures, just drop me a line.


How partisanship can undermine perceptions of election fairness and integrity How partisanship can undermine perceptions of election fairness and integrity

Adam Ambrogi and Paul DeGregorio wrote today about “The 5 Principles of Election Integrity.”

The article highlights the challenge for election integrity that is created when we local election officials are chosen by competitive partisan contests:

In most cases, election administrators work hard to be fair and transparent and to promote integrity. But a large percentage of election officials are elected to their offices on a partisan ticket or appointed on partisan basis. This can lead some to believe that these officials will favor one political party over another in their decisions.

This is exactly right–in an era of deep partisan polarization, even ostensibly non-partisan policies can be swept up in partisan competition.  Partisan and ideological sorting creates a worrisome feedback loop, where partisans express deep levels of distrust and even anger at any political actor from the opposite party, no matter how anodyne the statement or non-partisan the issue.

I have been collecting data on public perception of election officials using the Cooperative Congressional Election Study for a number of years.   In 2010, I asked a series of questions about public attitudes toward local and state election officials, including how they should be elected and whether or not they could be fair in election disputes.

The results are both encouraging and discouraging.

Source: 2010 CCES

Source: 2010 CCES

The encouraging result is that local election officials receive high levels of approval when compared to the US Congress, the Supreme Court, and state governors and legislatures.  (Higher scores mean a higher level of approval; scores above zero mean that a majority of respondents said they either “strongly approved” or “approved” of the job performance.)

Source: 2010 CCES

Source: 2010 CCES



When it comes to how we should choose local election officials, the survey respondents endorse elections, but are more than twice as likely to opt for non-partisan versus partisan contests.  This is neither encouraging nor discouraging, but is what I (and I think Ambrogi and DeGregorio) would expect.

The more discouraging results appear when I asked respondents about election disputes, and whether or not state (not local) election officials would act fairly in resolving such a dispute.
Untitled 2

It’s encouraging that a plurality of 39% do think that state officials would be fair, but more than half the survey thought they would not be fair or didn’t know.

And among those who answered “no” or “don’t know,” just over one-third thought that election officials would favor their own party.

I wondered if there were partisan differences underlying this second question, and it turns out that there are.   As we would expect in an era of party polarization, partisans are worried that elections officials would favor candidates of the other party.  But what jumps out to me are the totals in the third column.  Democrats and Independents mostly assume that election officials will decide disputes in favor of their own party; Republicans choose this option only slightly less often than “favoring Democrats.”

Untitled 3

The good news, I suppose, is that almost 40% of respondents think that election officials will be fair in the case of an election dispute.  But among the other 60%, they assume that partisan self-interest is the way disputes are resolved.

As long as partisanship invades election administration via competitive elections, and as long as elections continue to be close (and disputed), perceptions of fairness and integrity of election administration will remain at risk in some quarters.



Understanding postage paid mail: not simple! Understanding postage paid mail: not simple!

I’ve experienced a long day of education–or should I say reeducation–at the hands of my friends in the elections community.

Business reply mail allows a sender (“the mailer”) to distributed preprinted First-Class mail to customers.  The return postage is paid by the mailer, not the customer.  Postage is collected on a per-piece fee only on pieces that are returned.  One colleague in the elections community says this cost is approximately twice the normal first class postage. The rate for BRM is .476 + .011 – .476 + .066 per piece depending on volume (and some account fees).Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 5.14.56 PM

I have another good friend who is rapidly sawing away, because he tells me that business reply mail does dramatically increase response rates for registration mailers and change of address mailers, so he believes that prepaid postage will increase turnout and increase by-mail return rates. I’m trying to get more information on this…


The cost of requiring postage on all ballots will be the annual account fees plus either .487 or .542 per piece of  returned mail.  The current by-mail return rate is approximately 40%.   There is almost no incentive to switch to actual first class postage until the rate of by-mail return exceeds 90%, and that’s not likely.


What’s interesting is that legislation that would require pre-paid postage might actually create fairly strong incentives to encourage citizens to drop off their ballots.

That may be an unintended consequence of the legislation, though not necessarily a bad one.  One common criticism of voting by mail is that ballots leave the hands of government officials; drop boxes eliminate that on the back end.

I leave this to those with much more expertise in direct mailing to point out the flaws in this logic.  I’ve learned more about business reply mail in the last two days than I ever wanted to know!  (Memories of my days learning about signature verification software …)

ANSWER: W=0.  If you use business reply, there is no cost for unreturned mail.  Thanks PM.  I told you there would be math!  Doing the hypothetical calculations on "wasted" pre-paid postage in Oregon's VBM system ANSWER: W=0. If you use business reply, there is no cost for unreturned mail. Thanks PM. I told you there would be math! Doing the hypothetical calculations on “wasted” pre-paid postage in Oregon’s VBM system

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More corrections in the next posting.  

There are two details about business reply mail that I was not aware of. First, there is no cost to the sender for business reply mail that is not returned.  Second, there is twice the postage cost for business reply that is returned.  

As Dean Logan once told me, running elections in some jurisdictions is like running a direct mail operation, and some of the details are very specific.  I apologize for mistakes in the original version of this posting.

Don Palmer, senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center and previously chief elections officer in Virginia and in Florida wonders about the costs of ballots that are not returned (and I presume also not mailed).

Don uses 140 characters to pose a devilishly complex question.  It is easy to figure out the cost of adding postage–just take the number of ballot envelopes (in Oregon, this is roughly equal to the number of registered voters, the only adjustments are for the small number of individuals who have provisions in place not to have their ballot mailed because of court protection orders and similar) and multiply by the cost of postage.

There are no costs at all for unreturned business mail.  Thanks to Tammy Patrick  at BPC for pointing me to this link explaining business reply mail http://pe.usps.com/mpdesign/mpdfr_brm_intro.asp. From that page:

The Postal Service collects the applicable postage, plus a per-piece fee, only on pieces that customers actually send back to the mailer. This allows mailers to save postage costs on large volumes of distributed reply pieces when a response is not assured.

The rest of this is just an academic exercise.  I’m leaving most intact because it identifies all the various categories of voters that may or may not respond to postage paid return envelopes.

For the purpose of this exercise, let’s call the total number of ballot envelopes N, the cost of postage P, and the “waste” as W.

We know the state will be on the hook for N*P, estimated at $1.2 million per election. (To make the calculations easier to follow, I’ll just assume P=1 for the rest of this posting.)

But how much of this expense is “wasted” (W)?  NONE. I think Don is asking: how many postage paid envelopes are either not returned or are returned into drop boxes?

This calculation isn’t simple. Let’s assume that counties will not reduce the number of drop boxes (thus making it harder to drop off ballots) in response to this change. 

Let’s start with the 2012 election as our baseline.  There were 2,199,360 registered voters in the 2012 election, and 1,541,782, or 82.8% turned out to vote.

This gives us our first piece of baseline number of non-voters in Oregon  W –657,578.

Note that this assumes that voter turnout is unaffected by the inclusion of the stamp. I’m not comfortable making any assumptions about turnout, as I detailed in the previous post, but if you agree with advocates that this will help younger voters, lower income voters, and rural voters, then you’d need to make some adjustment to allow for increase turnout (hence lower waste).

Our second piece of W non-mail returns comes from the 59% of voters who currently drop off their ballots.  If everyone who currently drops off ballots continues to do so, this adds an enormous amount of waste: 1,066,939.  (This figures comes straight from the Secretary of State’s report on methods of ballot return.)

That’s a pretty big number, but we have to subtract ballots that are sent by mail in the future because of free postage but were dropped off in the past.  Here’s where thing get fun–and hard.  Predicting how future behavior will change based on changes to the rules is the essence of modern political science, but is also an exercise fraught with uncertainty.

We reported yesterday the reasons given for dropping off a ballot.

I think it’s fair to assume that the 18.8% who cited “cost” or “no stamp” would mail under the new system.  That reduces W drop offs by .188 * 1,066,939=200,584.

I also think it’s fair to assume that those who cited security concerns (17.9%) or said “I was too late to mail” (12.8%) would not change their future behavior.  These total 327,550 (.307*1,066,939) voters who will continue to drop off their ballot.

This leaves us with two sets of voters–those who cited “Convenience” as a reason to drop off their ballot (40.2%) and those who cited “Habit” (6%).  I’ll assume both of these groups will change their behavior and use the mail–this increases the mail flow by reduces W by 46.2%*1,066,939=492,925.

We’re nearly done.  Our current estimate of waste is made of up those who don’t vote (657,578) plus those who have security concerns or who complete their ballots too late to mail (327,550).

The total is 985,128 ballots with business reply envelopes  paid postage that are either not returned or continue to be dropped off.  (Mathematically minded readers will notice that there are 5% of the drop off ballots that are unaccounted for–these are individuals who gave no reason for dropping off, or gave a reason that we could not code.)

Just one more complication.  Things are never easy!

Automatic voter registration (AVR) in Oregon (known in the state as “Oregon Motor Voter”) throws another wrench into the works.

AVR is projected to add as many as 275,000 citizens to the registration rolls, but it remains very unclear how many of these new registrants will actually vote.  This will increase the number of “wasted” ballot materials s and postage paid ballot envelopes, but by how many?

I think it would be generous to assume that half of these new registrants will vote, and if the same 30.7% vote late or don’t trust the postal system, that will result in another 42,212 wasted ballots.

The main sources of uncertainty in my estimate, for those advocating for and against this legislation:

  • The number of individuals who turn out overall may increase as a result of pre-paid business reply postage.  Non-voters are the largest source of waste in any universal ballot delivery system.
  • My estimate of turnout among the newly registered (AVR) citizens may also be low.  I used a very generous estimate of 50% even though academic research estimates this value to be as low as 25%.
  • Campaigns and vote mobilization organizations respond to changes in the rules and the laws, and it may be that these organizations will react to pre-paid postage by encouraging more citizens to vote their ballots early (reducing the “too late” numbers) and will be able to convince voters that the postal service is trustworthy (that’s going to be a much more difficult lift).

That being said, I think an estimate of approximately one million ballots that are not returned in a presidential year is within the right ballpark. In non-presidential years, the numbers will be much higher–15% higher in midterms and 60% higher in special elections.

And let’s be clear–if the focus is solely on “waste”, universal ballot delivery incurs many more costs by mailing ballots to everyone.  Oregon officials can tell you how much it costs to prepare and deliver a ballot to every registered voter, but I have been schooled by my friends and now know that and I suspect that 30 cent (total guess!) business class postage doesn’t increase the per-ballot costs at all by that much for those ballots that are unreturned.

Advocates will assert that it is in these low turnout elections, such as specials, that there is substantially more room for increases in turnout due to pre-paid business reply postage.  The problem is that these elections already are among the lowest turnout in the state even with universal mail delivery.