Electronic delivery of voting materials: Is there an app for that?

Rick Hasen blogged on a recent study out of the Pew Center on the States which examined cost savings related to and voter attitudes about electronic delivery of election information. (Click here for the Ventura County Star story.)

My first reaction was “great” but my second reaction was “wait, is there an app for that?” I am a big fan of email delivery of long paper documents which have short term utility, like mutual fund reports, shareholder statements, even some journal articles!  But I am increasingly accessing these materials through an iPad or other mobile device. I wonder if any local jurisdictions or states are thinking ahead of the curve, and contemplating not just electronic delivery via email, but electronic notification of new content that can be accessed via an RSS feed or dedicated “Elections App.” For an increasing number of users, that’s a much more flexible way to get to information, rather than using an email interface.

Georgia improves its early voting system

A colleague sent along this story out of Georgia with the commentary “It appears they (gasp) took your advice.”

I’d like to take credit for influencing this legislation, and I may have done so indirectly through my past work with Georgia election officials and scholars at University of Georgia, but I think the credit lies with Secretary Kemp and other administrators in the Peach State.

I do applaud the changes they’ve implemented.  The early voting period has been shortened to 21 days (I generally recommend 10-14); Secretary Kemp notes that 80% of early voters cast their ballots during that period.   It standardizes the early voting period, an important change in my opinion because it reduces any possibility of inequities in access to the ballot based on a county’s wealth, geographic size, or population. Finally, it allows for weekend early voting, a potential inconvenience for officials to be sure, but one which citizens will find very helpful.

Full story at The Weekly.

Mobile voting and seniors in long term care facilities: study out in new Election Law Journal

As co-editor of the Election Law Journal, I am pleased to this press release on media newswire:

Mobile Polling Breaks down Barriers to Voting for Seniors in Long Term Care Facilities, Penn Study Shows

CORRECTION: DC Elections head says vote centers will save $1,000,000 over VBM, $200,000 over precinct place

It’s good to have friends who are forgiving of end of the day blogging.

Alysoun McLaughlin of the DC Board politely pointed out that I confused the cost figures deportees in Mike DeBonis’s story. The $200,000 is the estimated savings compared to traditional polling places. VBM is estimated to cost $1,000,000 more. That’s a lot of money for a special election!

The reason the costs are so disparate is that the DC rolls have a lot of deadwood and need to be cleaned up. The Oregon response might be: can you run a VBM contest as a way of cleaning the rolls? Nonetheless, my apologies to Rokey and the DC board for the misposting.

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Rokey Suleman provided a menu of options to the DC City Council for the April 26 special election.

The costs varied from a high of $1.6 million for a full VBM, to $824,000 for a full precinct place election to $620,000 for one using two vote centers per ward.  (More after the split)

I presume that the reason the estimated cost of full vote by mail is so high–contrary to some previous estimates–is that they print and send a ballot to every single registered voter, even though turnout is probably quite low in a special city council election (previous specials had turnout of 7-15%).

Estimating costs is complicated business.  While I have not asked him, I am assuming that Suleman projected some level of turnout in a precinct place and vote center election in order to make his calculations.  

Let’s suppose that he assumed 15%.  The problem is that DC may also need to consider the “costs” of lowered turnout as a result of using traditional voting methods.

Past examples show that sending ballots to every registered voter can result in substantial increases in turnout in low profile, low interest contests.  Turnout in the 2010 Colorado Senate primary, conducted fully by mail, was double the previous most comparable election.  When Helena, MT began to conduct local elections by mail in 2007, turnout was 66%, double the 30 year average of 33% for off-year municipal contests.

I wonder what a precinct place or vote center election would cost if, for example, we estimated DC turnout at 30%?  Would it be worth $1,000,000 to increase turnout to 30%?  That may be one of the questions the DC council should ask.

Collin County, TX Commissioners look for solutions to early voting woes

Commissioners in Collin County, TX heard complaints about long lines and lack of parking for early voting.  

The commissioners suggested that lack of publicity about vote centers was a problem, but some of the ideas they mentioned (vote centers located in centralized, easily accessible locations, managing choke points during voter check in) have actually been addressed, and solved, by many other jurisdictions (Larimer County, CO; Harris County, TX).

One more example where counties need to learn from their counterparts, both locally and nationally.

No-excuse absentee ballots, voter ID, and slow counts in Arizona

A story in today’s Arizona Daily Star was brought to my attention today by some colleagues.  The money quote is here:

Of the 1.7 million ballots cast, nearly 300,000 were early ballots that weren’t early after all, but folks dropping them off in unprecedented numbers at their polling places, which then triggered a new round of verification to make sure the ballots were authentic. There were another 84,000 provisional ballots that had some problems with registration or identification.

These strike me as really big numbers: 17% of ALL ballots in AZ were no-excuse ballots that dropped off at a precinct place on election day?

More than half of Arizonans cast early ballots, so this translates into at least 35% of no-excuse ballots dropped off at a precinct place on election day, a number that is a low estimate since it divides the no-excuse ballots by ALL early votes, including early in person (the SoS website does not discriminate between the two modes).

These would be shockingly high figures, if they were right. In comparison, Los Angeles County reported to me that 14.9% of all no-excuse absentee ballots cast in 2008 were dropped off at a precinct place on election day, and those ballots constituted 3.6% of the total ballots cast. As I have reported in the past, 15%-30% of ballots in Oregon are hand-delivered (or arrive through the mail) at county offices or a library drop box on election day, but these are not local precinct polling places.

A bit of detective work has revealed that the story cannot possibly be accurate, unless there has been a massive population shift in Arizona and Maricopa no longer constitutes more than half the state.

According to Maricopa, they sent out 866,440 no-excuse ballots and the return rate was 77% (approximately 667,000 returned). Of the 665,065, 117129 were returned to a polling place on election day, or 17.6%, a figure similar to what Los Angeles County experiences.

That leaves less than 400,000 additional early votes cast in the state, according to the SoS office.  It just doesn’t seem realistic that over half of those were no-excuse ballots returned on election day.

Why does this matter? It does for two reasons.

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Republicans have the early voting advantage in Florida

Florida 2008 PPP, Early In-PersonFlorida 2010 General, Early In-Person Votes

Comparisons between rates of early voting in different election cycles are fraught with peril – in general, it’s important to compare this year to past midterm elections. That said, looking at the 2010 and 2008 numbers in Florida reveals a pretty impressive showing for Republicans.

Democratic voters are far below their 2008 turnout rate, which is precisely what we’d expect for a midterm election. The Republican rate, however, is not far off that of the 2008 presidential election!

These are just early in-person data*, but this makes the strong Republican turnout even more remarkable: Typically, Democrats take advantage of early in-person voting at much higher rates.

*Absentee-by-mail returns, which account for around 50% of Florida’s early voting, are restricted to political parties.

Gronke predicts early vote at 33%; McDonald says 28%

Michael McDonald has published his pre-election forecast of early vote at 28% of the total vote.

This strikes me as far too low; early voting constituted 15% in 2000, 20% in 2002, 22% in 2004, 25% in 2006, and 33% in 2008. It strikes me as very unlikely that the percent of ballots cast early would decline so substantially from 2008, even with the noted enthusiasm gap among Democrats.

I’ll similarly stick out my neck and project the percent of early ballots at 33%, the same as in 2008.

I think I see where Michael is getting his estimate – he shows approximately 18 million early ballots thus far (although there are some noticeable gaps in state reporting, and we don’t have the hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots in CA that will be dropped off today), and is comparing that to his overall turnout estimate of 40 million.

Michael and I differ on two points.  First, he still reports on his webpage the early voting totals in 2008 as 30%, relying on the CPS. I think the much more reliable AP numbers peg the percent of early vote as 32.6%  Second, I think he is projecting a decline in percent voting early, as witnessed from 2004 to 2006.  I suspect to see less of a drop, as a few more states adopted relaxed early voting laws, and as many more Americans got used to voting early in 2008.

Unfortunately, Michael and I were never able to settle this bet in 2008 because of the lack of reliable data on early votes. Hopefully, he can buy my that bottle of whiskey in 2010!