Category Archives: voter registration

Estimating Turnout with Self-Reported Survey Data

There’s long been a debate about the accuracy of voter participation estimates that use self-reported survey data. The seminal research paper on this topic, by Rosenstone and Wolfinger, was published in 1978 (available here for those of you with JSTOR access). They pointed out a methodological problem in the Current Population Survey data they used in their early and important analysis: there seemed to be more people in the survey reporting that they voted, than likely voted in the federal elections they studied.

In the years since the publication of Rosenstone and Wolfinger’s paper, there’s been a lot of debate among academic researchers about this apparent misreporting of turnout in survey self-reports of behavior, much more than I can easily summarize here. But many survey researchers have been using “voter validation” to try to alleviate these potential biases in their survey data, which involves matching survey respondents who say they voted to administrative voter history record (after the election); this approach has been used in many large-scale academic surveys of political behavior, including many of the American National Election Studies.

In an important new study, recently published in Public Opinion Quarterly, Berent, Krosnick and Lupia, set out to test the validation of self-reports of turnout against post-election voter history data. Their paper, “Measuring Voter Registration and Turnout in Surveys: Do Official Government Records Yield More Accurate Assessments”, is one that people interested in studying voter turnout using survey data should read. Here’s the important results from their paper’s abstract:

We explore the viability of turnout validation efforts. We find that several apparently viable methods of matching survey respondents to government records severely underestimate the proportion of Americans who were registered to vote. Matching errors that severely underestimate registration rates also drive down “validated” turnout estimates. As a result, when “validated” turnout estimates appear to be more accurate than self-reports because they produce lower turnout estimates, the apparent accuracy is likely an illusion. Also, among respondents whose self-reports can be validated against government records, the accuracy of self-reports is extremely high. This would not occur if lying was the primary explanation for differences between reported and official turnout rates.

This is an important paper, which deserves close attention. As it is questioning one of the common means of trying to validate self-reported turnout, not only do we need additional research to confirm their results, we need new research to better understand how we can best adjust self-reported survey participation to get the most accurate turnout estimate that we can, using survey data.

Estimating racial and ethnic identity from voting history data

Researchers who have participated in redistricting efforts, or who for other reasons have used voter history files in their work, know how difficult it is to estimate a voter’s racial and ethnic identity from these data. These files typically contain a voter’s name, date of birth, address, date of registration, and their participation in recent elections. The usual approach that many have take to estimate each voter’s racial or ethnic identity has been to use “surname dictionaries” which will classify many of the last names in a voter history file to many racial or ethnic groups.

The obvious problem is that with an increasingly diverse society, this surname matching procedure may be less and less accurate. The surnames of many Americans are no longer necessarily accurate for estimating racial or ethnic identity.

Charles recently wrote about one recent paper in Political Analysis on this topic, by Kosuke Imai and Kabir Khanna, “Improving Ecological Inference by Predicting Individual Ethnicity from Voter Registration Records”. Charles provided an excellent summary of this article, but I’d like to point out to readers that the Imai and Khanna article is now available for free reading online, so check it out asap!

The the other recent article in Political Analysis on this question is by J. Andrew Harris, “What’s in a Name? A Method for Extracting Information about Ethnicity from Names.” Here’s Harris’s abstract:

Questions about racial or ethnic group identity feature centrally in many social science theories, but detailed data on ethnic composition are often difficult to obtain, out of date, or otherwise unavailable. The proliferation of publicly available geocoded person names provides one potential source of such data—if researchers can effectively link names and group identity. This article examines that linkage and presents a methodology for estimating local ethnic or racial composition using the relationship between group membership and person names. Common approaches for linking names and identity groups perform poorly when estimating group proportions. I have developed a new method for estimating racial or ethnic composition from names which requires no classification of individual names. This method provides more accurate estimates than the standard approach and works in any context where person names contain information about group membership. Illustrations from two very different contexts are provided: the United States and the Republic of Kenya.

Harris’s paper is open access, which means it’s also freely available for people to read online.

There’s a lot of interesting research going on in how to use these types of administrative datasets for innovative research; I encourage readers to take a look at both papers, and I’d also like to note that the code and data for both papers are available on the Political Analysis Dataverse.

Making sure that California election officials are ready for the upcoming primary

California’s statewide primary is approaching rapidly, and it sounds as if voter interest in the primary is building. This could be an important test of the state’s top-two primary system, and it might the first time that we see strong voter turnout under the top-two. Clearly election officials throughout the state need to be prepared — there might be a lot of last-minute new registrants, a lot of ballots cast by mail, and perhaps many new voters showing up on election day. The LA Times editorialized about this exactly concern, “How do we prevent the California primary from becoming another Arizona?”.

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.

NM Secretary of State sends Letter to Greens, Constitutional, and Independent Party Disqualifying Party

About 6 weeks ago now, I got a call from two different Green voters asking me if they were still eligible to vote because of a letter that they received from New Mexico Secretary of State Diana Duran. The letter was dated November 5, 2013 and said,

          RE: Disqualification of NM Green Party

Dear Green Party registered voter:

In the 2012 General Election, the Green Party’s candidate for president of the United States did not receive the required percentage required     by  law for the Green Party to remain an active political party in New Mexico.

The Secretary of State’s office is required by law to notify all registered Green party voters that the party is no longer a qualified political party.

To re-qualify, the Green party would be required to submit petition signatures and comply with the requirements under the Election Code for political parties.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact our office.

Best regards,

Bobbi Shearer
Director, Bureau of Elections

Of course, Green voters were not deregistered or disqualified, although their party was, but the letter was a bit ambiguous, especially given the fact that a high profile anti-abortion city initiative was on the ballot in the city of Albuquerque on November 19 and early voting had already begun. I called the Green Party and they indicated to me that they received a number of calls from concerned party members that they would not be able to vote in the city election.

The law indicates, as reported by Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican, see here, that the Secretary of State is supposed to provide notification by March 15 to the party chair and within 45 days of that to all party members of the disqualification. She is also supposed to inform all of the county clerks of her decision. However, the Secretary of State did not keep to this timeline, even once she decided to move forward with disqualification and never contacted the County Clerks regarding this matter.

The Constitution Party has filed suit based upon the fact that she did not follow the timeline or inform the county clerks as was required by law (NM statue 1-7-2).

The biggest concern, however, is that some registered voters thought that as the party goes so do they; thus quite a number of Greens along with Constitution and Independent Party members thought they may have been disqualified and unable to vote. Given that this happened during a high stakes city election in which turnout was higher than in the previous months mayoral election, it is even more disconcerting. Some eligible voters may have decided not to turnout because they thought incorrectly they were no longer legitimately registered voters. A simple fix would have been to make the implications of the law clear to the voter and include in the letter an added sentence indicating that disqualification of the party, does not imply disqualification of the voter.

Election Blogger Defined as Inactive at Polls

Well, I went to the polls this AM to vote –I get a kick out of voting on Election Day, that symbolic moment when we all come together to make a decision; it’s sort of romantic. But, lo and behold, when I gave the poll worker my name there was something odd written next to it on the paper voter rolls –INACTIVE. As a regular voter, even in tiny school board elections, who hasn’t moved and never received a card stating I was at risk of being purged from the polls, I was a bit shocked. Fortunately, I was allowed to vote a regular ballot, though the poll workers did request I fill out a new voter registration form. However, as I filled it out, I realized there was a problem because I wasn’t an inactive voter and I hadn’t moved. So, when the form asked something like, do you agree for us to cancel your voter registration in county x and state x, I realized I didn’t agree, indeed I wanted my status to be reinstated to active not canceled and reentered. Moreover, my understanding of the law is that if I voted from an inactive status I would once again revert to active status. Therefore, given the glitch was clerical and there were no changes to my voter information, the poll workers should have done nothing and let me return to my true state of activity!

The issue of purging voters has been a front burner election topic with our current Secretary of State who is concerned that the voter roles may have people on it who are not regular voters (go here). Amusingly, I join prominent political wives and election reform activists who were determined “inactive” in a recent Secretary of State mailing. Obviously, something is wrong with the process of identifying inactive voters.

This brings up a more important point; keeping voter lists “clean” may have unintended consequences like purging legitimate voters who have a right to vote. We included a question on our NM Election Administration Voter Survey this year that asks voters if they are concerned they might be accidentally purged from the voter file. Let’s just say after my own experience today, I’m a bit more concerned myself and interested in seeing how average voters feel about this issue.

New Mexico SOS Turns Over 64,000 Registered Voters for Potential Fraud Investigation

The New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran has provided 64,000 registered voter names to the New Mexico State Police for fraud examination. This represents about 5.3% of all registered voters and about 7.7% of voters in the 2010 election.  No details were given on how these voters were identified, but that represents an enormous number of records to work through.  No process was identified for how the New Mexico State Police would examine the records or how long it would take to review them.  More information about this story can be found here.

The article mentions the possibility of administrative errors.  This is very likely.  My own experience with working with voter registration files is that they are somewhat dirty.  By that I mean the file consists of missing data, incorrect data, duplicate entries, etc (also see an excellent report on the quality of voter registration files by Stephen Ansolabehere and Eitan Hersh).

What is the problem? A major part of the problem is that the data collection and entry process leads to data entry errors.  Individuals register to vote in their own handwriting and then administrative staff interpret and enter the information into the electronic system. Obviously this is a process rife with numerous points for potential error.

One possible solution to this is to move to some sort of electronic registration, perhaps self-registration on-line and/or augmenting information in voter registration files with information from other state and federal databases to obtain more correct information.  See for example the op ed piece by Mike and Dean Logan.

As the investigation progresses, it is worthwhile for us to understand the process.  One thing we can learn from the process is where the problems exist and how to fix them.  This is an opportunity for us to collect important data on administrative problems with the voter registration process.

Even MORE on newspaper registration forms??

I discovered that the Washington Bus Project actually tried the newspaper “wrap” registration form last year.  Here are some images of their wrap.  Interesting thing in this case the alternative weekly–The Stranger–took on most of the production duties and sold political ads in the wrap.

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.

Limited recount coming in Iranian election dispute?

This is from the BBC, “Iran to hold election recount:

The Guardian Council – Iran’s top legislative body – said votes would be recounted in areas contested by the losing candidates.

But a spokesman for the council told state television it would not annul the election – as moderate candidates have demanded.

The opposition says millions of ballots may have gone astray.

Monday’s protest involved hundreds of thousands of people and was one of the largest since the Iranian revolution 30 years ago.