The more the merrier, polling-place division

At the risk of becoming Doug Chapin’s Mini Me, I’m prompted to pile on Doug’s post today about the controversy in Summit County, Ohio over whether a state senator can serve as an Election Day poll worker.

As a college professor who has now worked for 15 years to bridge the gap between academics and election officials, I can’t help but cheer on state Sen Frank LaRose, who has applied to be a poll worker, but is being opposed by half the Summit County elections board, on the theory that only “regular citizens” should be poll workers.

Leaving aside the odd spectacle of a county elections board turning down a perfectly good poll worker applicant, the perspective that only a select tribe of individuals — ordinary citizens or highly trained professionals — can acquire real hands-on experience helping to run a polling place only hurts the cause of better election administration in the long run.  If we’ve learned anything from the constant attention over the past two decades to how elections are conducted, it’s that the world of election administration is often too insular.

My own personal experience has been focused on how this insularity oftentimes means that election administration is cut off from advances in the academic, non-profit, and business worlds.  The Summit County case highlights the insularity of election administration from the legislators who fund elections and write the laws that govern them.  How many times have I heard complaints from state and local election officials about county commissioners or state legislators making decisions that just make no sense, from the perspective of the trenches?

Poll workers are called on to make myriad decisions that affect the experience of voters, including whether they get to vote at all.  What better way is there for a state legislator to understand how election laws actually get implemented than to have him go through poll worker training and then to spend the day implementing election law in a polling place?

Count me as another voice in favor of granting Sen. LaRose his request to live out next Election Day working a precinct.

New research on the effects of voter registration deadlines

Recently in Political Analysis, a journal that I co-edit with my Caltech colleague Jonathan Katz, we published an interesting paper that studies the effects of voter registration deadlines using a novel approach. This paper, authored by Alex Street, Thomas A. Murray, John Blitzer, and Rajan S. Patel, is titled “Estimating Voter Registration Deadline Effects with Web Search Data.” The paper is available open access online, and here’s the abstract. It’s worth a read, both the results and the approach are quite interesting.

“Electoral rules have the potential to affect the size and composition of the voting public. Yet scholars disagree over whether requiring voters to register well in advance of Election Day reduces turnout. We present a new approach, using web searches for “voter registration” to measure interest in registering, both before and after registration deadlines for the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Many Americans sought information on “voter registration” even after the deadline in their state had passed. Combining web search data with evidence on the timing of registration for 80 million Americans, we model the relationship between search and registration. Extrapolating this relationship to the post-deadline period, we estimate that an additional 3–4 million Americans would have registered in time to vote, if deadlines had been extended to Election Day. We test our approach by predicting out of sample and with historical data. Web search data provide new opportunities to measure and study information-seeking behavior.”

“Ballot selfies”

A recent federal court decision in New Hampshire struck down that state’s ban on taking selfies in a voting booth, see stories in the Washington Post and this editorial in the LA Times. This is an interesting, and potentially important ruling, because if it stands it might open the door to a wave of new voting technologies. If a voter has a right to leave the polling place with a digital image of their ballot, that potentially opens the door to the development and implementation of new approaches to voter verification.

However, this ruling also means that election administrators are going to need to clarify or develop rules and regulations to insure that “ballot selfies” don’t become a distraction in the polling place. While some voters may want their “ballot selfie”, others may want privacy — and balancing the two might be a delicate task in a crowded polling place.

Mail Ballot Drop-Off Patterns

Doug Chapin’s most recent post on his Election Academy blog tells the tale of the late delivery of 1,270 mail ballots in a recent election in Orem, Utah.  This post brings to mind a surprising result (at least to me) from the 2014 Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE) about the return of mail ballots.

In 2014, for the first time, the SPAE asked respondents who voted by mail how they returned their ballots.  Nationwide, 2/3 of absentee and mail ballot voters returned their ballots by mail.  That’s not the surprising part.  This is what surprised me:   If we look only at respondents from the three “vote by mail” states — Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — only 1/2 of “vote by mail” voters report returning their ballots using the Postal Service.  Half the voters in these states took their ballot to an official elections site to be counted — 38% of these used a dedicated drop box, 29% went to the main elections office, and the rest went to a combination of places, including traditional neighborhood precincts and early voting centers.

Even those who used the Postal Service did not often use the convenience of front-door pick-up to return their ballot.  Only 40% of voters who used the Postal Service to return their ballot had their own mail carrier pick up the ballot.  An even larger fraction (46%) took their ballot down to the post office, while the rest deposited their ballot in the mailbox around the corner.

I have one additional point to add to this.  Ever since I started administering the SPAE in 2008, I have asked voters how confident they were that their vote was counted as cast.  Each time I have asked this, voters using the mails have expressed significantly less confidence than those who voted in-person, either on Election Day or through early voting.  In 2014, for instance, 67% of those who voted by mail (or absentee) said they were very confident their vote was counted as intended, compared to 76% of Election Day voters and 73% of early voters.

The results from 2014 help to show that this lower confidence in postal voting is related to how the ballot is returned.  The following graph illustrates the relationship.  The dots illustrate the fraction of “mail” voters who answered they were very confident their vote was counted as cast, broken down by how they returned their ballot.  The “whiskers” around the dots are the 95% confidence interval around those estimates.  The dashed vertical line shows the fraction of in-person voters who were very confident.  Note that the “mail” voters who used the various Postal Service delivery routes were all less confident than those who voted in person.  Those who returned their ballots at the mail election office, or who used a vote center, were just as confident, and maybe even more confident, in the case of vote centers.  (The lower confidence among those who left their mail ballots at a neighborhood precinct is a little puzzling, but it might be related to the fact that very few people actually leave their mail ballots at Election Day precincts, which means that precinct workers may not always know what to do with them.)

absentee_confidenceThe Orem situation shared by Doug helps to illustrate the reality behind these national statistics.  In the aggregate, voters seem to recognize that if they leave it to the Postal Service to deliver their ballot, there is some risk involved.  By their behavior, vote-by-mail voters appear to like getting their ballot in the mail, but return it by mail?  Not as much.



Reducing voting wait times

The research that Caltech sophomore, Sean McKenna, conducted with me this past summer is profiled today on Caltech’s website, “Using Simulation and Optimization to Cut Wait Times for Voters.” We will be collecting more data for this project tomorrow, which we will be using to help validate this approach to helping election officials with their resource allocation decisions.

Last day of FL early voting is big

The last day of in-person early voter in Florida ended the period with a bang — total turnout on the last Sunday was about triple four years ago, and the Democratic share was even greater than four years ago.

For the entire period, the relative Democratic share of the in-person early vote has been greater than in 2010. As Michael McDonald notes, the Democratic share of the absentee/mail vote is also greater than 2010. What remains to be seen is whether this is just shifting around when partisans vote, or if it reflects a shift in partisan electoral fortunes from four years ago.  It’s obviously a mix of both; we’ll know soon enough what the mix is.

Here are the graphs.  Click on a graph to see the full picture.

Day-to-day in-person early voting turnout:




Cumulative early voting turnout:day_to_day_cumulative_gross_20141103



Partisan composition of early voting turnout, compared to 2010:day_to_day_pct_gross_20131103

FL Early Voting through Saturday: Steady as She Goes

Here are the latest statistics for in-person early voting in Florida. The two patterns I have been following, total turnout and partisan composition, continue to hold.

First, turnout for in-person early voting continued to exceed 2010, with aggregate turnout about 20% above 2010.

Second, the partisan composition of the in-person early voting electorate has remained fairly stable.  As in 2010, there was a slight up-tick in Democratic turnout and a slight down-tick in Republican turnout yesterday.  However, in 2010, these up- and down-ticks were much more dramatic.  For those who have been trying to gauge what this means for possible outcomes, it bodes better for Scott and worse for Crist.

To mix things up, rather than show cumulative totals, I’ll show day-to-day total turnout, so that the persistence of the daily increase in in-person turnout compared to 2010 is clear. (Click on the figure for the full graph.)



Here is the partisan composition day-to-day.  Presumably, with a souls-to-the-polls drive today, we should see a surge of Democrats in tomorrow’s graph.  It will be interesting to see how it compares to 2010.day_to_day_pct_gross_20141102


FL Early Voting through the Final Friday

More than a million people have now voted early in Florida. As I noted yesterday, the growth in non-party registrants is really the story here, as is the shift in favor of Democrats compared to Republicans.

Cumulative early voting through Friday: (click on the image to see the full graph)



Day-to-day Democratic/Republican share of early votes:


A first-cut detailed look at FL early voters

This must be brief, but I’ve been able to merge the registration and voter history files in Florida from 2010 with the early voting records from 2014.  Here are some first-cut comparisons at the individual level.  (Remember, another quarter million Floridians are still yet to vote early in this cycle.)

The thing that jumps out at me is that Hispanic and Black early voters in 2014 tend to be drawn more from non-voters in 2010 than whites.  In addition, there is evidence that among voters in 2010, Black and Hispanic Election Day voters are more likely to be voting early than white Election Day voters.

The other thing is that among those not  registered with a party, the early voters were disproportionately non-voters in 2010, compared to registered partisans.

Here are the notes I’ve made:

Among early voters thus far, how did they vote in 2010?

15.4% did not vote
5.9% voted absentee
45.0% voted early
33.5% voted Election Day

Among blacks, 19.3% did not vote, 4.0% absentee, 39.2% early, 37.2% election day
Among hispanics, 24.7% did not vote,6.0% absentee, 38.8% early, 30.4% election day
Among whites, 13.3% did not vote, 6.3% absentee, 47.1% early, 33.2% election day

Among Dems: 16.9% did not vote, 4.5% absentee, 42.3% early, 36.2% election day
Among Reps: 10.5% did not vote, 7.8% absentee, 50.4% early, 31.2% election day
Among NPAs: 24.7% did not vote, 4.7% absentee, 37.8% early, 32.6% election day
Among early voters in 2010, have they voted already in 2014?

Overall, 33.6% have already voted early
Among whites, 34.1% have already voted early
Among blacks, 35.0% have already voted early
Among hispanics, 27.8% have already voted early

Among Dems: 34.1% have already voted early
Among Reps: 34.3% have already voted early
Among NPAs: 29.8% have already voted early


FL Early Voting Turnout by County

I have been asked about the geographic distribution of the in-person early voting shifts in Florida from 2010 to 2014.  Here are some quick graphs, using data through yesterday.

1.  The graph of the percentage change in in-person early voting turnout, from 2010 to 2014.  On the whole, fairly uniform increases throughout, with notable exceptions. (Click on the graph to get the full picture)

county_comparison_by_size_201410312.  A simple scatterplot showing total early voting turnout in 2014 vs. 2010.  Again, the plot reinforces the previous one:  fairly uniform increase statewide thus far.  (The labeled counties are 50% ahead of 2010.)

county_comparison_201410313.  Finally, in quick succession, the same scatterplot, broken down by party.  The new interesting thing is the large uniform increase in early voting among those who are not registered with any party.  I don’t know enough about Florida politics to know what this bodes for election outcomes.  What I do know is that the big increase in in-person early voting seems to be significantly driven by this group, and not registered partisans.