What’s Wisconsin to Expect with Early Voting?

Charles Stewart III

It’s now twelve days to the general election.  The Healthy Elections Project has been running a series of surveys in half a dozen battleground states, asking the intention of registered voters about how they intend to cast their ballots.  This brief note focuses on Wisconsin.

First, as to the intentions themselves.  Not surprisingly, as the following table demonstrates, as Election Day has approached, voters have become more certain of what they intend to do.  Overall, as the uncertain voters have decided what to do, they have tended to gravitate toward voting by mail.  This is a small trend, based on small numbers, so I wouldn’t make too much of it.  If we take the average across all three waves of the survey and exclude those who don’t know how they will vote, we can expect 44% on Election Day, 12% during in-person absentee (early) voting, and 44% by mail.  If we take just the most recent wave, these numbers are 42%, 10%, and 48%, respectively.

Vote mode intention among likely voters, including don’t knows

Date

Election Day

Early

Mail

Don’t know

N

Sept. 4 – Sept. 11

44.7%

11.1%

40.3%

4.0%

496

Sept. 16 – Sept. 25

42.7%

12.6%

41.6%

3.1%

496

Sept. 30 – Oct. 9

40.8%

9.9%

46.2%

3.1%

494

Total

42.7%

11.2%

42.7%

3.4%

1,486

 

Vote mode intention among likely voters, excluding don’t knows

Date

Election Day

Early

Mail

N

Sept. 4 – Sept. 11

46.5%

11.6%

41.9%

476

Sept. 16 – Sept. 25

44.1%

13.1%

42.9%

480

Sept. 30 – Oct. 9

42.1%

10.2%

47.7%

479

Total

44.2%

11.6%

44.2%

1,435

(By the way, the overall 95% confidence interval for all three waves combined is around +/- 2.5 points.  For any one wave, it’s around 4.4 points.)

Second, to convert these expectations to raw numbers, we need an estimate of turnout.  I’ve done this in two ways.  The first is just to assume that turnout is 10% above 2016, which would place it at 3.3 million.  The second uses a very simple linear regression to predict the log of turnout in terms of the log of registered voters in the most recent six presidential elections, and then extrapolating based on the coefficients derived from that regression.  This gives us an estimated turnout of 2.8 million.

Third, here is what the combination of numbers above imply for the final distribution of votes in Wisconsin, by mode:

 

 

Vote mode, combining three waves of survey

 

Vote mode, using most recent wave of survey

Assumed turnout

Election Day

Early

Mail

 

Election Day

Early

Mail

2.8 million

1.238M

0.325M

1.238M

 

1.179M

0.286M

1.336M

3.3 million

1.459M

0.383M

1.459M

 

1.389M

0.337M

1.475M

Fourth, a final calculation needs to be made, if we want to estimate the number of mail ballots that will be requested, since not all mail ballots are returned.  During the summer, it seems that 90% of requested mail ballots were returned.  If that holds for the general election in Wisconsin, it should expect between 1.4 and 1.6 million mail ballots to be requested.

As of this morning (October 21), 1,419,484 mail ballots have been requested.  In recent weeks, requests have been running at around 10,000 per day, so Wisconsin is on target for around 1.5 million mail ballots.

Also, as of this morning, 947,811 mail ballots have been returned.  This means that about 60% of the ballots that will be returned have been returned.  It also suggests that between now and Election Day, Wisconsin should be seeing an average of 60,000 mail ballots arrive each day, which is just a bit above what was received this past Monday.

One final thing:  Today was the first day Wisconsin started separating out in-person absentee voting from is daily absentee report.  In this first day, nearly 80,000 people voted early.  That’s much higher than the number of mail ballots that were returned (30,846).

Here is the graph that summarizes this all.

 

 

 

 

 

North Carolina Is on Track to More than 1.3M Mail Ballots and 2.1M Early Votes

What’s North Carolina to expect?

Charles Stewart III

It’s now two weeks and a day to the general election.  The Healthy Elections Project has been running a series of surveys in half a dozen battleground states, asking the intention of registered voters about how they intend to cast their ballots.  This brief note focuses on North Carolina.

First, as to the intentions themselves.  Not surprisingly, as the following table demonstrates, as Election Day has approached, voters have become more certain of what they intend to do.  Overall, as the uncertain voters have decided what to do, the fraction saying they intend to vote during the early voting (one-stop absentee) period has grown.  This is a small trend, based on small numbers, so I wouldn’t make too much of it.  If we take the average across all three waves of the survey and exclude those who don’t know how they will vote, we can expect 30% on Election Day, 43% during one-stop (early) voting, and 27% by mail.  If we take just the most recent wave, these numbers are 27%, 46%, and 27%, respectively.

Vote mode intention among likely voters, including don’t knows

Date

Election Day

Early

Mail

Don’t know

N

Sept. 4 – Sept. 11

29.8%

39.8%

24.7%

5.7%

483

Sept. 16 – Sept. 25

30.3%

38.7%

26.8%

4.2%

487

Sept. 30 – Oct. 9

26.6%

45.4%

26.3%

1.7%

488

Total

28.9%

41.3%

26.0%

3.9%

1,458

 

Vote mode intention among likely voters, excluding don’t knows

Date

Election Day

Early

Mail

N

Sept. 4 – Sept. 11

31.6%

42.2%

26.2%

455

Sept. 16 – Sept. 25

31.6%

40.4%

28.0%

467

Sept. 30 – Oct. 9

27.1%

46.2%

26.7%

480

Total

30.1%

43.0%

27.0%

1,402

(By the way, the overall 95% confidence interval for all three waves combined is around +/- 2.5 points.  For any one wave, it’s around 4.4 points.)

Second, to convert these expectations to raw numbers, we need an estimate of turnout.  I’ve done this in two ways.  The first is just to assume that turnout is 10% above 2016, which would place it at 5.0 million.  The second uses a very simple linear regression to predict the log of turnout in terms of the log of registered voters in the most recent six presidential elections, and then extrapolating based on the coefficients derived from that regression.  This gives us an estimated turnout of 5.3 million.

Third, here is what the combination of numbers above imply for the final distribution of votes in North Carolina, by mode:

 

Vote mode, combining three waves of survey

 

Vote mode, using most recent wave of survey

Assumed turnout

Election Day

Early

Mail

 

Election Day

Early

Mail

5.0 million

1.500M

2.150M

1.350M

 

1.350M

2.300M

1.350M

5.3 million

1.590M

2.279M

1.431M

 

1.431M

2.438M

1.431M

Fourth, a final calculation needs to be made, if we want to estimate the number of mail ballots that will be requested, since not all mail ballots are returned.  During the summer, it seems that 90% of requested mail ballots were returned.  If that holds for the general election in North Carolina, it should expect between 1.5 and 1.6 million mail ballots to be requested.

As of this morning (October 19), 1,331,050 mail ballots have been requested.  In recent weeks, requests have been running at around 100,00 per week, so North Carolina is on target for the 1.5 – 1.6 million requests estimate.

Also, as of this morning, 622,781 mail ballots have been returned and 920,337 early ballots have been cast.  On the mail ballot side, this means that about 45% of the ballots that will be returned have been returned.  It also suggests that between now and Election Day, North Carolina should be seeing an average of 50,000 mail ballots arrive each day.  Last week’s peak days saw just over 25,000 ballots received, so from this point out, the average day moving forward will be twice as busy as last week’s peaks.

On the early voting side, with 920,337 votes cast already, this leaves between 1.2 and 1.5 million votes go to.  In other words, North Carolina is also a bit over 40% of the way to processing its early voting, as it is its mail votes.

Here is the graph that summarizes this all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monitoring the Election Twitter Tracker

The Monitoring the Election project has launched our Twitter election monitoring tracker. You’ll see real-time data for tweets about election day voting, voter fraud, remote voting, election challenges, voter ID, and polling places. We also break the Twitter day down daily, and by state.

We also have written a methodology brief, which is available on the Monitoring the Election website.

So far, most of the tweets we are seeing regarding election day voting, voter fraud, and remote voting. It’s fascinating to look at the state-by-state Twitter discussions across the states. More on that next week!

Also, if you are interested, we’re moving a lot of new material and trackers to our November 2020 Dashboard. Take a look if you have a few minutes, there’s some pretty interesting analytical data from California and Orange County (CA) now on the Dashboard, and there’s more to come next week.

Early Election Problems

Last week, I gave a public presentation at Caltech, “Can American Have a Safe and Secure Presidential Election?” You can now watch it on YouTube!

One of the things I discussed in the talk were the many real issues that are likely to arise in this fall’s general election, things like long lines in early and Election day voting, administrative snafus, and voter mistakes. We are now starting to see some of these issue arising, as many Americans are now voting in-person, by mail, or using ballot drop boxes.

For example, last week there were reports of a ballot printing error in Los Angeles County, in which an estimated 2100 voters received ballots in the mail that did not have the presidential race.. Also in California, there are reports of unofficial ballot drop boxes being deployed in a number of counties throughout the state, including in Los Angeles, Fresno, and Orange Counties. And with the opening of early voting in Georgia came reports of very long lines, and very long voter wait times.

Keeping in mind that we are just really starting to enter the final weeks of the general election, and that there is a great deal of scrutiny on election administration and voting technology this year, my opinion is that we are really just seeing early signs of things to come. Voters need to be patient, and need to be very careful to check that they have received the right ballot (whether by mail or in person). And check your ballot carefully, making sure to return it to an official ballot drop box, or send it by mail using an official mail drop inside a USPS office.

VTP launches voter guide for November 2020

The Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project has just launched a voter guide for November 2020. You can download the pdf of the voter guide from the VTP website.

Or here’s fun animated graphic (just click on the image, and it’ll launch the interactive voter guide in an informative and fun animated image)!

Special thanks to Silvia Kim for the great suggestion that we get a professional to make the animated graphic!

What to Make of President Trump’s Tweets?

Charles Stewart III

President Trump is apparently exercised that some states, especially battleground states, might be mailing absentee ballot applications to all their voters, so that they can request a mail ballot be sent to them. In fairness to the president, many of these states are new to the large-scale mail-ballot game, and have been struggling to keep up with demand.

But, notice the problem. He is angry at states for nudging their registered voters to take advantage of their absentee voting laws, and yet calls absentee voting good, because it involves an application.

Where do they mail ballots to all residents, which the president apparently hates? In five states, none of which is a battleground state, and each of which has a reputation for clean elections. In fairness, two of these, Hawaii and Utah, are new to the mail-ballot party in 2020. But say what you want about 100% mail balloting, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have not been beset with nonstop election-fraud allegations since they adopted their systems.

Not only that, but some of the most prominent proponents of mail balloting in these western states have been Republicans. These include Sam Reed, the three-term Washington Secretary of State who ushered in that’s state’s adoption of all-mail balloting. Republican Kim Wyman has vigorously defended the system since she succeeded Reed. Since losing his 2018 re-election fight in Colorado, former-Secretary of State Wayne Williams has been defending his state’s system against all comers.

What is going on here? It’s obvious. For some reason, President Trump (and many national Republican leaders generally) have gotten it in their heads that Democrats are inherently advantaged by mail balloting. In fairness, I think that Democrats believe this, too. Both are wrong. Nonetheless, bowing to conventional wisdom, from a strategic perspective, he believes that mail balloting needs to be limited.

But, the logic doesn’t work, even if you twist it in Escherian ways.

The problem, of course, is that President Trump himself votes by mail, as does his family. The distinction, as I understand it, is that he has requested the ballots; the ballots haven’t been mailed to him automatically.

Yet, this is precisely what is happening—or might happen—in the battleground states he seems so worried about.

What President Trump is railing about it not happening—or at least not in the states that will decide his political future.

One final thing. Despite the fact that President Trump says he votes absentee, that’s not what the State of Florida—where he is registered—says he is doing. Florida changed its election code several years ago, getting rid of the term “absentee balloting,” replacing it with the term “vote-by-mail.”

There is plenty to do to prepare for the upcoming election. Getting mail ballots to the right people and protecting in-person polling place is where attention to should be paid right now. All of us need to avoid the chaos and keep to the serious work.

Oh.  One last thing.  Most of the news today has focused on the last line of the President’s tweet, asking about whether we should postpone the election.  That’s such a ridiculous idea, and so easily debunked on a bipartisan basis (as it has been), that I don’t think it deserves any more comment than what I’ve just given it.

Nine Thoughts about Lost Votes by Mail

By Charles Stewart III

A “lost vote” occurs when a voter does all that is asked of her, and yet her vote is uncounted in the final tally. Estimating the magnitude of lost votes in American presidential elections has followed the work of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project (VTP), which initially estimated the magnitude of lost votes in the 2000 presidential election—due to failures of voter registration, polling-place management, and voting technologies—to be between 4 and 6 million out of 107 million cast that year.

Because of data and conceptual limitations, lost vote estimates have tended to focus on in-person voting, ignoring lost votes due to mail ballots. In a paper I recently finished, I revisited an article I wrote in 2010 that attempted to fill the hole in our understanding of lost votes, by considering mail votes in the 2008 election. That paper estimated that as many as 22% of mail ballots were “lost”—as defined by the VTP—in that election. Despite the fact that I opined in the article that this was clearly an over-estimate, this 22% statistic has been repeated without the caveats that appear in the article. (For examples, see here, here, here, and here.)

Over the past decade, it has been suggested that I should reconsider that earlier article, for two reasons. First, mail balloting has become much more complicated, with states adopting a variety of approaches to mail balloting. Each approach, from excuse-required absentee balloting to vote-by-mail, creates unique risks for and protections against lost votes. I owe it to the evolving policy to align my thinking with the new reality. Second, the data have become better than they were in 2010. A reconsideration should reflect that new data.

I encourage you to take a look at a draft of the paper, which is slated to be published in the Harvard Data Science Review before the election. Below are the take-aways from the article, as a preview.

  1. “Lost vote” is a term of art that draws our attention to the gap between a voter’s intention to vote—in this case by mail—and the completion of the intention. In no way does it refer to ballots that have been physically lost, in the literal sense that there are millions of ballots sitting in a trash heap somewhere.
  2. The number of lost mail votes in 2016 was more like 4% of mail ballots, not 22%. The principal source was rejected ballots, which has garnered plenty of attention in the 2020 primaries, for instance, because they arrived late. The next-largest cause was a heightened residual vote rate, that is, over- and undervotes. The smallest contributor, which is also the most difficult to estimate, is problems with the postal service and the non-delivery of requested ballots.
  3. The states that have the most expansive vote-by-mail laws have the lowest lost-vote rates. This is because no requests for absentee ballots are lost in the mail in these states and because vote-by-mail states reject a much smaller fraction of returned mail ballots than states that require voters to explicitly request them.
  4. Conversely, states that require voters to request absentee ballots have higher lost-vote rates, mostly because these states are more likely to reject them when received.
  5. The fact that 22% of the ballots that were mailed to voters in the vote-by-mail states in 2016 were not returned for counting is due almost entirely to voter abstention, nothing more.
  6. The biggest empirical puzzle remains why 7% of voters in excuse-required states and 14% of voters in no-excuse states who requested a mail ballot never returned one. If 99.5% of the mail gets delivered within the window of postal service standards, this can’t be because ballots are getting lost by the USPS. But, these percentages seem too high to be explained simply by ballot requesters getting cold feet.
  7. The states that will expand the use of mail ballots the most in 2020 will be among those with the greatest ballot-rejection rates in 2016. New York’s 2016 rejection rate was over 10%, which is entirely consistent with reports currently coming out of the state from the primary.
  8. One sign of hope is that the heightened scrutiny of mail ballot rejections, including some court-case settlements, may keep rejection rates in check in November. Georgia is a good example. In 2016, its mail-ballot rejection rate was 6.9%. In the recent primary, it was closer to 1%.
  9. Voting by mail is risky.  So is voting in person, especially in the age of COVID-19.  The risks are of a different nature.  It is the responsibility of election officials to try and minimize voting risks as much as they can.  It is the responsibility of voters to weigh the risks of voting, and to vote using the mode they feel the most comfortable with.

LA County March 2020 Primary Election Vote Center Evaluation Study

Today we are releasing our preliminary report that looks at the performance of vote centers in the March 2020 primary election in LA County. Our study, the “Preliminary Evaluation of Los Angeles County Vote Center Performance in the March 2020 Primary Elections”, was researched and written by Daniel Guth, Claudia Kann, Seo-young Silvia Kim, and myself.

The report presents the results of a large data analysis project we’ve done in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder/County Clerk, in which we use a number of unique datasets and dive deeply into many aspects of vote center operations in LA County’s March 2020 primary election. This new preliminary report gives a detailed data-driven analysis of the performance of LA County’s vote centers in the March 2020 primary election, paralleling our qualitative observations in our Election Day observation study, which was released on March 30, 2020.

The key recommendations from our detailed study of vote center performance in the March 2020 primary election are:

  1. We recommend that LACRR/CC strengthen and emphasize the process where real-time wait times data is collected for each vote center, and have them made available to voters and vote center staff in real-time.
  2. We recommend that additional independent evaluation of PollPad malfunctions be undertaken, especially with regard to the Internet connectivity and syncing of PollPads.
  3. We recommend that several datasets not analyzed in this report be made available to better assess the issues that arose in the March primary. These include evaluation of vote center locations, trouble ticket logs, and surveys of vote center staff.
  4. We recommend that LACRR/CC continue to study the functionality of BMDs in the
    March primary. Our research group will also continue to study the available data on
    BMD performance in the March primary. We suggest the following measures for the November general election:

    1. Provide clear, visible guidelines to the voter on how to correctly insert the ballot into the BMD at every BMD to reduce the paper jam rates.
    2. Train the vote center lead to quickly fix a malfunctioning BMD.
    3. Have a technical help backup team ready, especially late on Election Day.

We note that some of our recommendations parallel those in the recently released VSAP Board Report, and we welcome the opportunity to continue our collaboration with the LA County Registrar Recorder/County Clerk, Dean Logan, and his team. We want to thank Dean Logan and his team for providing us with this unparalleled opportunity to have access to the data we used in this report, and for their willingness to answer our questions and help us understand the data and vote center operations in the March primary election.

Mail Ballot Watch

By Charles Stewart III

The MIT branch of the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project has started a time series to follow the fraction of ballots cast by mail in the primaries.  We will be updating on a regular basis and posting the graph to Twitter and here.  Here is the most recent graph, as of July 6, 2020.  Please let me know if you find any errors, have questions, or have leads on data.  Below the graph are some notes on data sources.

About data sources:  In general, we relied on the official state election returns or other state records (such as voter files) to record the data.  The following are exceptions:

  • Texas.  In 2016, the state did not report percentage of votes cast by mail, although some counties did.  The data for 2016 and 2020 reflect the percentage of votes cast by mail in the counties that reported the data in 2016.
  • Arizona.  Data are only from Maricopa County, which constitutes 61% of the state’s population.  
  • Pennsylvania.  Data from 2016 are general election rates, taken from the Election Administration and Voting Survey.

The following states are excluded because they held caucuses in 2016:  Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Utah, North Dakota, Alaska, Kansas, and Hawaii.

States that are normally all-mail are excluded.

Vermont is excluded because 2016 data are unavailable.

The other states not on the graph, but which have held primaries, await the release of data from the state.

Resilient Elections

I’m excited to announce that I’ve started a video series with Paul Gronke, who runs the Early Voting Information Center (EVIC) up at Reed College. We just posted our first video, in which Paul and I give a brief introduction to the series. Please watch our intro, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and let us know your comments and questions.

As we discuss in the introductory video, we are going to focus on topics that we know are going to be important to researchers and election officials as we get closer to the November 2020 presidential elections in the U.S. Paul and I will are working on a number of different videos — some will be the two of us discussing important election science and administration topics. Some will be conversations with other academics who are working on important research questions like voting by mail, election forensics, election integrity, and voter confidence. And finally, we are going to have conversations with election officials, in particular those on the West Coast, who have extensive experience with early and remote voting.

If you are interested in suggesting certain topics, let us know in the YouTube channel comments.