Hat tip to Doug Chapin:

NCSL Election Administration Research Database will be an invaluable tool for scholars, advocates, and others interested in studying and improving election administration.  Here’s hoping this kicks the field forward!



Voting turnout is affected by many things; or why journalists need to learn multivariate statistics

downloadMy good friend Tova Wang sent me this headline from the Columbus Post Dispatch:

Early Voting Hasn’t Boosted Ohio Turnout

In support of this headline,  reporter compares turnout in only three elections, only statewide, and only in presidential contests.  This is analysis is as unrevealing–and potentially misleading–as imaginable.

The key to understanding a complex process like voter turnout is to try to maximize, to the degree feasible, variation and covariation among all the important causes (variables).  Political scientists often consider dozens or more different influences on turnout and estimate highly sophisticated multivariate models.

But even a relatively simple exploration can be done far better than the one conducted by the Dispatch.

Let’s start with the presidency.  There are obvious reasons that the nation, and the world, focuses on the American presidential election.  It is almost always the most consequential election held in this country for the most powerful and influential political leader in the world.

But all these reasons are why the presidential contest may be the worst election in order to discern the turnout effects of something like early voting.  In the face of a billion or more dollars in campaign spending, blanket media coverage, and organizational mobilization, the impact of early voting is going to be small.  We may be able to uncover turnout effects, but the context makes it difficult.

At a bare minimum, compare midterm and presidential contests, and if at all possible, include off-cycle elections.

Next, even if limited to a study within one state, there is no good reason not to compare trends across counties.  In a large, heterogeneous state like Ohio, not only do the conditions for voting change across the state, but the voters change as well.

The reporter seems to recognize that African Americans in 2008 responded differently to the Obama/McCain contest in 2008 than they did to the Kerry/Bush campaign in 2004.   And the reporter notes that, due to legal uncertainties, the hours and days of early voting varied across counties in 2012.

So why not compare turnout effects across counties?  By not doing so, the reporter–whether realizing it or not–assumes that the all voting rules and procedures in the state of Ohio are identical and more importantly, that all Ohioans are identical insofar as they responded in different years to different candidates and to different election laws and procedures.

Two esteemed political scientists are quoted in the article and seemed to try to educate the reporter on these points.

Paul Beck’s quote starts with a general point which I think does not accurately reflect the state of the literature on early voting at this stage, but more important is the end of Beck’s quote, where he highlights the most consequential reasons that turnout may be higher or lower:

“People who vote early are people who are typically going to vote anyway,” said Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University. “So, early voting hasn’t really succeeded in turning out more people to vote. We’ve made it a lot easier to vote, but on the other hand, some people are very discouraged about politics and might not care how easy it is to vote.”

John Green’s quote, on the other hand, is exactly on point in my view:

“If all things are equal, early voting would increase voter turnout, but all things aren’t equal,” said John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron. “But there are many factors in each election: the closeness of the race, the excitement to vote for a candidate or the degree of anger in the electorate.”

I could not have put it better.  Early voting may not have increased turnout in Ohio, but without at least considering these other factors, the title and thrust of the story are not accurate.

Doug Chapin notes that postmarks are not consistently applied. Shocking!

I think the policy solution here is pretty simple:i f you have an election day deadline for all ballots, then the postmark is not important.


Apropos of Doug Chapin’s recent posting on the proposed change to a “postmark” deadline in California, this study by the Washington Policy Center may be apropos.

The Center looked at the five largest counties in Washington and Oregon, both of which have full vote by mail with drop boxes, but Washington allows ballots to arrive if postmarked by Election Day, while Oregon requires ballots to arrive by 8 pm on Election Day.

The results are reproduced below, and show higher late ballot rates in Washington.

I will have more to say about this later, but at first glance, it appears that an Election Day deadline may serve voters better, prompting more to return their ballots on time.

Election Day in Ukraine: First Impressions

Untitled 2It has been a peaceful morning of balloting in Kherson, Ukraine.  I am here monitoring elections as part of an international mission.  I’ve met hundreds of other observers from the United States, Canada, Germany, and many other countries.  All are hard working and dedicated individuals who are interested in helping to cement democratic development in the country.

Kherson is in the south of the country, and is best known as the dying place of John Howard, famous British prison reformer. (I haven’t visited the pub named after Howard just yet.)






Because Kherson is located just west of Crimea and has more than 50% of the population who report Russian as their native language, you’d think that this region would be tense.  We had to sit through extra security briefings before we were deployed to the area.

But the two words that would describe the election thus far are busy and calm.  The election is busy because the lines are long and voter interest is high.  These lines aren’t helped by the economic crisis in the country which has resulted in understaffed polling places and too few voting booths. Things aren’t so different in the United States!

Nonetheless, voters seem to be in good spirits, perhaps helped by the beautiful, warm, sunny summer Sunday, and generally calm–except when they’ve had to wait for an hour to vote!

I hope for a free and fair outcome, one that may help the country move forward.  I’m sure everyone here hopes for the same.

A piece of legislation in the state of Louisiana came across the transom, courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation’s Scout service, that “provides for a “study of voting technology, processes, and procedures.”

It’s fairly standard stuff, but what I found interesting is this part of the list of proposed committee members:

(11) One member appointed by the governor from a list of nominees submitted by the presidents of Centenary College of Louisiana, Dillard University, Louisiana College, Loyola University New Orleans, Tulane University, and Xavier University of Louisiana,each of whom shall submit one nominee who shall not be an elected or appointed public official.

My friend and colleague Chris Mann is now at LSU and is nationally known expert on voting technology, and I bet there are a few other Tigers well-positioned to help such a committee.

Geaux Tigers?

Nice new article by Emily Beaulieu, “From Voter ID to Party ID: How Political Parties Affect Perceptions of Election Fraud in the U.S.”
in Electoral Studies (currently available in early access but this may be gated for some).

Here’s the abstract

This paper uses a survey experiment to assess what individuals understand about election fraud and under what circumstances they see it as a problem. I argue that political parties are central to answering both these questions. Results from the 2011 CCES survey suggest respondents are able to differentiate between the relative incentives of Democrats and Republicans where fraud tactics are concerned, but whether voters see these tactics as problematic is heavily influenced by partisan bias. The results show little support for the notion that partisan ideology drives fraud assessments, and suggest support for the idea that individual concerns for fraud are shaped a desire for their preferred candidate to win. These results offer insights that might be applied more broadly to questions of perceptions of electoral integrity and procedural fairness in democracies.

The changing vote by mail electorate in California
Courtesy of California Civic Education Project (regionalchange.ucdavis.edu)

Courtesy of California Civic Education Project (regionalchange.ucdavis.edu)

Courtesy of Los Angeles County Clerk/Recorder Dean Logan’s twitter feed, researchers at the University of California, Davis’s California Civic Engagement Project has released a fascinating analysis of vote by mail usage in the Golden State.

Some of the patterns are not surprising to anyone who has followed vote by mail for a while: by-mail voters tend to be older and white and Asian.  The report pays particularly close attention to lower Hispanic usage rates of VBM, but I’m a bit disappointed that there is no report of African American usage, which Charles Stewart and I have shown has grown enormously in Florida and other southeastern states.

Party differences are, as always, complex.  A greater proportion of Republican affiliators use vote by mail, but because Democrats hold such an enormous registration advantage in the state, a larger proportion of the vote by mail electorate overall is Democratic (43%) vs. Republican (33%) and No Party preference (18%).

The MonkeyCage features a nice by Pippa Norris, Richard Frank, and Ferran Martinez I Coma on new research coming out of the Electoral Integrity Project.  The post reports on a recent international survey of election experts ranking 66 countries on a variety of measures of election conduct and administration.

Unfortunately, someone made an ill-advised choice to tag the post “election fraud.”

It may be the Pippa and her colleagues indirectly invited this provocative tag.  The first line of their posting reads:

In many countries, polling day ends with disputes about ballot-box fraud, corruption and flawed registers.

Followed in the next paragraph by:

Where there are disputes, however, which claims are accurate? And which are false complaints from sore losers?

The report does not really evaluate the validity of election disputes, nor does it provide a measure of election fraud, however.  What is being reported by the EIP is innovative and valuable: evaluations by expert observers of the perceptions of electoral integrity (this is the accurate title of the dataset available from Harvard’s Dataverse) by 855 election experts.

This is not the same thing as “election fraud,” and the report at the EIP website says this (emphasis added):

To address this issue, new evidence gathered by the Electoral Integrity Project compares the risks of flawed and failed elections, and how far countries around the world meet international standards.

EIP shows that there is a strong correlation between expert assessments and liberal democracy (measured by Freedom House and Polity V indicators), thus validating the measure.  But it’s important to be clear what the measure is, and is not.  For instance, the US ranks relatively low because international experts (and the ODIHR) don’t like the way we draw our district lines or our system of campaign finance.

Neither do many American observers, but I’ve never seen any claims that our no-holds-barred campaign finance system translates into election fraud.  Our highly politicized redistricting system distorts the translation of public preferences into legislative seats, but it similarly does not, to my mind, have any relationship to fraud.

This is not a criticism of the EIP or of MonkeyCage. It simply brings to mind Rick Hasen’s description of the ongoing disputes over election fraud and voter suppression in The Voting Wars.

Both grab the headlines and fire up activists, but there is little empirical evidence of either occurring much in the United States.

The recent EIP report says a lot about “election integrity,” “election administration,” and simply “elections” (the appropriate tags), but “election fraud”?  The answer to that lies in the future.

Nice posting by Nate Persily on Monkey Cage: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/01/22/american-elections-need-help-heres-how-to-make-them-better/