2008 and Beyond Conference: Paper report

For those interested readers, I am going to post my notes from the “2008 and Beyond: The Future of Ethics and Election Reform” conference held in Columbus, OH last week.

These are just brief blurbs, and are completely my responsibility and not meant to be comprehensive summaries of the intent or conclusions of the authors. Appropriate comments aside …

Panel 1:

Beth Rosenson presented a paper on ethics reforms and conflicts of interest. Unfortunately, I had to help set up my computer for the projection and was working on my own notes, so I did not take notes on Beth’s paper. My apologies.

Ken Mayer: The impact of “clean” (publicly financed) elections on candidate emergence. Ken asked whether the candidate pools is increased–and would the reforms especially help challengers. He wanted to see if public financing reduces the influence of money.

He reported a mixed record of public funding. Some evidence of a more varied candidate pool (more challengers). Mainly needed in non-competitive system (but he did not say – these are precisely not the places where it would be adopted). As to who takes public $ -> Dems, Women, and more likely to take $ as races are less competitive.

Paul Gronke presented a paper on the relationship between early voting reforms and turnout. I summarized the state of early voting reforms in the United States, including a chart of the number of states with some significant amount of non-precinct level voting. We showed what evidence we could of non-precinct voting in 2006 (I gave a shout out here to Tokaji and Foley for writing about the necessity of getting higher quality election data out of the states). Finally, I showed some estimates of the impact of early voting reforms on turnout–increases that ranged from 1-4%, depending on the type of reform. These effects are significant by substantively modest (in line with most published research on the subject).

Thad Hall presented work from a number of pPoll workers surveys that were conducted in 2006. Hall argued that the efficacy of training methods is seldom studied. He stressed the gatekeeper role of poll workers. The world of elections is very dynamic, and thus training is important. He described what he called the “Spray and Pray” model vs. the “Small group, active learning” model of training (I’ve been to enough edu-talks to know where Thad is going with that one!). Finally he compared Cuyahuga County vs. Utah. This was a natural experiment because both locations adopted the same machines but different training methods (spray and pray, large groups in Cuyahoga; small groups and interactive experiences in Utah). Not surprisingly, Utah’s pollworkers reported much more confidence in training and much higher job satisfaction.

[ED NOTE: I would say that the issue of poll worker training came out as one of the key issues throughout this conference.]

Lonna Atkeson & Kyle Saunders presented a paper that relied on voter surveys in two highly contested races, congressional races in NM 1 and CO 7. They wanted to relate how confident voters were that their ballots were being counted accurately and how satisfied they were with the voting experience to administrative variables like quality of poll workers and quality of election judges. Basically, the found a strong relationship between high quality poll workers and satisfied citizens. The machines don’t matter as much as the people running them. This is really an important lesson, and one that I hope election reformers and election officials take to heart. They also found high confidence was positively related to easier to understand ballots, voter verified paper trails, and a longer period of time to fill out the ballot.