Early Voting in the Granite State?

Image courtesy of Heavy.com

Early voting (no-excuse absentee and early in-person) is under consideration in New Hampshire as Gov. Maggie Hansen signed HB521, which establishes a “committee to study New Hampshire election laws and procedures.”

(These are not the only pieces of legislation concerning early voting that was considered this session:

The mandate for the committee under HB251 is fairly broad:

220:3 Duties. The committee shall study all current New Hampshire election laws and procedures and review all options to increase participation including but not limited to solutions to limit lines and wait times in casting ballots and voter registration, public education related to election law, election procedures, early voting, and absentee voting. The committee shall consult with and solicit testimony from the public in the course of its duties.

If it allowed early and no-excuse absentee voting, New Hampshire would join Vermont and Maine as the third New England state allowing these methods of balloting.  However, the state’s chief election officer, Secretary of State Bill Gardner, has already expressed skepticism.   Gardner says that early voting:

(D)iminishes the value of Election Day itself, because when you write stories about people voting and going to places to cast early ballots, when people read two or three more stories about voting, the significance of the one day itself is diminished in a lot of people’s minds.

Secretary Gardner also says that early voting actually decreases turnout: “how can you make it easier and by making it easier, you get fewer people voting…but that’s what the numbers show.”

On Gardner’s first point, I’d like to say that we have research on how early voting diminishes the value of Election Day, but the record is quite thin.

A seminal paper in the field by John Brehm, Wendy Rahn, and Neil Carlson showed that national elections do generate a small increase in “social capital”, shown by post-election increases in things like generalized trust in government, trust in others, and social identification with groups.  However, the cause of the increase was not the act of voting, or psychological engagement in the campaign.  Only mobilization contacts by political parties and candidate organizations directly increased social capital.

The Brehm et al. piece is based on the 1996 election, however, at least two generations ago in terms of elections, election administration, and election reform.  Brehm, Rahn, and Carlson never asked whether or not the mode of voting mattered–for them, an election consisted of mobilization by campaigns, by non-campaign organizations, a citizen’s engagement with the campaign, and the act of voting.

Others, including myself, have speculated that early voting may change the way individuals think about Election Day as a political and social event, but to date, no one has been able to establish any credible evidence in favor or against this hypothesis.  Martha Kropf  has revisited the question using date from 2004 and found that ” pre-Election Day voting has little effect on cooperative behaviors in a cross sectional survey.”  There have been to my knowledge no follow-up studies.

Perhaps this should not be surprising, given Brehm et al.’s original finding.  After all, far from diminishing campaign mobilization, all indications are that early voting increases the length and intensity of campaign activities.

None of this is particularly supportive of Secretary Gardner, but admittedly the research record is thin.

On the second point, however, the record is pretty thick and not at all supportive of the Secretary’s claim.  There is just one study out of the University of Wisconsin that purports to show a negative impact of early voting on turnout.  The study stands nearly alone in the field in showing a negative impact of early voting (some scholars have shown small declines under “forced” vote by mail in small precincts in California and others have shown that this effect can be offset by election advertising by local election officials).   As I have pointed out in the past, the Wisconsin paper is based only on one year’s worth of data (2008), does not discriminate between voting by mail or early in-person, and has not been published or replicated.  Dozens of other articles have shown the opposite result: a small but statistically significant increase in turnout.

The Wisconsin team publicized their findings in a NY Times op ed, and this may be what Secretary Gardner is relying on when he made that statement, but otherwise, I’d say the jury is decidedly out.

Secretary Gardner is exactly right, though, when he notes that New Hampshire already has high turnout, and any voting reform is likely to have marginal effects.

That’s what I find regrettable thus far; the committee has been empowered to “review all options to increase participation.”  If New Hampshire really wants to increase voter participation, they should make campaigns more competitive, make politics more interesting, get citizens more engaged, and raise the educational and income levels of your populace.  Those are the big drivers of turnout.

To borrow from Pew, election administration and reform is designed to make elections accurate, efficient, convenient, and secure.  

I hope New Hampshire considers this broader mandate, and doesn’t artificially limit themselves to voter turnout, or they are likely to be disappointed in the outcome.


Early Voting and Turnout: The Washington Case

Important new paper by Alan Gerber, Gregory Huber, and Seth Hill estimates the effects of moving to an all vote-by-mail system in the State of Washington.

The overall estimated impact of the change to VBM is 2.6% in presidential years, 3.3% in midterm years, and 3.8% in odd years, very close to estimates I’ve provided before (see here for an estimate based on national data and here for Oregon estimates).

Using individual level voter files, they find even larger effects on low propensity voters: 9.8 percentage points for those in the file who were only registered to vote at a polling place in 2008, followed by a 3.8 percentage point increase for those who did not vote in 2006, 7, and 8.

The piece is a nice empirical demonstration of how to work with individual voter history files as a way to evaluate an election reform, and it’s also nice to see that the oft-quoted “2-4% effect” (mostly coming out of my mouth) is sustained once again.

Hat tip to Doug Chapin: More Fun with Domicile. Taxes vs. Voting.

Glad to see my friend Doug Chapin back at the keyboard after a well-deserved hiatus.

Image courtesy of Metropolitan Knowledge Network

Doug’s postings about domicile  may seem tongue in cheek, but the issue of “domicile” versus “residence” was a heated issue in the most recent Portland mayor’s race.

As anyone from this part of the country knows, Oregon has no sales tax and Washington has no income tax.  This creates an interesting cross border dynamic between Portland and Vancouver, two cities that are part of one metropolitan area.  Not surprisingly, there is a large shopping mall and a number of car dealerships clustered near Oregon’s northern border.  And Clark County, WA has experienced a boom in suburban development over the past quarter century.

Charlie Hales, currently mayor of Portland, was one of these cross border residents for five years.  It turned out that he’d paid taxes in Washington from 2004-2009 but continued to be on the voting rolls and cast ballots in Oregon.

What appears to have been the key consideration in Hales’s case is that he was able to claim “temporary” residence in Washington because he “always intended to return to Oregon.”  This obligated him to list himself as a Washington resident for tax purposes but not for voting purposes.

The larger issue that Doug refers to is how “domicile” for tax purposes differs from “domicile” for voting purposes.  This may seem like an irrelevant distinction to most citizens, but anyone who has paid taxes in more than one jurisdiction or lived overseas and had to choose a “domicile” for voting knows the issue can be far from simple.

Tracking the Early Voter Tracking the Early Voter

Michael McDonald has a new column reporting early voting rates in 2012, compared to previous years, using the Current Population Survey’s Voting and Registration Supplement. The trends in early voting have been picked up by Rick Hasen and Doug Chapin, but Doug rightly highlights this caveat from Mike’s column:

[I]t is instructive to keep in mind that the Census Bureau statistics are drawn from a survey. We will get more information later this summer with the United States Election Assistance Commission reports early voting statistics from election officials. An interesting difference between these two sources is that election officials do not report when a voter cast their mail ballot; in some states, voters can return their mail ballots on Election Day. So, election officials will likely report a higher early voting rate than the Census Bureau as their statistics in some states include persons who voted by mail on Election Day.

Doug (and Mike) speculate that the differences may be due in part to no-excuse absentee voters who turn in their ballots on Election Day and tell the CPS that they voted “on Election Day”.

This is possible, but the postings highlight the ongoing challenge of collecting consistent and reliable information on the American elections system, especially information on things like early voting that are were not part of elections reporting systems just a decade ago.

Tracking the early vote has been a part of EVIC’s mission since our founding in 2004.  A decade ago, few states or jurisdictions tracked no-excuse or early in-person ballots, and most polling organizations didn’t pay much attention either.  Early voting crept up quietly on survey organizations; in 2000, our best estimate is that 16.26% of citizens cast a ballot prior to Election Day.  This figure jumped nearly 50% in 2004, when  22.7% of citizens cast a ballot prior to Election Day.  Anyone interested in American elections had to pay attention to the early vote.

There are three separate sources of information on the early vote.  The good news is that the sources correlate highly, both across states and over time.  The bad news is there is a persistent gap on the low-end, using the Current Population Survey’s Voting and Registration Supplement (VRS) and on the high end using data drawn from the Associated Press’s Election Services Unit.

In the table below, we report early voting totals from these three different sources for 2008 and 2010 (the CPS is used by McDonald in his column).  Next we report data from the Election Assistance Commission’s Election Administration and Voting Survey.  The third column reports information graciously provided by the Associated Press’s Elections Tabulation and Research Unit.

2008 28.45% 32.40% 34.00%
2010 24.95% 28.50% 30.50%


The CPS is a survey, one of the largest and best available, and the only way we have to track voter participation using different modes of balloting prior to 2004, when almost no other survey organizations were asking about alternative modes of balloting.

Prior to 2004, the CPS asked the question in a different way.  PES4 (2002 and prior) asked the respondent whether they “voted in person on election day or before, or by mail.”   From 2004 onwards, the CPS asked (PES5) “Did you vote in person or did you vote by mail?” and followed up with (PES6)“Was that on election day or before election day?”

McDonald’s and Chapin’s comments zero in on the number of respondents who cast a “by-mail” ballot but returned it on Election Day.  In some jurisdictions, the number of citizens who cast a ballot this way are not inconsequential.  According to Dean Logan, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk of Los Angeles County, 202,584 vote by mail ballots were delivered in person to polling places in 2012.  These totaled 6.3% of all ballots and 20.8% of no-excuse absentee ballots.  Nationwide, however, the totals are far lower.  In the 2012 CPS, only 458 or 59713 respondents, or 0.76% of all voters said the “voted by mail” and “voted on Election Day.  To Doug’s point about California, twice as many Californians gave this response than nationally (8.27% vs. 4.83% of vote by mail respondents).

It doesn’t appear that the question wording made much of a material difference in how citizens reported voting (see the graphic below), although the terrain was changing so rapidly that it would be nearly impossible to separate question wording effects from actual changes in rates.

Source: Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement

Source: Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement

Our second source is the EAC.  This is generally the best source for early voting returns, especially since 2008 when state response rates have improved dramatically.  There is only one minor quibble with the EAC, and it’s not with their data but their reports.  The reports calculate statistics exactly as the states report them, even though the agency continues to wrestle with non-response problems.  The careful user needs to be attentive to this fact.  For instance, in 2010, Table 28A in the EAVS has 4678 reporting jurisdictions and 90,810,679 total voters.  The same table reports that 8.2% of votes were cast early in-person, basing that result on 2318 jurisdictions.

The means that the EAC data probably slightly underreport the number of early in-person and no-excuse absentee voters.

Our third source is the AP.  The Associated Press’s Elections Services Unit is an interesting entity.  The AP is a no-profit cooperative of news organizations, and the Elections Unit begins to compile data from states and counties on early in-person and no-excuse ballots as soon as this information is available.  They use this information on election night to help supplement their vote tabulation work.  Post-election, they shift into a different mode, trying to assemble official results on total ballots cast, total vote, early votes cast/counted, mail ballot absentees cast/counted, provisional cast/counted, including digging down into precinct level certified results to compile some information not available from counties or states (including valuable breakouts of “advance” vs election day votes by candidate for key races).

In my past work, I’ve relied heavily on the AP’s data, because, unlike the EAC, they have reported results in a relatively consistent fashion back to 2000, and unlike the CPS, the data are ideally based on certified election returns and not on survey results.

These different data sources reflect different perceptions of the same reality.  The Census Bureau data is invaluable because it tells us what voters did behaviorally and over 20 or more years.  The EAC provides us insight into how states and local jurisdictions have categorized their ballots three to six months after the election.

If I were to make one suggestion, it would be to look closely at what is being done by the AP.  The AP has a strong incentive to continue to go back to local jurisdictions and make sure that its final figures our correct.

The same incentives should be applied to whatever entity continues to collect the data for the EAVS.  The EAC currently is focused on producing a congressionally mandated series of post-election reports.  After that point, they are little incentive–and no funding–to go back and correct or amend their data.  It would not be hard to provide a data collection and funding model that would incentivize not just timely reporting, but also ongoing data maintenance.



Early Voting Reforms Continue Apace in Florida Early Voting Reforms Continue Apace in Florida


On May 21st, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida signed into law CS/HB 7103. The bill includes changes to absentee voting laws, to requirements for the quality of voting technology, to the word limits of constitutional amendments, and to many other areas of election administration that are both visible and invisible to the voting public.

At EVIC, we are following the changes made to early voting. Some view HB 7103 as a victory for early voting advocates and a defeat for Republicans (try this article, or this one, or this one), because HB 7103 is considered a redaction of HB 1355, a controversial piece of legislation that some argue caused over 200,000 to not vote in 2012 and created  6-9 hour lines for those who stuck around. Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith claim that Democratic, African American, Hispanic, young, and first-time voters were disproportionally impacted by the HB 1355. Other survey results don’t speak directly to the impact on minority groups, but do show that lines in Florida were longer than anywhere else in the country.

Will HB 7103 make things better?  Why did 13 Democrats in the Florida State Senate oppose the bill? The devil is in the details, and these details may derail the hopes of early voting advocates (here is a PDF of the HB 7103).

Let’s start with section 13 (pg. 24-26 of the PDF)–where we find the most significant changes to early voting:

“The supervisor [of elections] may also designate any city hall, permanent public library facility, fairground, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, convention center, government-owned senior center, or government-owned community center as early voting sites” (lines 681-686)

“a supervisor may designate one early voting site per election in an area of the county that does not have any of the eligible early voting locations” (689-691)

“Each county shall, at a minimum, operate the same total number of early voting sites for a general election which the county operated for the 2012 general election” (694-697)

“Early voting shall begin on the 10th day before an election that contains state or federal races and end on the 3rd day before the election, and shall be provided for no less than 8 hours and no more than 12 hours per day at each site during the applicable period” (700-704)

“In addition, early voting may be offered at the discretion of the supervisor of elections on the 15th, 14th, 13th, 12th, 11th, or 2nd day before an election that contains state or federal races for at least 8 hours per day, but not more than 12 hours per day” (704-708)

The first provision means that there will may be greater use of satellite early voting locations, and as Bob Stein has shown, this would increase the use of early voting and voter turnout overall.  An increase in the minimum number of early voting hours per day could make it easier to vote early for some citizens.  Discretionary authority to offer early voting on additional days returns the state to the situation prior to HB1355.

However, discretionary authority is not mandated requirements.  Only time will tell if county supervisors will take advantage of the ability to offer early voting for more days and at more places.  The bill contains no additional funding for local officials, so how likely is it that counties will pay for early voting out of their own budgets?  It’s possible that early voting could be very accessible in wealthy counties and relatively inaccessible in poorer counties, creating the same kind of racial and ethnic disparities Herron and Smith point to in 2012.

Is this the only change to early voting in Florida?  There is one more provision that caught our eye.  From section 19 of 7103:

“The supervisor of elections shall upload into the county’s election management system by 7 p.m. on the day before the election the results of all early voting and absentee ballots that have been canvassed and tabulated by the end of the early voting period. Pursuant to ss. 101.5614(9), 101.657, and 101.68(2), the tabulation of votes cast or the results of such uploads may not be made public before the close of the polls on election day” (1100-1107)

If we are reading this correctly, this is a major change in Florida election law, and early in-person and absentee ballot returns are not going to be made available for public scrutiny until after the election.  If this is an accurate reading, vote mobilization efforts in Florida will be substantially harmed, since campaigns will no longer be able to track who has already returned their ballots.  It may be that we are misreading the intent of the term “tabulation” which refers to actual candidate totals and not information on voter turnout. We look forward to hearing that we have misinterpreted this provision.

CORRECTION: We are very pleased to learn that Section 19 of 7103 does not impact election reporting. A state election official from Florida has let us know that the provision instead requires supervisors of elections to internally upload early voting decisions prior to Election Day. Glad to hear about the correction!

Recent GAO report on voter accessibility

A recently released GAO report titled “Voters with Disabilities: Challenges to Voter Accessibility” should be of interest to the election community and to the new Presidential commission.

While challenges remain, there is no way to read this report in my opinion other than as good news.  HAVA and state and local responses to polling place problems identified in the debate over HAVA have clearly improved accessibility at the polls. From the summary:

Compared to 2000, the proportion of polling places in 2008 without potential impediments increased and almost all polling places had an accessible voting  system as states and localities made various efforts to help facilitate accessible voting. In 2008, based upon GAO’s survey of polling places, GAO estimated that 27 percent of polling places had no potential impediments in the path from the parking to the voting area—up from16 percent in 2000; 45 percent had potential impediments but offered curbside voting; and the remaining 27 percent had potential impediments and did not offer curbside voting. All but one polling place GAO visited had an accessible voting system—typically, an electronic machine in a voting station—to facilitate private and independent voting for people with disabilities. However, 46 percent of polling places had an accessible voting system that could pose a challenge to certain voters with disabilities, such as voting stations that were not arranged to accommodate voters using wheelchairs. In GAO’s 2008 state survey, 43 states reported that they set accessibility standards for polling places, up from 23 states in 2000.

Much of the data in the report is contained in two previous studies conducted during the 2008 election. It’s unfortunate that Congressional funding of elections-related research seems to be drying up.  How useful would it have been to replicate the GAO’s random selection and observation of 730 polling places in 2008?  That’s a election-science dream.

"Early Voting in Florida" at the MPSA Conference “Early Voting in Florida” at the MPSA Conference

Paul Gronke and Charles Stewart presented their paper on early voting in Florida at the Midwest Political Science Association conference the other week in Chicago. The paper highlights the effects restrictions to early voting had on voters in Florida in 2012.

In 2011, the State of Florida proposed a series of changes in how it conducts elections. In particular, the early voting period was reduced from 14 days to 8 days, eliminating the final Sunday of early in-person voting. In this paper, they analyze the impact of these changes on the Florida early electorate using statewide voter registration, voter history, and county early voting files, tracking the voting behavior of Floridians from 2006 to 2012, with a particular focus on African-Americans.

They demonstrate that while shortening the time of early voting does not appear to have hindered the earliest of early voters, it does appear to have dissuaded turnout among the latest early voters, especially those who previously voted on the final Sunday before Election Day. Voters who vote during “souls to the polls” on this particular Sunday, as well as others who voted on this day, were affected. The following graph shows a comparison of “souls to the polls” efforts in 2008 and 2012.

Picture 32

They further show that there is a racial element to these changes. Voters who faced more congestion and longer lines at the polls as a result of a reduction in early voting days were disproportionately African American. What’s more, African-American voters showed a substantially higher preference for voting on that final Sunday, but this preference is far less evident in 2012 after the changes to the law.

A copy of their paper can be found here.


The Phony Baloney Vote Fraud Award for 2013

leftI can’t resist giving this claim out of North Carolina special prominence.  It has to be a contender for the phony baloney vote fraud claim of the year.

Among the changes being proposed in NC is an end to same-day registration during “one-stop” in-person absentee voting.

State Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger is quoted in the Greensboro News-Record supporting this change because of concerns over vote fraud (boldface added):

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham County, wants to look at shrinking early voting periods, which he said last week put stress on election workers and campaign coffers. He also wants to look at ending Sunday voting and same-day registration. Same-day registration raises concerns about voter fraud, and Sunday hasn’t traditionally been a voting day, he said.

The problem with this claim is that North Carolina already has in place the most fraud-proof system I am aware.

According to the State Board of Election website, and conforming to my own recollection, if a citizen shows up to a one-stop voting location and wants to register or change their registration and case at ballot at the same time.  I quote from the SBOE website (the last sentence is key):

Within two business days of an one-stop registration, the county board of elections will attempt to verify the registrant’s North Carolina drivers license or Social Security number, update the statewide registration database and search for possible duplicate registrations, and proceed to verify the registrant’s address. The registrant’s vote will be counted unless the county board determines that the person, for some statutory reason, is not qualified to vote.

It bears repeating: in North Carolina, an early vote cast after a same day registration is not counted unless the county board of elections can verify the validity of the registration.

I would hope the SBOE is calling up Sen. Berger and informing him about the procedures in place in his own state.

To NC Legislators: Rely on data, not anecdotes

A decade of reform since HAVA has led to many positive changes in American elections, not the least of which is that there are solid empirical data available to provide guidance to legislators and election officials who want to improve performance and conduct more efficient elections.

This is one of the goals of Doug Chapin and the team at the Election Academy and this is the topic of the Election Data Dispatches coming out of the Pew Center on the States.  Charles Stewart of MIT and Barry Burden of Wisconsin have been leading an initiative on Measuring State Election Performance that puts many of these indicators to use.

I realize that election reforms are seldom if ever non-partisan.  I am not naive about the intentions of political actors.  But I would at least hope that if a legislator is proposing a major change to the election system in a state, he or she would try to at least pretend to have some facts and not just make things up.

Unfortunately, fairy land seems to have descended upon the Tarheel State this past week. I suppose it’s all because Duke, UNC, and NCSU are out of the NCAA tournament.  (OK, that last comment was grossly unfair.)

Let’s take a selected list and ask if this claim can be substantiated:

Claim: State Sen. Bill Cook (R-Guilford) believes that few North Carolians vote in the first week of early voting:

Cook says his campaign took him to early voting sites in his rural district where there was rarely a line.

“I don’t think we need (the extra days),” he said. “The first week, you get lots of folks. The second week, nothing. It’s almost a desert.”

Fact: 58% of early voters, and 30% of all voters cast an early-in person ballot in the first week in 2012.

Claim: Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham County) says that “Sunday hasn’t traditionally been a voting day.”

Fact: No day has “traditionally been a voting day” other than Tuesday.  12 of the 32 states that provide early in-person voting mandate some voting on either Saturday or Sunda, while most other states allow local officials to make this choice.  It’s impossible without collecting detailed information at the county level to know just how many jurisdictions nationwide allowed Sunday voting, but it’s certainly not uncommon.  (The GAO issued a report on weekend voting just a few years ago on the topic of weekend voting.)

Claim: Greg Steele, chair of the NC Federation of College Republicans, says that cutting early voting in half will save money and 

would encourage people to research candidates before they vote.

“It would energize people into taking more time to be invested into what they’re voting for,” he said.

Fact: State Elections Director Gary Barlett takes on claim 1: “There is not going to be any savings at all by reducing the early voting period,” he said.

Claim two is hard to parse; apparently, people who vote in the first week of early voting don’t have enough time to research candidates, but voters in the second week do have enough time.  Steele expresses no concern about no-excuse absentee voters whose ballots are mailed out 45 days before the election.  What we do know from extensive research into the early voter is that these are voters who have already made up their minds and show no lower levels of political information or interest than Election Day voters (in fact, in most cases, quite the opposite).

Early voting is no an unalloyed good.  There are valid arguments that can be made against early voting.

The problem is that most of these reasons apply mainly to no-excuse absentee voting, not to early in-person voting, and the NC legislature seems unconcerned about by-mail ballots.