Monday, February 27, 2006

Electronic poll books: applicable to initiative and referenda?

I saw this discussion of electronic poll books a few days ago at (Newsletters).

What makes particularly interesting is a recent controversy in Oregon over ballot signatures collected in an attempt to refer "voter owned elections" to the May ballot. Voter owned elections (publicly financed elections) were passed last year by Portland's City Council, and are in force this year for the first time.

Some argue that VOE should have been put to the voters, while others wanted to give the system a few years in operation before bringing it before the electorate.

So why does this matter for electronic poll books?

What happened is that a group which financed a challenge to the law failed to have its petitions accepted. Based on a 4% sample, Multnomah County estimated that they were 600 or so signatures short of the number needed (somewhere in the 20,000s). (Actually, now the County is saying they may have made an error and are rerunning the sample)

Some have cried foul. Why a sample? Why not verify every signature (as they do for the vote by mail ballots)?

The problem is that, unlike the ballots, petition signatures don't have a bar code associated with them that brings the signature rapidly in front of the election worker. Each name much be entered manually (assuming it can be read at all), and the registration record checked.

Now how much easier would it be to verify signatures if they had been collected via some sort of electronic polling book. But would government officials allow petitioners to connect their signature collectors with an elections database? Or could an electronically collected petition process somehow speed up the signature collection and verification process?

Utah Senate reconsiders early voting

Early voting, seemingly dead a few weeks ago, has been given new life in the Utah senate.

Opponents to early voting, led by some Republican state senators, argue that the process is being adopted purely for economic reasons. The state is required to buy new election machines as a consequence of HAVA, and allowing a longer voting period means that they have to buy fewer machines.

Opponents also argue that early voting makes "electioneering" more likely and fraud more prevalent (not sure why electioneering is easier over a longer period).

As with my earlier post on Illinois, some in the state are worried about implementing two changes at once--a move to electronic balloting and a move to early voting.

Story referenced appears here: Salt Lake Tribune - Utah

Early voting has begun in Illinois

Here are a series of stories reporting on the first early voting in Illinois. Most report short lines, but interested voters, on the first day.

Rockford Register Star

Lincoln, IL Courier

WHOI Peoria: "Early Voting gets rave reviews"

To vote early, voters need to bring two forms of ID. The state is implementing new electronic equipment at the same time that is it implementing early voting. The Illinois Ballot Integrity Project has expressed concerns about this choice, arguing that the machines to be used in some counties are error prone and broke down in 2004.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Sacramento hearing on by-mail voting tomorrow?

I was asked some questions pertaining to a hearing in Sacramento, CA tomorrow, I presume relating to the request to move to an all by-mail voting system for some counties.

The pitch seems to be that by-mail voting will increase turnout among lower income and minority voters. My responses are below, for those who are interested. I am not testifying, I am only helping another political science professor who will testify (no, not Mike Alvarez).

Based on what we know to this point (and that's important, since the terrain of early voting and vote by mail is changing so rapidly):

  • I have not seen any studies of by mail's impact on primary elections. I have seen research on by mail in low intensity contests (most often, off cycle state and local elections), and the research shows that turnout is higher among regular voters--those who would go to the polls in most circumstances but may not if inconvenienced by the need to go to a precinct place.

    There is no evidence of by-mail *expanding* the electorate to otherwise disempowered groups (racial and linguistic minorities).

    For citations, Berinky et al. (200x POQ), Oliver (199x AJPS on absentee balloting, not the same as by mail voting), Magleby 199x article on by mail voting.

  • I think I have already answered this in my response to 1). No evidence of increased turnout. I should note that there was some evidence of increased turnout in the in-person early voting system in Florida in 2004 (see my most recent APSA paper) and in in-person systems in Texas in some elections (see Leighley and Stein APSA paper), but this is critically dependent upon the mobilization efforts of political parties and other GOTV organizations.

  • Yes, this is exactly what happens, but among those who are otherwise predisposed to vote. All-mail does not make voting "convenient" enough, apparently, to overcome the barriers that otherwise stand in the way of higher turnout in minority and disempowered communities.

So what I would say to the registrar is that, as far as turnout goes, by-mail is not a panacaea. It solves some problems (it increases turnout in local elections and probably would do the same in primaries), but may create others (undercutting the civic event that constitutes an election). We don't know much yet about the latter. The biggest hurdle to turnout is efficacy and feelings of disengagement--by mail voting does not address this.

By-mail voting may make it easier to voter among those facing linguistic or other barriers to turnout, but we simply don't know enough yet to say for sure.

> Hi Paul,
> I've been asked by the local registrar to answer these questions in preparation for a hearing in Sacramento tomorrow. Not a lot of advance notice, I know, but I wonder if you can help me? It's not really my area of expertise, so references to any research out there that answers these questions (or just some knowledgable opinions) would be greatly appreciated:
> * How do all-mail elections influence minority voter turnout in primary elections?
> * Do all-mail elections increase voter turnout in low-income communities?
> * Does an all-mail election motivate those to vote who were "too busy" to go to the polls in past elections? (Perhaps minority citizens that have two jobs, are single-parents, etc)
> thanks,

Monday, February 20, 2006

Been absent lately..

Sorry to have been absent lately. I had two out of town trips in a row. News updates will be posted this week in reverse chronological order as I did through the information.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Dan Lipinski: true absentee?

This one is just too good to pass up.

First term Democratic congressman Dan Lipinski
(IL-3), is facing a primary challenge in Illinois. I suspect in an attempt to brand Dan with the carpetbagger label, his opponent is charging that Lipinski should have been allowed to vote absentee for many years.

Dan received his PhD at Duke University, where I taught for nine years, so I've known Dan for more than a decade. And I grew up in Chicago, though not on the South Side like Dan. Go Cubs!

Anyone whose met Dan for more than five minutes, this guy is Chicago through and through. Those years in grad school in North Carolina, and the short time that he spent in Tennessee, I can tell you that Dan's heart and his head was always in the Windy City.

The main traction on the story is Dan's inability to remember which elections he voted in. Got to blame some bad staff work for that one, but I'm sure he'll have the right answer soon.

The Sun times story is here