Why Data ARE good for Democracy (and for the EAC)

There has been a fairly active set of threads on Rick Hasen’s Election Law listserv about the newly released EAC reports on UOCAVA and the Election Day Survey (full disclosure: I worked as a subcontractor on both of those reports).

Ned Foley of the Moritz School at the Ohio State University expressed some concern about the level of absentee ballots accepted and rejected in different states.  Bev Harris of Black Box voting chimed in with broader concerns about voting by mail in Oregon and Washington.   Nate Persily of the Brennan Center at New York University chimed in about the way the EAC calculates turnout, compared to others, such as Michael McDonald of George Mason.

The EAC might view all of these postings as problematic, because they could be read as criticisms of the quality of the data collection.  I hope they don’t read it this way.  It is good news for the EAC that lawyers, political scientists, and advocates are not only reading their reports, but more importantly, almost instantaneously doing their own analyses of the data.

This not only makes the EAC relevant, it creates another set of stakeholders in the continued existence of the Agency (contrast with election officials, who seem decidedly ambivalent about the Agency).  And to the degree these are real problems with the election system, the EAC data provides us all tools with which we can try to identify, diagnose, and perhaps even cure those problems.

Finally, this gives me a chance to pump my own work!  As Doug Chapin put it in the “data for democracy” compendium (full disclosure, I oversaw this conference and edited the wonderful compendium),

Data is [sic] not valuable in and of itself; its value resides in what it makes possible in the hands of thoughtful and creative analysts and decision makers.  It gives us a sixth sense, another way to view the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.