Monday, September 19, 2005

Carter Baker Report

Much reaction about the election reform community on the Carter Baker commission report. Fairness in advertising; I was commissioned to write a report on ballot integrity and vote by mail for the commission.

The sections of signature checking and vote by mail come from my work. I had quite a time convincing the folks at the Commission that Oregon really checked every single signature. In one interesting conversation, I just kept repeating "yes, they check every single signature."
"How many signatures do they skip?"
"EVERY Single Signature."

This point has been missed by some critics who, focusing on the REAL ID proposal, believe that absentee and vote by mail provisions treat certain voters differently. Not true--REAL IDs woud presumably be used when a voter first registers, from then on, signature checks would be used.

Some other thoughts and reactions:

  • Rick Hasen is, as usual, right on target, highlighting the positive aspects of the report but complaining about the scattershot recommendations. As he predicted, blog and press relsease reactions already focus on some of the less central aspets of the report.
  • Rob Richie ( , at, criticizes the report for not recommending IRV.
  • The directors of at Counterpunch, criticize the report for not suggesting ways to break the two party monopoly on elections.
  • John Conyers Jr. says that the recommendation for IDs is a thinly veiled Republican plot to disenfranchise citizens.
  • Mike Alvarez and Thad Hall provide their own reactions, noting that some of the recommendations repeat initiatives taking place on other fronts. Most importantly, the suggestion for interoperability, far from being "expensive and complex" (according to Tova Wang), could actually simplify voter registration and ballot administration nationwide.
  • Tova Wang is right that the Commission was particularly interested in ballot integrity issues. I suspect, however, that they agree with Wang that voter distrust is an important issue; they disagree with her whether ballot integrity matters to trust.
    Our own research, albeit limited to Miami-Dade, indicates that those voters who do report concerns that their ballot will be counted accurately are significantly less likely to take advantage of new balloting systems.
    All the focus on election administration won't solve the participation problem anyway. Fundamentally, the way to increase participation is to increase feelings of empowerment and efficacy in the population.


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