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?”.
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.
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:
- Barry C. Burden and Jeffrey Milyo, “The Recruitment and Training of Poll Workers: What We Know from Scholarly Research”
- Barry C. Burden and Brian J. Gaines, “Administration of Absentee Ballot Programs”
- Charles Stewart III and Daron Shaw, “Lessons from the 2012 Election Administration and Voting Survey”
- Charles Stewart III and Stephen Ansolabehere, “Waiting in Line to Vote”
- Daron Shaw and Vincent Hutchings, “Report on Provisional Ballots and American Elections”
- Lisa Schur, “Reducing Obstacles to Voting for People with Disabilities”
- Robert M. Stein, “Election Administration during Natural Disasters and Emergencies: Hurricane Sandy and the 2012 Election”
- Stephen Ansolabehere and Charles Stewart III, “Report on Registration Systems in American Elections”
- Donald S. Inbody, “Voting by Overseas Citizens and Deployed Military Personnel”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/5523
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.
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.
Also from the recent NCSL newsletter, Federal legislation that they believe may garner significant interest in 2009-10:
Joint Resolution Pertaining To U.S. Senate Vacancies
S.J. RES 7 – Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI)
Senate Joint Resolution 7 proposes a Constitutional amendment providing that no person shall be a Senator from a state unless such person has been elected by the people thereof, and that when vacancies occur, the executive authority of such state shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies. At press time, the resolution had two cosponsors.
The Voting Integrity and Verification Act of 2009
S. 48 – Sen. John Ensign (R-NV)
Senator Ensign’s bill amends the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 to require each voting system purchased after December 31, 2012, and used in an election for federal office to produce an individual permanent paper record for each ballot that is cast. Requires the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology to establish a program to award cash prizes competitively to eligible persons that advance the research, development, demonstration and application of voting systems which are specifically designed to enhance accessibility and provide independence for persons with disabilities during the voting process.
Weekend Voting Act
S. 149 – Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI)
S. 149 and its companion bill, H.R. 254, would abolish the longstanding congressional act setting federal Election Day on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. It would instead establish the first Saturday and Sunday after the first Friday in November, in every even numbered year, as the days for congressional elections. The same would apply to presidential elections. The bill would further establish standardized polling place hours on these weekend election days; polls would be required to open at 10 AM EST on Saturday and remain open until 6 PM EST Sunday. States would retain authority to close the polls between 10 PM local time on Saturday and 6 AM local time on Sunday. The House sponsor, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), in a New York Times OP-ED (October 24, 2008) wrote that a few days of early voting would also be provided in presidential elections.
Ex-Offenders Voting Rights Act of 2009
H.R. 59 – Rep. Shelia Jackson-Lee (D-TX)
This House bill declares that the right of a U.S. citizen to vote in any election for federal office shall not be denied or abridged because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense unless, at the time of the election, such individual is serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution or facility. It also requires the chief correctional officer of each state to inform convicted felons within 30 days after their release of their right to vote in elections for federal office and the date of the next election in which they are eligible to vote.
Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act of 2009
H.R. 105 – Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)
According a House Judiciary Committee press release (January 06, 2009), “The Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act (VOTER) will “protect and expand voting rights in federal elections, as well as ensure the proper administration of federal elections by requiring, among other things, early voting, same day registration, proper allocation of poll workers and voting machines, and an Election Day federal holiday.” The bill would amend HAVA in setting new federal mandates governing early voting, the counting of provisional ballots, removing names from voter registration lists, voter identification, voting systems, recounts, and other election administration policies. At press time, the bill had five cosponsors.
The Critical Election Infrastructure Act of 2009
H.R. 253 – Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
Representative Hastings’ bill directs the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to make grants to eligible states to carry out election administration improvement plans to promote efficiency and fairness in the operation of polling places in federal elections (including early voting sites), which may include: (1) acquisition of additional voting systems and equipment; (2) improved training of election administration officials; and (3) allocation of additional election administration officials to polling places serving greater numbers of voters.
American Elections Act of 2009
H.R. 764 – Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV)
H.R. 764 would amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to require that ballots used in federal elections be generally printed only in English. The bill would also amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to modify the requirement that certain jurisdictions provide ballots and other voting materials in languages other than English. At press time, H.R. 764 had 17 cosponsors.
According to a story in today’s Oregonian, the Oregon Senate will consider a change to the Oregon constitution that will allow same day registration. If it passes the Senate, it has to be put to the voters.
The current 21 day window is a consequence of the infamous “Rajneeshees” in 1984:
The 1986 vote came after followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh brought homeless people to their central Oregon ranch in 1984 to become voters in an unusual — and unsuccessful — effort to take over Wasco County. Until then, voters had been able to register as late as Election Day.
Only in Oregon …