Friday morning thoughts: registration rejections in CA, humidity and op-scans, and mobilization of young Latinos

There are a few things that were at the top of my head this morning, all of which I’ll incorporate into this single essay.

  1. Voter registration problems in California. There is more in the press today about what appears to be a high rejection rate with new registration requests (or re-registration requests) under California’s new statewide voter registration system. A story in the San Francisco Chronicle claimed: “More than 25 percent of the new registration forms sent to the state since Jan. 1 have been returned to the counties, most because they lack the driver’s license, state identification or Social Security numbers now required by federal law.” The story then notes that the rejection rate has been about 30% in San Mateo County, and is at 43% in Los Angeles County. This raises three concerns:

    • What is going to happen when we get closer to the June primary and there are tens of thousands of new requests in the larger counties every day? Will election officials have the ability to process all of the rejections?
    • Will there be large number of voters who think they have been registered in states like California that require exact matches, but who then show up on election day to find they are not registered at all?
    • What is happening in other states that require exact matching, as well as states that do not require exact matching, and why don’t we have federal standards for voter registration systems?
  2. More on the humidity, op-scan, and the SAT’s woes. Many high school students will be taking the SAT this weekend, and there are still questions about why there were so many tests that were incorrectly scored recently (now reportedly 5,000) — and whether those problems have been fixed. In this morning’s Los Angeles Times there is a report that the contractor who scores the test is convinced the problem before relates to humidity, and they will undertake steps to fix the problem:

    Officials of the College Board, which owns the SAT, and its test-scanning contractor, Pearson Educational Management, blamed the incorrect grading largely on answer sheets that passed through scanning machines while still moist from humid weather.

    The dampness, officials said, slightly stretched the answer sheets. That, combined with answer “bubbles” that were lightly filled in, caused Pearson’s scanners to miss some correct answers, officials said.

    One of the main changes for this Saturday’s SAT: Answer sheets will sit at least eight hours — to dry out, if necessary — before being scanned at Pearson’s facility in Austin, Texas. The tests also will be re-scanned 24 hours later.

    Other fixes could come after a consulting firm hired by the College Board, Booz Allen Hamilton, concludes its 90-day review of the handling of the SAT answer sheets.

    But MIT VTP colleague Ted Selker is also quoted in this same story: “Although many testing experts say Pearson’s humidity explanation is plausible, some suspect that human error played a role. Ted Selker, an MIT computer scientist who has studied optical scanning, said it “is obvious” that a scanning system operator missed the problem.” Ted’s right.

    This issue leads to questions about how optical scan ballots are handled immediately after elections, and to what extent these same humidity issues may affect initial counts of ballots. We’ll learn more about ballot handling procedures when Thad is done with his on-going study of ballot counting and recounting procedures, and it will be important to ascertain then to what extent election officials have procedures for optical scan ballots that address the types of issues that the SAT and it’s test-scoring contractor are facing.

  3. Student protests and mobilization in Los Angeles. The student walk-outs and protests continue throughout the Los Angeles area, and according to reports I heard this morning are also continuing in other cities throughout the nation. These student protests follow the large protest this past weekend in downtown Los Angeles, there at least a half million are thought to have marched to protest immigration reform legislation pending in the U.S. Congress.

    The interesting question about the student protests is how they are coordinating their actions, and what the methodology is that is being used to pass the word about upcoming protests and walk-outs. It seems that the students are using the Internet, and primarily the MySpace website, to coordinate and announce their protest efforts, according to a story in this morning’s Los Angeles Times. Here’s what this story said specifically about the use of MySpace:

    They had heard about the March 24 walkouts at several high schools in Los Angeles, and decided to launch a protest of their own. On Sunday afternoon, they posted a bulletin on MySpace — since discovered by school administrators, who were not pleased — announcing that anyone wishing to participate should stand up at the 8 a.m. tardy bell Monday and “meet in front of the school.”

    In the scattered, rapid-fire text typical of students’ MySpace missives, the bulletin continued: “dOnt b scared…. All these politic officials are trying to make their dreams come true by destroying ours, AND THEY WILL, unless we do something about it!!”

    On the Internet site, which serves as a free-of-charge, virtual gathering place, users can send bulletins to all of their MySpace “friends.” The lists can include dozens of people and the bulletins can be passed along in seconds.

    It didn’t take long before most of Garden Grove High’s roughly 2,200 students knew what was coming, without the knowledge or involvement of teachers or parents.

    Soon, the bulletin crossed over an invisible but critical line between teens who were friends but attended different schools. Students began posting their telephone numbers, and soon dozens more pledges to participate were obtained through phone calls and instant text messages.

    Again, an interesting use of new information technologies to rapidly mobilize and coordinate political activity — much like the use of text messaging and SMS that we have written about previously here on Election Updates. We certainly need more research as to how these new technologies can, and are, changing the dynamics of political mobilization efforts, especially for the younger generations who use these new technologies so widely.