Sunday, October 30, 2005

Claims of electoral irregularities tied to absentee balloting in Detroit

A Detroit News investigation charges that the Detroit City Cleark, Jackie L. Currie, has engaged in "questionable practices" in relation to accepting and processing absentee ballots.

The News found that:

  • Absentee ballots with addresses attached to abandoned or demolished buildings
  • a master list of voters including many dead or moved out of the city
  • campaigns and organizations hand delivering and returning absentee ballots from senior citizens and disabled voters, and that these ballots were "filled out in private meetings with Currie's paid election workers."

It looks like things are a bit out of control in Detroit. Currie looks to be an old-line politico running the elections office, and these irregularities are precisely why Doug Chapin, Mike Alvarez, and others have called for non-partisan elections officials. These sort of things simply should not occur.

Elections officials should be professional civil servants, not political hacks.

ACLU challenges ID requirements for Absentee balloting in Arizona

Story referenced in the title is here

More debate over absentee balloting in Ohio

Discussion continues over Ohio's voting reform ballot initiative. Today's story highlights a Republican bill that recently passed which relaxes absentee balloting, as does the proposed amendment, but the bill also requires ID's.

One wonders if this is a Republican ploy to defeat the constitutional amendment?

There are also some interesting claims in the story about how easy it might be to vote twice in Ohio, whether students are likely to vote absentee or not (and therefore if relaxed absentee voting "subtly" discriminates against students), and finally, if relaxed absentee balloting is actually more expensive than traditional polling techniques.

Today's story is here

Monday, October 24, 2005

Campouts for the Vote! A new youth mobilization strategy?

So today in class, I began to talk about political participation and how political institutions address the "paradox of turnout." Fairly basic stuff, but familiar to anyone who knows the work of Rosenstone and Hansen's book on the topic.

We walked through a variety of "modes" of participation today, from voting, signing a petition, canvassing, attending a rally, writing a letter, giving a speech, etc. Most professors use this trick--you line up the various kinds of participation, then talk about what sorts of "resources" (skills) and "benefits" (rewards) accrue to the individual. Then you can use this to deduce some potential empirical relationships.

So today's story from Austin is so perfectly timed. In order to get students excited about voting (presumably against) a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Texas, the "Campus Alliance Against Inequality" sponsored an all-night campout, including live bands, free food, and free coffee. Ah, yes, the joys of selective incentives.

Partay On! And then vote in the morning.

I just hope no one was hung over.

Story referenced is here

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Parties reported to push absentee balloting higher in NJ

The first stories are coming out of New Jersey after the state relaxed absentee balloting requirements. Both political parties plan to make a push to dramatically increase the number of absentee ballots.

As in many states, the counties provide a list to political parties and to candidates of the voters who have requested absentee ballots. This allows the parties to target their mobilization efforts to these voters.

As Leighley and Stein showed at the most recent APSA, it is these mobilization efforts, and not relaxed requirements per se, that seem to increase turnout.

Referenced story is here.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Taft to sign new legislation on 'no-fault' absentee voting

The Ohio bill has been passed by the House, and will be signed by Taft. The story is posted at the Toledo Blade.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

No Excuse absentee balloting passes in Ohio

Ohio's new rules have passed the Senate. Dan Tokaji has written about these changes--they relax absentee requirements (no excuse, up to 35 days before election), but require an ID.

Conflicting Reports on Lousiana Population Shifts

I've been monitoring the various reports regarding population shifts in Louisiana in response to Hurricane Katrina, and the only conclusion I can reach is that we can't draw any firm conclusions. Too many citizens have not made up their minds yet about whether they will return to SE Louisiana, not an unexpected situation given the major displacement they've experienced in their lives.

For example, a Gallup poll conducted in the first week of October indicated that 40% of residents who have been assisted by the Red Cross (and 80% of African Americans) say they will not return. Problem is, this poll was conducted among those who applied for Red Cross assistance, thus likely overrepresenting evacuees with the fewest resources and from the poorest areas of the city. My own feeling is that more than half of the evacuees will not return. Many are finding new jobs, are registering their children in new schools, and are finding new housing. Why return to a city where jobs are scarce and the local economy is struggling, where recovery is going slowly, and where many public services will lag for months, if not years to come?

The problem is that state and local election officials need to start making plans now to either accomodate major increases in absentee ballots or purge the rolls of voters who have relocated to new parishes or states. And the question of redrawing the lines in Louisiana in order to account for these major shifts is still open.

Other assorted links:

  1. The Washington Post reports that New Orleans won't be back to 500,000 residents for a long time, and that the VRA requires Louisiana to redraw districts as soon as possible.
  2. Two FindLaw columnists argue that voting rights are in peril, and that Louisiana officials must relax registration requirements and move aggressively to make absentee ballots available.
  3. The Times-Picayune reports that election officials have asked FEMA to provide emergency generators to power voting machines in case electricity has not returned by election day in November.
  4. Doug Chapin's Electionline weekly has an interview with the LA State Elections Director.
  5. (Fairvote has posted a number of interesting proposals to deal with the fluid situation in Louisiana. Most, not surprisingly given Fairvote's mission, suggest varieties of multimember congressional districts and rank order ballot options.)

'E-Stonia' online vote called a success

The first reports on the Internet voting experiment in Estonia are coming in (first blogged about by Alvarez and Hall here, and by all reports the system was a success.

There is no statement in the story about how many people the Estonian authorities hoped would use the system, but reports are that approximately 1% of the population voted over the Internet.

The Estonian system implemented an inexpensive ID card system--the card reader costs $24 and each individual was issued a unique ID card. About 80% of Estonians already have the cards, according to official reports, because they are already used for access to tax records and bank accounts. (Ed: not sure what that means--does Estonia have a nationalized banking system?)

This system appears to be effective and relatively inexpensive. I commented on a similar sort of security system in a recent interview I gave to the WSJ on telephone and internet voting. I described thumbprint recognition systems which, although they sound high tech, are actually quite inexpensive in this day and age.

Jason Kitcat (unfortunate name for anyone familiar with US candy) criticized the system, but implicitly criticizes any computer based voting system. I'm not sure that is a realistic position in this day and age.

Alvarez and Hall have written a lot more about this in the recent Brookings volume. Perhaps they can post a bit more about the security protocol used in Estonia.

Story referenced is here.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

WSJ article on vote by phone

Sigh. Give them 20 minutes and you get one stinking quote. Bascially a business story on which of these companies has the edge on this technology.

In Picking a President, Voters
Soon May Be Able to Phone It In

October 6, 2005

Picking a president may become as simple as choosing the next "American Idol."

Just as fans of the television hit show dial in to vote for their favorite crooner each season, Americans may soon be able to use the telephone to vote in local elections, and could someday dial in their decision in national races.

The 2002 Help America Vote Act, which was created to simplify the voting process following the debacle in Florida during the 2000 presidential election, helped fund the development of new voting systems. But problems remained, as evidenced by the long lines and faulty equipment that plagued Ohio during the most recent presidential election.

Most upgraded voting systems being installed are electronic devices such as Diebold Inc.'s touch-screen system. But some smaller companies are betting that phone voting may resolve some Election Day problems, including making it easier for the blind and others with disabilities to read and mark their ballots in private.

Vermont is the first state to commit to phone-voting technology. By the November 2006 elections, all of the state's voters who are unable to mark their own paper ballots are slated to use a voting system made by closely held IVS LLC.

To use the system, voters at the polling place dial into a central computer and listen to an automated recording of the candidates' names. Choices are made by pushing the "5" key, selected because the key is usually distinguishable by a raised bump on it. The system then "reads back" the selection and allows the voter to make changes at the end.

While the IVS system, called Inspire Vote-by-Phone, initially will be used only in polling places, there are plans to expand the system to voters' homes. Broadening the use of phone-voting systems to the home would make them more convenient for people with disabilities and could even boost turnout among all voters. It also raises concerns over the ability to verify the voter's identity.

"How can phone voting be set up so you're assured the person on the other end of the line is the appropriate party?" asked Paul Gronke, a political-science professor at Reed College in Portland, Ore., who specializes in nontraditional voting methods. Security remains a primary obstacle to voting by phone, he said.

All phone voting under the Vermont system currently takes place at the polling site, allowing a voter's identity to be verified easily. Vermont Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz said she expects around 5,000 to 10,000 participants. She added that the state is looking to eventually bring the system to the home and to make it available to overseas and military personnel, but that prospect adds complications in security and costs. The state paid $635,000 for the system, and would likely have to pay more to expand its reach.

Yung Nguyen, chief executive of IVS, said the Louisville, Ky., company is exploring ways to bring the voting system to the home. One possibility is for a government-issued personal identification number to be combined with a registered home phone that could be verified through caller ID.

Another voting-system maker, closely held PhonElect, is taking a more aggressive route in its bid to get voters to use the phone. While no states run its voting system yet, the company is seeking federal certification from the federal Election Assistance Commission, which Chief Executive Patrick Tittle believes it will get by the end of the year.

To verify a voter's identification, the St. Paul, Minn., company's system asks for a driver's license ID number, and a random question on that ID such as weight or height. The system also records the voice of the caller for later verification.

PhonElect has hit some initial snags. In April, the company showed off its system during a demonstration in Oregon, and fared poorly against other systems, including IVS. "The system I would say comparatively is slower than the other phone systems I tried," said Jeanne-Marie Moore, a community activist at the demonstration. Mr. Tittle acknowledged that there were problems with the trials, partly attributed to the long verification process. He said changes were being made. The company has run test programs in Oregon, Montana and Wisconsin.

Advanced Voting Solutions Inc. is working on a system that uses biometric technology, which can read and compare a voice with a voice print from a database. "User ID would be a slam dunk with speech verification," said Paul Kowal, president of Kowal & Associates, a consulting firm.

The closely held Frisco, Texas, company is in the early stages of development of its system. Vice President Larry Ensminger said the company is focusing on its core touch-screen business, and is looking to do some pilot programs early next year.

Write to Roger Cheng at roger.cheng@dowjones.com1
URL for this article:

I think I was quoted ...

So I think I was quoted in stories today in the Wall Street Journal and the Cleveland Plain Dealer on vote-by-phone and other convenience voting systems.

Can't find it on the web. I have some media interviews tomorrow on the same topic and I'd like to know what I said! If you find me and I didn't say anything too stupid, can you forward the story to

Paul g.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Population Loss Altering Louisiana Political Landscape

Just a heads up to today's story in the New York Times that reports the first reliable figures on population shifts and population loss in Lousiana.

As Thad Hall speculated over at electionupdates, and I wrote here, it is now clear that:

  • Louisiana will lose one or two Congressional seats as a result of displacement after the hurricane
  • The racial composition of Louisiana's congressional districts will change substantially, if not tremendously, as African Americans relocate to more northerly and nortwesterly parishes
  • The overall result will be to reduce the number of Democratic seats in Congress potentially by two.

Still unanswered, also a topic that Thad and I worried about before, is how election officials are going to handle these new and displaced voters.

Story can be found here.

More on the EDS Report: How to count early voting

Thad Hall has alerted readers to the EDS powerpoint presentation, available at their website.

The Oregon data, while accurate insofar as the election day survey is concerned, is erroneous. It points out the complexities involved in collecting these sorts of data across jurisdictions that use different definitions and term and count things in very different ways.

(As Mike Alvarez pointed out previously, the EAC had issued an RFP that was supposed to help address these problems in data collection, but now they've withdrawn the RFP and are apparently going to wait until next fiscal year. This is unfortunate, given the scrutiny under which the 2008 election will be placed.)

Slides 21-23 of Kim Brace's presentation show the problem most clearly.

Oregon is reported as having 75-89.9% of voters "voting in a polling place on election day." Of course, no one actually votes in a polling place in Oregon. It's just that the language of the EAC survey, "3a. Total number of ballots cast in polling places (state-wide) on election day (for Oregon – by mail); 3b. Total number of ballots cast on election day by county/local election jurisdiction" ended up being reported by Oregon officials as all ballots."

(Why, by the way, isn't the number over 90% for Oregon--there aren't more than 10% of the ballots cast other than by the conventional "by mail" method.)

On the next slide, 0-9.9% of Oregon voters cast "absentee" ballots--these, by the way, are voters who cast ballots outside of the state (military, living abroad, etc). In Oregon election administration lingo, these are the "absentee" voters.

Final slide, #23, number of Oregon voters who voted "early." Reported as "no data." But as any reader of this blog knows, Oregon has some of the highest quality election data available, and anyone can find out precisely how many ballots were processed (although not cast) before election day.

The presentation is incredibly valuable. But collecting these data remains a real challenge, and one I hope the EAC is able to address soon.