Chapin exposes rampant vote fraud in Ohio!

Just kidding.  

Doug Chapin at the Election Academy highlights a report out of Ohio showing that, of the 210 cases described, 40 (all from Franklin County” were “referred for more investigation” and only 2 resulted in any prosecution, one for a man who voted for President in another state but for local initiatives in Ohio, and a second for a petition gatherer who falsified names on a petition.

The latter case, of course, does  not constitute voting fraud.

The results is 1/210, or .004 of the cases, constituted actual voter fraud.  Zero cases of voter impersonation at the polls.  Zero cases of illegal immigrants voting.  Zero cases or organized voter fraud at all.  As one Republican county prosecutor put it: “There’s a couple of isolated incidents of people making bone-headed decisions.”

I don’t expect to see many news stories helping to educate skeptical Americans that vote fraud is not, in fact, rampant in Ohio or in other states.

Important new research on using the CPS to study voter turnout Important new research on using the CPS to study voter turnout

The Current Population Survey’s Voting and Registration Supplement is the gold standard to understand voter turnout in the United States.  The study is the largest ongoing survey of voting participation in the United States, and is used not only by political scientists, election lawyers and civil rights advocates, but is also cited by Supreme Court Justices.

CPS Screen Shot

Michael McDonald  of the United States Election project has been warning for years that CPS turnout estimates were beginning to deviate in worrisome ways from data collected from exit polls, validated surveys, and official election returns.

New research in the Public Opinion Quarterly by Aram Hur and Christopher Achen validates McDonald’s claims.

From the abstract:

The Voting and Registration Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS) employs a large sample size and has a very high response rate, and thus is often regarded as the gold standard among turnout surveys. In 2008, however, the CPS inaccurately estimated that presidential turnout had undergone a small decrease from 2004. We show that growing nonresponse plus a long-standing but idiosyncratic Census coding decision was responsible. We suggest that to cope with nonresponse and overreporting, users of the Voting Supplement sample should weight it to reflect actual state vote counts.

Important reading for anyone who uses the CPS.

2013 in Review, Elections Edition from California Forward

I just received an interesting set of proposals for improving election administration in California, courtesy of California Forward (I have no affiliation with this organization, but the leadership appears to be non-partisan).

Among the ideas they support:

  • California Forward Action Fund (CFAF) supported Assemblymember Mullin’s AB 1135 which expands tools that are used to verify signatures on vote-by-mail ballots.
  • Senator Padilla’s SB 360 will enable California to move forward with the development of new voting systems that reflect today’s electorate.
  • The group is called Future of California Elections (FOCE). California Forward is a member of this group because we believe that modernizing out elections system is a cornerstone critical to restoring a vibrant and responsive democracy in California.
  • California was the first in the country to designate the state’s Health Benefit Exchange as a voter registration agency under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
  • The League of Women Voters of California is leading a study to develop a Best Practices Manual for Official Voter Information Guides (

A full list of their ideas and proposals is here:

Another nice TurboVote job lead

Another job at TurboVote / DemocracyWorks came across the transom: Data lead on the Voting Information Project. This looks like an exciting opportunity for the right person who wants to take the jump into big data and election administration.

Of babies, bathwaters, and non-partisan elections

Phil Keisling, Oregon’s Secretary of State from 1991-1999 and currently director of the Center for Public Service at the Hatfield School of Portland State University, wants mayors to be elected in non-partisan elections, held at the same time as general elections.  He is worried about low turnout in partisan primaries held in odd year elections (in the recent NYC mayoral primary, turnout was 22% overall, only 13% among registered Republicans).  He worries that partisan election systems “relegate minority-party and non-affiliated voters to “observers-on-the-sidelines” status while forcing candidates through the same partisan paces that are driving our national politics into the ditch.”  “(E)fficiently delivering core municipal services or revitalizing downtowns” has little to do with the issues that currently animate party divisions in Washington.  Swich to non-partisan elections, Phil argues, to increase turnout, attract young people to the polls, and revitalize trust in government.  (The full argument is here:

Phil Keisling has a well-deserved reputation as an election innovator for pushing through vote by mail in Oregon.  He advocated for the top-two primary in Oregon.  And he continues to work to improve civic policies and engage young people in government.

But on this point–as on the top-two primary proposed in Oregon in 2008–Phil and I will have to politely disagree.  Let’s not toss out the party baby along with the dirty bathwater, especially if the bathwater is being generated in Washington, D.C., not in our local municipalities.

Phil’s unhappiness with the direction of the national Republican Party may be blinding him to the positive role that political parties can play in structuring politics not just in the United States, but in every democratic political system yet devised by man.

John Aldrich, a political scientist at Duke, famously asks “Why Parties?“, and his answer is that

parties serve to combat three fundamental problems of democracy: how to regulate the number of people seeking public office; how to mobilize voters; and how to achieve and maintain the majorities needed to accomplish goals once in office.

Parties are a “name brand”, according to another political scientist,”providing credible information about how politicians are likely to act in office.”  Parties serve as training grounds for new political actors, recruit candidates for office, and provide avenues for upward political mobility.  Partisanship among individual voters remains the most important predictor of the vote, and helps voters make order out of a bewildering variety of political claims and issues.

Political parties are obviously not a panacea, and political divisions are deeply problematic in America today.

But let’s not cure the disease by killing the patient.  The problem as I see it is that Phil lumps together different institutional forms–most notably closed partisan primaries with general elections–and concludes that all party labels must be a bad thing for turnout and for voting.

There is a good argument to be made for opening up partisan primaries to unaffiliated voters, as many states do, or perhaps having a “top two” or some other “open” system.  It’s not clear that this will result in substantially increased turnout in primary elections, as Phil claims, but it would allow those voters who don’t want to officially affiliate when registering to vote to participate in the primary.

But to leap from there to non-partisan general elections is a leap too far.  Voting in a non-partisan general election, according to Brian Schaffner and Matt Streb, is like watching a football game where the teams aren’t wearing uniforms.  No one knows who is ahead, who is behind, or who to root for.

Non-partisan elections do not increase turnout–they depress it.  Non-partisan election do not result in more-informed voting, but instead they force voters to replace one cue (party) with others (interest groups), and most problematic, they end up empowering incumbents.

Nor is there any guarantee that a party label assures a victory.  Phil makes the unfortunate error of claiming that winning a partisan primary in New York City is tantamount to victory in the general election.  Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Guiliani would beg to differ.

Once we get beyond non-partisanship, Keisling advocates for a number of positive reforms.  Align local and state elections with the federal general elections?  Absolutely.  Experiment with innovations like instant runoff voting, which avoid the need for partisan primaries?  Great idea.

But abandon political parties?  Unless you want to strengthen incumbents and interest groups and weaken voter control, it’s not a good idea.

New Elections Director in Oregon

Jeff Mapes reports in the Oregonian:

Still left untold is the story behind Steve Trout’s departure.

Newby and Chapin nail it on early voting siting

It’s good when friends help friends!  I have been swamped this academic year, as my slow pace of blogging shows.

But this post by Doug Chapin, courtesy of Brian Newby, says in one post what I’ve been trying to tell folks for years.   Placing early voting locations is not as easy as creating a pop up Halloween store.  The combination of a short term lease and high end electrical, Internet, and accessibility needs make them as rare in some counties as Oregon sunshine in November.

Keep that in mind, Daily Kos and others, when criticizing officials.  Scrutinize them, for sure, but make sure you also understand what constraints they may be operating under.

Early voting reduces turnout?

So says a new academic study by the team at the University of Wisconsin.

The study is blogged about in detail at the Fact Tank at the Pew Center on the States and will undoubtedly spark some reaction.  The takeaway point for anyone interested in elections and turnout is that a simple minded rational choice model of turnout is, by itself, simply insufficient to understand voting behavior.  (This piece cites none of the “classic” turnout articles, nor should it.)

I’ve been critical of the Wisconsin approach in the past for failing to discriminate among different modes of early voting (they code no-excuse absentee and early in-person the same way) and, at least in past work, for relying only on data from 2008.  This study doesn’t address the first issue but does expand the universe to include the 2008 presidential contest, a significant advancement.

The study also demonstrates the value of peer-review.  Peer review is criticized because it is slow and deliberate.  But peer review makes it a lot more likely that scholars get to the right answer.  In this case, I’ve seen this paper through a number of versions (including acting as a reviewer), and the impact of peer review is very clear in the final product.

There are other pieces circulating that purport to address this question, including at least one that I reviewed recently showing an opposite result, controlling for the number of early voting locations in each jurisdiction.  This question is certainly not closed, but this piece is going to stand as an important marker in the field.

An early preview of my testimony tomorrow An early preview of my testimony tomorrow

The secret word for my testimony tomorrow at the Presidential Commission on Election Administration is diversity.  (Alternative secret words may be complexity or heterogeneity.)

Early and Absentee Voting Laws

The rise of early voting has added a new layers of diversity to an already incredibly diverse election system.  As the NCSL’s early and absentee voting law page shows, states have chosen different paths in adopting convenience voting systems.

The result is that voters have increasingly diverged nationwide in how they cast their ballots.  These map  from 2008 (the 2012 data is still incomplete) illustrates the pattern nationwide.

Compare the first map, which displays early voting rates overall, with the rates for voting by mail/absentee voting and early in-person voting (users should be able to click on the first map, then just hit the cursor keys to move between the maps).

Not only is there substantial variation among states and regions, but there are even large county by count differences within states.


Diversity and complexity characterize the American electoral landscape.  It’s going to be very challenging to come up with recommendations that are specific enough to make forward progress on some of the more challenging issues and also not so general that they are anodyne.