Category Archives: election reform

PCEA research white papers

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration’s report is getting a lot of attention and praise following its release on Wednesday. One aspect of the report I want to highlight is the degree to which the Commission aimed to ground their findings in the best available research, academic and otherwise.  It renews my faith that it may be possible to build a field of election administration that is more technocratic than it currently is.

The report’s appendix, available through the web site, is a valuable resource on the available research about each aspect of the commission’s charge.

I want to lift up an important subset of that appendix, which is a collection of white papers written by a collection of scholars, drawn from a variety of fields and perspectives, that summarized the large literatures that were relevant to the commission’s work.  A collection of those papers has been assembled in one place, on the VTP web site, so that others might have easy access to them.  Here are the authors and subjects:

Much of this research effort was assisted by the Democracy Fund, though of course, the research is all the work and opinions of the authors. Speaking personally, I greatly appreciate the support and encouragement of the Fund through these past few months.

Another Election, Another Potential Disaster

As Hurricane Sandy approaches the coast of New Jersey and is causing havoc on the coast from North Carolina north, it is interesting to ask a simple question — what if this storm was hitting on November 5, not at the end of October?

The impact of such an event could be devastating to the ability of states to hold elections and to national politics.   Steven Huefner at the Moritz College of law wrote a nice legal analysis of some of the implications of Sandy on elections.   I want to make some of what he implied more specific and also raise some additional questions for consideration.

First, lets briefly consider some of the things likely to be wrought by Sandy.

Massive and lasting power outages.

  • No power means that DREs will only operate as long as their batteries last.  It also means that voters voting on paper ballots will not have the use of scanners to identify errors on their ballots.  But wait, there is more!
  • No power means no alarm clocks to wake up poll workers, no phones to call the custodian to open the school, and no lights in the school for voting.
  • No power means no call centers for when problems arise, no printing last minute changes to the voter registration roster, and limited use of those automatic poll books.

Evacuations and Traffic.

  • Some voters will literally not be able to vote because they will have been evacuated from their local polling place and there is no provision for remote voting.  Imagine if Long Island was under an evacuation notice; how would those voters vote?
  • Today in New York and DC, there is no transit.  How do people get to the polls where there is flooding, no power for traffic lights, and no public transport available?

The Horizontal State Problem and the Early Voting Problem

  • The horizontal state problem are best epitomized by Pennsylvania and New York.  Neither state has early voting and both have very strict absentee voting laws.  Hurricane Sandy hits tonight and there is no power on Election Day in Philadelphia or New York City.  People are warned to stay indoors because of downed power lines and flooding.  However, in the rest of both states, people can vote.  Such an event could systematically disenfranchise major metropolitan areas critical to determining who wins these states in Presidential and Senate races.  Also, who wins the contested House races in these localities.
  • The early voting problem is an extension of the horizontal state problem.  Imagine that North Carolina is severely hit — a state with extensive early voting and liberal absentee voting.  Does the system make any allowance for one voter having an easier time voting than the voter who wants to vote on Election Day?

Not A New Problem

Ever since 9/11, we have all been well-aware that disasters can completely disrupt an election.  However, Congress and state legislatures have avoided considering these contingencies.  Perhaps we should before we have a real constitutional crisis.

Survey on the Performance of American Elections Data Available

As part of my pre-Thanksgiving clean-up, I have finally gotten around to posting the data sets and documentation for three surveys my colleagues and I did in 2007 and 2008 to gauge the quality of American elections. The studies were funded by Pew, as part of their Make Voting Work Initiative, along with the late, great JEHT Foundation and AARP (for the Nov. ’08 study). The studies were conducted in November 2007 (gubernatorial races in KY, LA, and MS), February 2008 (15 Super Tuesday states), and November 2008 (all 50 states). Lots of questions about how well elections were run, from the perspective of voters, plus some questions about why non-voters didn’t vote.

The data are all on the MIT dSpace site:

One feature of these datasets is that we did parallel administrations using the Internet and telephone (random digit dialing), so people interested in how these two survey modes differ should find things of interest to them there.

Why Rig Elections? Because it Works.

The Economist has an article this week on why people rig elections.  The answer is, because it works really well.  As the summary report of the key findings notes:

  • Using dirty tactics during elections helps politicians that are already in office. If they use illegal practices to win elections, they can expect to be in office around 2.5 times longer than if they participated in fair elections;
  • Dirty elections are bad for economic growth by skewing politicians’ incentives towards pursuing bad policies rather than good ones;
  • Checks and balances are effective in reducing the incentives to cheat and implement bad policies.
  • International aid has no clear effect on the quality of elections, unless there are effective checks and balances.
  • Small, poor but resource-rich countries are more prone to dirty elections.

In short, as the Economist notes,

Incumbents running in clean elections average six and a bit years in office; in rigged votes, 16 years. “Well, duh,” says Duncan Green, head of research at Oxfam, a British charity. Fair enough, it is obvious—but ten extra years may be more than expected.

Strikingly, the authors contend that “dirty elections are bad for economic growth by skewing politicians’ incentives.” This is because, they find, good economic performance makes a huge difference to an incumbent’s chance of re-election whether the vote is free or rigged, adding about three years’ to his or her tenure. Although economic success wins rewards in both systems, in clean ones, it adds 40% to a president’s time, whereas in dirty ones, the rewards of growth are swamped by those of rigging, which more than doubles the time in power. So rigging makes the economy less important to a president’s future—a rejoinder to the Chinese claim that in developing countries “managed democracy” is better for growth than an electoral free-for-all.

Obviously, not all developing countries rig the polls. Big nations seem less likely to rig than small ones—perhaps because they have more competing interest groups, making it harder to fake credibility by staging a poll win. Large government revenues from raw-material taxes makes rigging more likely by increasing incentives to get your hands on all that money. A few things make rigging less likely: term limits, the independence of the courts, parliament or press. And aid makes almost no difference. Even if outsiders are keeping the entire country afloat, their influence is patchy. As Mr Karzai earlier showed.

The full report can be found here.

Overseas voting and the Internet

Kudos to Michael for the links to overseas voting systems in other countries.  If you read between the lines–or maybe read more directly Alvarez and Hall’s book on electronic elections–Mike’s implication is clear.  Fixing overseas citizen and military voting may finally move us toward a secure system of internet voting.

That was the sense I had from the National Assocation of Secretaries of State (NASS) and National Assocation of State Elections Directors (NASED) meeting: many states are considering some internet-based solution to the UOCAVA problem.

Methinks the time may be ripe for a second edition of Mike and Thad’s book.

Mass House appears to have failed to take up EDR bill

The Boston Globe is reporting this morning that the Mass House did not take up the EDR bill that the Mass Senate had passed:

Major items that lawmakers neglected to take up included whether to allow residents to register to vote on election days, whether the state should ban trans fat oils in restaurants, and whether Massachusetts should join a movement to decide presidential elections using a national popular vote instead of the Electoral College.

One of last two holdouts in WA to switch to VBM?

The Piece County auditor is proposing to switch to all voting by mail. Interestingly, he’s proposing the change because of the county adopted instant run off voting, and the auditor is fearful of handling the voting rush in a presidential election year at the same time they have to implement the new voting system.

Pierce (located just south of King County; Tacoma is the largest city) is one of two holdouts in Washington state. Kittitas C0unty is the other.

Kent State conference: "The Future of Election and Ethics Reform in the States"

There is a conference next week at Kent State University, “The Future of Election and Ethics Reform in the States.” Here’s the overview provided of the event:

The critical theme of this Symposium is that the 2008 Presidential Election will be crucial for American democracy, especially in light of the apparently related phenomena of decreasing voter participation rates, alleged procedural irregularities in recent elections, and the undisputed lapses in ethical judgment by politicians and policymakers in the past decade. Closer examination of elections and ethics laws in a public forum will be enlightening for academics as well as for policymakers and politicians and, hopefully, will contribute to an informed dialogue that will lead to improvements in the American election system. This event will discuss trends in laws adopted in the American states, with a focus on understanding the effects of these rule changes. What do we know from the fifty states (and other nations) about how alternative election laws and ethical requirements affect policy, voter turnout and participation, election outcomes, legislatures, campaigns, representation, and more? Our speakers are recognized national experts in the field, drawn from the halls of academia and the corridors of political power. The Symposium is an opportunity for scholars, policy analysts and elected officials to discuss what needs to be done to update the system for the 21st century.

Since the State of Ohio has been a key battleground in recent Presidential elections and promises to be a “bell-weather” state in 2008, and has had at least its share of ethical issues in the public arena, as the capital of the state, the City of Columbus is a symbolic choice for this Symposium, and one that will maximize participation by state policymakers and students of state government.

They have lined up an impressive set of speakers, including our own Thad Hall. As Thad will be in attendance, we can hope to get a complete summary of the conference here next week!