Author Archives: gronke

More on MOOCs

Chiming in on Michael’s post, credit for sparking the idea in my head was a comment by a poll worker. I apologize for not writing down his name, but it was either Clyde David (Prince George’s County MD) or Stephen Graham (District of Columbia).

He discussed the need for ongoing poll worker training, which got me to think of the poll worker training studies at the the Pew Center on the States (including an online component) that never really got off the ground.

This led me to reflect about how online learning has changed in the last five years, and how ongoing training might be revived, and even how young people could be encouraged to be poll workers… and all this led to MOOCs (massive open online courses).

As Michael notes, there has been a lot written about MOOCs, from breathless commentary that compares them to the disruptive impact of the Internet on newspapers to a recent story that claims real profits from MOOCs are a decade off. We in higher education really don’t know how online learning will affect our lives, but nearly everyone is paying attention. (This link takes you to a whole section at the NY Times website on MOOCs.)

For election officials, however, it’s not the MOOC (I don’t think there are millions of users worldwide desperate to learn how to manage a voting queue!) as much as the training method that struck me as valuable.

I am currently taking a basic Python programming class at Udacity. I encourage any interested election official to watch the first few videos. Google is financing this, so the production values are pretty high. However, the price of the toolbox to produce these kinds of videos has come down tremendously in recent years. Every PC and Mac is distributed with software that can edit videos. Most laptops have cameras attached, or you can buy a high definition webcam or video camera for a few hundred dollars.  The most elaborate device you’ll see above is a digital drawing tablet, and you can do a lot without using one of these devices.

And for production? Find someone under the age of 25 in your shop. They probably know how to use all this software.

What I’ve already learned from considering these for my classes:

  • Keep the videos to 3-5 minutes at most. Consequently, you have to break your teaching material into many short segments.
  • Avoid talking heads.
  • Short reminder quizzes and exercises are a great way to engage the viewer and reinforce learning.

Maybe this is a heavier lift than I am understanding, but it seems to me that dozens if not hundreds of jurisdictions can share intelligence about managing lines, operating the same model of a voting machine, or dealing with common voter problems.  In a state with a voter identification statute, videos like this would uneven and inequitable application of the law.

And heck, maybe this would even make working at the polls hip and edgy!

    A tide of amateurs in state legislatures in 2013?

    This story from The Thicket, an online blog of the National Conference of State Legislatures, is a cause for concern. A likely close election, fiscal and pension crises (compare the fiscal health of states at the Pew Center), and a burst of inexperienced legislators is a recipe for potential legislative follies (a link to David Canon’s classic study on amateurs in Congress).

    There will surely be a burst of activity on the elections front.

    Here’s a toast to Tim Storey and the NCSL staff, who will have to redouble their efforts to help provide information and guidance to these new legislators in 2013.

    If the public “thinks” something is a problem, does that make it a problem? Voter ID and the new Rasmussen Poll

    The new Rasmussen Poll on voter ID opens with this tendentious lead-in:

    Despite his insistence that voter fraud is not a serious problem, Attorney General Eric Holder was embarrassed last week when a video surfaced of someone illegally obtaining a ballot to vote under Holder’s name in his home precinct in Washington, D.C.

    First, le’s remind ourselves of what really happened: an activist showed up at a DC voting location, asked “Do you have an Eric Holder,” identified their ward location, identified how the name was spelled, and then said their name was “Eric Holder,” and then refuses to sign his name.

    No ballot was obtained.
    No fraudulent votes were cast.
    And the activist, if he’d been stupid enough to sign, would have committed a felony.

    Yet this is evidence of a “serious problem”? Perhaps the problem is uncritical media attention to what was essentially a non-event. Here is some context to judge this polling result:

    • Throughout most of the 1940s and 50s, approximately 25% of the public expressed support for poll taxes, and another 10-15% were undecided.
    • In 1986, 21% of respondents still thought it was “true” that the “US Constitution permits a state to require a literacy test before a citizen could register to vote.”
    • 55% of respondents in a 2007 poll said that someone who could not speak English should not be allowed to vote.
    • (Results courtesy of the Roper Center / Gallup).

    Luckily, we don’t allocate fundamental democratic rights by public opinion poll.

    Another cool panel on election rules, procedures, and voter choice

    One of our bloggers is on this panel as discussant. Andre Blais is principal investigator for “Making Electoral Democracy Work,” a very interesting sounding comparative elections project coming out of the Canadian research system. Finally, if memory serves (confirmed from his website), Garrett is one of Mike’s many successful graduate students. Aha! And Morgan is on this panel, too! Guess I’m waking up early again tomorrow.

    25-3 Election Procedures: The Impact of Polling Places, Ballots, and Voting Systems
    Date: Friday, April 13 8:30 am
    Chair(s): Andre Blais, Université de Montréal

    Paper(s): Does the Location of a Polling Place Influence Voting Behavior?: Voting in Churches and Support for Proposition 8
    This paper examines whether support for California’s Proposition 8 (banning gay marriage) was higher in those voting precincts that used churches as their polling place as compared to those precincts that used some other type of public building.
    Garrett Glasgow, University of California, Santa Barbara

    Straight-ticket Scapegoat? The Impact of the Straight-ticket Option on State Legislative Contests
    An analysis of 1990s Illinois state legislative electoral returns demonstrates that the removal of the straight-ticket option from state ballots may have been counterproductive to partisans seeking an advantage via changes to the ballot design.
    Michael Allen Lewkowicz, Georgia Gwinnett College

    The Effect of Electronic Voting on Voter Behavior and Representation
    This paper tests the hypothesis that electronic voting effects voter behavior and representation, relative to paper voting. Using ballot level data, we analyze voter expression and choice conditional on an individual’s voting technology choice.
    Morgan Llewellyn, Institutions Markets Technologies, Lucca

    The Effects of Ranked-choice Voting Systems on Racial Group Voting Behavior in Urban Elections
    An examination of strategic racial cross-over voting in two ranked-choice voting urban mayoral elections. Data are individual ranked-choice ballots with race of voter estimated via a modified ecological inference procedure.
    Jason Alan McDaniel, San Francisco State University
    James Newburg, Brown University

    Prevalence and Moderators of the Candidate Name Order Effect: Evidence from all Statewide General Elections in California
    Does the order of candidates’ names on the ballot have the power to alter vote shares and change election outcomes? This research re-evaluates conflicting results of order effects in California elections, revealing a consistent pattern of influence.
    Josh Pasek, University of Michigan
    Jon Krosnick, Stanford University
    Alexander Moss Tahk, Stanford University

    Discussant(s): Andre Blais, Université de Montréal
    Charles H. Stewart, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Strategic Voting and Election Laws

    This panel looks cool! My students have been big fans of election rules, laws, and strategic voting.

    Chair(s): Ken Kollman, University of Michigan

    Paper(s): Voting Behavior in Dual Ballot Contests: The Case of French Presidential Elections
    Using survey data from French presidential elections, we examine the extent to which voters’ strategies differ in dual ballot contests. Specifically, we explore if the differences demonstrate some kind of sophisticated behavior on the part of voters.

    Eric Belanger, McGill University
    Mathieu Turgeon, Universidade de Brasilia

    Duverger’s Law and Information: The Role of Media Availability in the Relationship Between Electoral and Party System
    This paper examines whether variation in the availability of reliable election information from the media affects coordination on two parties in single member plurality systems.
    Emily Clough, Newcastle University

    Estimating Strategic Voting at the District Level
    We present the first approach to estimate strategic vote transfers at the district level. Using data from British General Elections we examine, among other things, how many constituencies changed hands due to strategic votes.
    Michael Herrmann, University of Konstanz
    Simon Munzert, University Konstanz
    Peter Selb, University of Konstanz

    Every Election You May Make Progress: The Gradual Impact of Electoral Reform on Voting Behavior
    Using a regression discontinuity design, the paper addresses the question of how electoral reform changes the voting behavior of young people. In order to test the arguments, the 1994 New Zealand electoral reform is examined.
    Pedro Riera, European University Institute

    Choice, Information and Complexity: Voting Behaviour in Swiss Elections
    The Swiss open ballot PR electoral system allows voters to cast a customized ballot but doing so requires considerable political information. We consider who customizes their ballot using survey data from the Making Electoral Democracy Work project.
    Laura B. Stephenson, University of Western Ontario
    Marian Bohl, University Zurich
    Ekrem Karakoc, Pennsylvania State University
    Andre Blais, Université de Montréal
    Hanspeter Kriesi, University Zurich

    Discussant(s): Steven J. Brams, New York University
    Ken Kollman, University of Michigan

    Data ARE awesome, graphics maybe less so

    Doug Chapin just doesn’t have enough snark.

    He rightly lauds the District of Columbia’s election office for making detailed early voting information easily accessible.

    But then he puts this put this graphic up front: Mike DeBonis?  Ick!   I guess it’s colorful!

    DeBonis did a nice job cranking out the figures, but he commits a few mild sins in his presentation. The most common is to express the numbers of early voters are raw numbers rather than percentage of registered voters, but the largest ward has 42% more voters (party registration figures vary even more–by 70%). This makes Ward 2 look like it’s casting fewer early votes, but it is the smallest ward. But using proportions would actually expand some of the differences (DeBonis deserves credit when he compares by party).

    But you’d need to take a few more swipes to really show what Doug notes: how early voting varies by “campaign and candidate specific factors.” I think he’s probably right, but as DeBonis notes, early voting can take place at any of eight locations, so the interesting cut here would be to compare the ward of residence with ward of vote. I can’t find the original data on the DCBOEE website to see if that’s possible.

    New edition of California Journal of Politics and Policy, articles on election reform

    I just got sent the new edition of the California Journal of Politics and Policy, and there are a number of excellent papers related to election reform.  The articles all seem to be freely distributable as PDFs at this point.  All articles are linked below.

    Introduction–Dedication to Tim Hodson

    Reforming California: Political Patchwork versus a Constitutional Convention
    Di Sarro, Brian; Hussey, Wesley; Lascher, Edward L.

    Redistricting California: An Evaluation of the Citizens Commission Final Plans
    Kogan, Vladimir; McGhee, Eric

    The Top Two Primary: What Can California Learn from Washington?
    Donovan, Todd

    Power to the People: Checking Special Interests in California
    Gordon Fisher, Stacy B.; Nalder, Kimberly L.; Lesenyie, Matthew

    The Limits of Citizen Support for Direct Democracy
    Dyck, Joshua J.; Baldassare, Mark

    Administering Democracy: Public Opinion on Election Reform in California
    Bergman, Elizabeth


    Do clean elections produce extremists?

    Nice paper being presented at next week’s Midwest Political Science Association meeting, and blogged by Seth Masket here:

    Michael Miller, his collaborator, has written about clean elections in the Election Law Journal.

    Elections, Representation, and Accountability

    Doug Chapin says I am just an old crotchety guy.   I’m old and I’m crotchety, but I don’t think I’m being unfair. I just get worried when something is oversold.

    Here’s what TurboVote promises:

    If voting were easier, more people would do it. And if more people voted, we could reinvigorate local and primary elections, politicians would be held more accountable, our leadership would be more representative, and our democracy would work better.

    Making voting easier helps, but it’s only one link in the chain of accountability.  Przeworski, Stokes, and Manin write in the introduction to Democracy, Accountability, and Representation, when describing the difficulty in disentangling competing notions of representation, accountability, and democracy:

    Yet, there are some things we have learned.  Perhaps foremost is the importance of information.  The main difficulty in instructing governments in what to do and in judging what they have done is that we, citizens, just do not know enough.

    Vastly increasing votes without simultaneously improving the quality of the vote could easily do more damage than good, particularly in an age where we can be micro-targeted down to our underwear size.

    I am not trying to be crotchety; I hope I am instead constructively critical.  My worry is buyer’s regret. Transforming the American political system will take place in decades, not in months.  Once we make voting easier, it’s time to make politics easier.  Then we may witness a true sea change.

    P.S. The link above lists a great sounding job for someone interested in election data (although there are 3810 counties, not election jurisdictions. The latter number exceeds 10,000 when you take into account townships and municipalities).