The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has proposed a set of draft regulations that would encourage widespread development of internet voting capabilities for the first time. Responding to requirement of the MOVE Act (2009), the EAC aims to reduce the number of UOCAVA voters whose ballots go uncounted due to “distance and unreliable mail service.” From the NYT:

Nearly three million overseas and military voters from at least 33 states will be permitted to cast ballots over the Internet in November using e-mail or fax, in part because of new regulations proposed last month by the federal agency that oversees voting.

The move comes as state and federal election officials are trying to find faster ways to handle the ballots of these voters, which often go uncounted in elections because of distance and unreliable mail service.

A longer commentary will follow on Monday.  For now, the story is below.  Wyden and other senators introduced a bill this week that would make it easier for states to adopt VBM and no-excuse absentee voting, citing turnout boosts and cost savings.

Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen has criticized new provisions in a bill moving through the legislature, arguing that making voter registration automatic when citizens establish or change a drivers license opens the system up to fraud.  By not requiring citizens to sign a form confirming their information, Van Hollen says the bill will “create many problems.”

I may be missing something, but I’m not sure how having voter registration information match the information on a drivers license is an invitation to fraud.

A judge in Cameron County, TX (Brownsville) has impounded ballots in anticipation of a potential contested election. Some poll watchers charged that the signatures on absentee applications did not match the envelopes.

This is not all about absentee voting, however. One campaign charged the precinct place ballot boxes were left unsealed at the end of election day.

The final tally was 2159 to 2110.

Paul Gronke delivered a presentation at the conference of the National Association of Secretaries of States, entitled “The Secretary of State’s Guidebook to the Early Voting Obstacle Course.” We’ve made available both the Powerpoint presentation he used, and a PDF copy of the handout.

Oregon has been entirely vote-by-mail for nearly 10 years (even longer for non-federal elections). Voters can return their ballots in the mail, or they can drop them at elections offices and special ballot drop boxes located around the state. Over at Election Updates, EVIC’s Paul Gronke postulated that the particularly high number of late ballot returns in this election—36% in the last two days—could have been the cause of delayed counting in Oregon (particularly Multnomah County).

Ballot return trends over the past decade, however, don’t appear to support this theory. We know from past experience that many voters hold on to their ballots until election day; they have done so since the inception of vote-by-mail. The graph on the left shows the raw numbers of ballots returned in the last two days (this includes election day). The right graph shows the same as a percentage of total ballot returns. Clearly, the sheer volume of returns is not unprecedented—every general election, bar 2004, has had a high rate of late returns. I’ll see if I can track down some Multnomah-specific data to see if the county differed from the statewide pattern.

EVIC Director Professor Paul Gronke recently discussed the increasing popularity of early voting with Robert Siegel on All Things Considered.

You can hear the interview at NPR’s website.

The media have widely reported the changes to the traditional early voting demographics. As many outlets have correctly pointed out, the surge in African-American and Democratic voters has been quite pronounced. However, I’ve noticed that some in the media are also talking about high rates of early voting among young people. I saw a news report a few nights ago in which the reporter proudly announced a surge of young voters in Florida. Hmm. I’m not sure the data support this assertion.

Take a look at the following early in-person graphs. The ‘ballots cast’ graph (left) shows fairly familiar patterns: a normal (“bell-shaped”) distribution, peaking in the mid-fifties. This is in line with our expectations. (Though African-American early voters appear to be a little younger: the mean (average) age of white voters was 55, while the mean for blacks was 10 years lower, at 45.)

But this isn’t the whole story. There are many more 50-year-old registered voters than 18-year-old. It’s worth asking how young voters are turning out in proportion to their group size. The proportional graph (right) shows the percentage of ballots cast by registered voters in each age-race category. For example, look at the 18-year-old columns. These tell you that approximately 34% of registered, African-American 18-year-olds, and 14% of registered, white 18-year-olds, cast their ballots early in-person.

The two proportional curves indicate similar age distributions of each group’s early voters. African-Americans trend a little younger (in both peak and shape), but the broad patterns are the same. And, certainly, neither indicates a groundswell of young turnout.By the way, this similarity also explains the apparent discrepancy in the average ages of black and white early voters. It is largely a discrepancy in the ages of black and white registered voters. In Florida—the retirement state—registered African-American voters are younger, on average, than registered white voters.

Excepting the small spikes at the youngest end—and these age groups are numerically quite small—there appears to be little reason to conclude that young voters are turning out in high numbers. Unlike some other demographic groups, young people do not appear to be confounding conventional wisdom. Indeed, the most interesting thing about these graphs is that they, again, highlight the high African-American turnout overall.

I’ve included the proportional partisan graphs too, and the story is much the same.

A few points to note; remember my Florida caveats. First, the registration data are slightly outdated (we obtained our files in the Summer). Since then, registration has climbed precipitously, with reports of many new young voters joining the rolls. So, we are likely to have overstated—but not understated—proportional turnout for some categories (and especially at the young end).

Second, these are only early in-person breakdowns. (In Florida, only registered political parties have access to absentee-by-mail data during the election period.) Absentee-by-mail voters, especially in this state, are more likely to be older (and whiter, and more Republican, etc), so this too is unlikely to affect the conclusion that young voters aren’t turning out in noteworthy numbers.

Where’s the promised youth excitement? It will be interesting to compare these trends to those on Election Day.

I have been receiving literally dozens of emails every day. I am sorry that I cannot answer all of these questions individually, but the most common and most important one is this:

YES. Your early votes ARE counted.

It is not true that early votes are only counted if an election is close. The final, certified results include all ballots.

I think that North Carolina and Georgia are the fascinating early voting stories of this election. Both are swing states (somewhat unexpectedly); both have large minority populations which are bucking past trends; and both have exhibited astronomical levels of early turnout.

North Carolina has reached the end of its “onestop” in-person voting period. We still don’t have the returns for today (expected to be high, with extended opening hours at many locations), and there are undoubtedly many absentee ballots currently in the mail system. All the same, early turnout has (at least) doubled from the last presidential election, to 2.35 million ballots cast

As of late Friday evening, the early turnout from this election was 66% of the total turnout from 2004. Again, we have the daily and cumulative ballot returns. On the right-hand graph, the 2004 partisan early voting totals are indicated by dashed lines.

It’s important to account for the different levels of party registration in the state (the Democrats have significantly more registered voters), so I’ve also generated a graph (left, below) that shows ballot returns as a percentage of each party’s registered voters. The Democrats still hold a commanding lead in turnout. On the right, all this information combined into one: ballot returns as a percentage of registered voters, for both 2004 and 2008. In 2004, the Democrats and Republicans were incredibly close by this metric.