Thomas Leeper, in a recent blog posting, makes what strikes me as a very problematic claim to try to justify the Montana field experiment.
Leeper asserts that non-partisan elections “do not obtain the democratic benefits that their advocates hope for,” and that “judicial elections are not necessarily a democratic good.”
I defer to Prof. Leeper for the justifications of these claims; I have no reason to doubt his summary of the literature. I find his arguments intuitively and theoretically appealing.
But how can this possibly justify the Montana field experiment? Leeper is arguing that scientific research that in the process of conducting the research actively undermines a democratic election practice cannot be criticized if the process itself is of questionable democratic value.
Please note, I am not saying that political scientists should not subject election procedures to the closest possible empirical and normative scrutiny. But Leeper misses the point, made by myself in an earlier post and by Melissa Michelson on the New West Blog, that this experiment did not just study the impact of providing partisan cueing information on voter turnout in a non-partisan election, by its very scope, could have undermined the practice itself.
There are 671,031 registered voters in Montana, so this mailer was sent to 15% of the electorate. Depending on how many of the recipients had already intended to vote, using the 2010 turnout as a baseline, as much as half the total voting population received this mailer!
Choose your guide to research ethics in the social sciences. Here is one from Notre Dame, and second from Iowa State. I didn’t choose these with any particular intent in mind; they were just two of the first that came up after a Google search of “ethical guidelines for social science research.”
Others may disagree, but I fail to see how this study attempted to, at a minimum:
- Consider and anticipate effects on third parties that are not directly included in the research (judicial candidates, supporters of non-partisan elections in Montana)
- Show respect for the values and views of research subjects, even if they differ from those generally accepted by society at large (if we accept Leeper’s argument that non-partisan elections are a net bad, and so if the experiment undermined the Montana election it’s OK since those who believe this are simply wrong)
The example used in research ethics 101 is this: we cannot be absolutely sure that someone does not have HIV (today the example used would be Ebola) unless we tested all of their blood. The problem with this test: it would kill the individual. We should minimize to the degree possible the impact of our measurement on the thing we are measuring, and this research design fails this test.
Finally, I’m really amazed that this research is justified on the grounds that private entities are doing this anyway. John Patty writes:
I will point out quickly that this type of experimental work is done all the time by corporations. This is often called “market research” or “market testing.” People don’t like to think they are being treated like guinea pigs, but trust me…you are. And you always will be.
Corporations are not subject to an IRB. I we hold ourselves to a higher standard than simply what makes money for Anheuser Busch.
A provocatively titled posting at the Monkey Cage suggests that Non Citizens Voting Could Decide the 2014 Election.
I discussed the Electoral Studies article that the Monkey Cage posting is based on at Early Voting.net, and expressed concerns then that the article made a number of very heroic assumptions to be able to claim that non-citizens were voting in significant numbers, and even more heroic assumptions to assume that these votes “created the filibuster proof majority in 2008,” as the authors claim.
Now the authors have doubled down, writing on Monkey Cage that non-citizens “could decide” the 2014 election, whatever that means in the context of House, Senate, gubernatorial, state legislative, and other races.
I’m engaged with my professional association in trying to show the public relevance of political science, but this isn’t exactly what I had in mind. There are heated public debates going on right now about the voter identification, and regardless of which side of this debate you are on, it’s dangerous to inject yourself into this debate based on a first look at a question like this, based on what many other scholars consider to be extremely tenuous assumptions.
Rick Hasen has posted a very nice followup on his blog that summarizes the situation far better than I can.
For those readers interested in the more detailed criticisms,
I’ve provided a link to the whole thread from the Election Law listserv. (Against listserv policy, apologies to fellow list members. Suffice it to say that there are trenchant criticisms, and I’ve encouraged those posting to enter the public dialogue.)
I encourage readers to pay especially close attention to any critiques provided by Michael McDonald. McDonald is the expert on identifying the number of non-citizens among the population, an exercise he engages in every two years in order to produce his estimates of the voting age population (VAP), voting eligible population (VEP), and voter turnout.
This one is not over, I am sure of that, and I expect to see additional scrutiny and replications in the next few months. This will not be soon enough to avoid inevitable post-election charges that in-person voter impersonation is rampant.
I just generated some comparative statistics on party registration in Oregon that may be pertinent to voters thinking about Measure 90, the Top Two Primary.
The numbers are pretty amazing. Registration in the state is about even with 2012–itself an important metric of a growing state.
You can compare county by county to see where population growth is concentrated–Benton, Clackamas, Crook, Deschutes, Jackson, Jefferson, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, and Yamhill are the only counties that have more registrants than in 2012–while other growing counties like Washington and Benton are barely in the negative. Typically, voter registration falls in off year elections.
However, what is even more fascinating is the pattern in party and non-party affiliation. Unaffiliated registrants are the only category growing among the three major categories (other parties, such as the Independent party, are seeing growth as well).
Some of the totals are stunning–Unaffiliated registrants up 9.06% in Benton, 7.98% in Clackamas, 12.42% in Deschutes, 11.6% in Jackson, 11.28% in Marion, 10.10% in Multnomah, 9.17% in Washington, and 9.74% in Yamhill.
Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican registration is down between 5% and 8% in most of these counties. Whatever we do about our primaries, we cannot continue to shut out the largest segment of registered voters.
I have gotten onto the email distribution list of Election Oregon, a group that appears to be a spin off of True the Vote.
The more citizens that learn about the election process in this state the better, but I can’t imagine a more tedious election observation activity than watching a drop box in Oregon (follow this link to see all the individual drop boxes in the state)!
Here’s the plan:
We need individuals posted at each drop box on the last two days of the Election to follow every last ballot directly to your county’s Election office. We need people to volunteer in teams one to drive one to video record the entire journey. I would be happy to act as dispatcher on Election night. Only catching these vote fixer in the act with a video record will make our case.
The problem lies in the trajectory of the vote by mail ballot in this state. Once a ballot is completed by an individual and dropped at a drop box, it follows this path:
- The sealed drop box is transported, generally at 8 pm on election day, sometimes earlier (and then replaced) in popular locations, by an employee from the county office.
- The box is inspected and opened in a secure location at the county elections office.
- The ballots are marked and begin to be processed.
- Signatures are inspected and validated.
- Ballots are separated from the security envelopes and are inspected for stray marks.
- Voter intention, if in question, is determined and ballot remarking may occur.
- Ballots are scanned and tallied.
It is simply difficult to know at what point “vote fixing” could possibly occur once ballots are dropped in the box.
Most election experts agree that the points of vulnerability in voting by mail system occur when the ballots leave the hands of government officials–after they are mailed and before they are returned.
I’ve done some election observation myself, and it’s never exciting. But spending all day videotaping a plastic box at a library even makes me feel sleepy!
A new paper by Jesse Richman, Gulsham Chattha, and David Earnest, available on first release in Electoral Studies, makes the controversial claim that:
We find that there is reason to believe non-citizen voting changed one state’s Electoral College votes in 2008, delivering North Carolina to Obama, and that non-citizen votes have also led to Democratic victories in congressional races including a critical 2008 Senate race that delivered for Democrats a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate…
The authors follow a creative strategy by leveraging the large sample sizes in the Cooperative Congressional Election Study in 2008 and 2010, and vote validation that occurred in 2008, to show that somewhere between 3.3%-25.1% of non-citizens were registered, and 1.5%-11.3% of non-citizens turned out to vote.
Extrapolated to the general population, they estimate anywhere from 38,000 to 2.8 million ballots were cast by non-citizens, and the bulk of these were Democratic votes (see figure above, reproduced from the paper).
The study is the first careful look at non-citizen voting that takes advantage of vote validation, and is almost certainly going to enter into the debate over photo ID.
Great article by Rick Hasen in Slate: The Voting Wars Heat Up.
Rick does a wonderful job highlighting how law and politics intersect in this arena
For a nice illustration of the conflict, see these articles by two dear friends, Ned Foley and Dan Tokaji. Ned and Dan are right down the hall from one another. Both are smart and reasonable, but on the issue of early voting in Ohio and undue burdens, they come down on different sides.
One thing is for sure–classes and seminars on election law at the Moritz College of Law must be interesting affairs!