Author Archives: gronke

Report on “Voter Fraud” Rife With Inaccuracies

I look forward to a more detailed analysis by voter registration and database match experts of the GAI report that will be presented to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity , but even a cursory reading reveals a number of serious misunderstandings and confusions that call into question that authors’ understanding of some of the most basic facts about voter registration, voting, and elections administration in the United States.

Fair warning: I grade student papers as part of my job, and one of the comments I make most often is “be precise”. Categories and definitions are fundamentally important, especially in a highly politicized environment like that current surrounding American elections.

The GAI report is far from precise; it’s not a stretch to say at many points that it’s sloppy and misinformed. I worry that it’s purposefully misleading. Perhaps I overstate the importance of some of the mistakes below. I leave that for the reader to judge.

  • The report uses an overly broad and inaccurate definition of vote fraud.

American voter lists are designed to tolerate invalid voter registration records, which do not equate to invalid votes, because to do otherwise would lead to eligible voters being prevented from casting legal votes.

But the report follows a very common and misleading attempt to conflate errors in the voter rolls with “voter fraud”. Read their “definition”:

Voter fraud is defined as illegal interference with the process of an election. It can take many forms, including voter impersonation, vote buying, noncitizen voting, dead voters, felon voting, fraudulent addresses, registration fraud, elections officials fraud, and duplicate voting.8

Where did this definition come from? As the source of the definition, they cite the Brennan Center report “The Truth About Voter Fraud” ( 

However, the Brennan Center authors are very careful to define voter fraud. From Pg. 4 of their report in a way that directly warns against an overly broad and imprecise definition:

Voter fraud” is fraud by voters. More precisely, “voter fraud” occurs when individuals cast ballots despite knowing that they are ineligible to vote, in an attempt to defraud the election system.1

This sounds straightforward. And yet, voter fraud is often conflated, intentionally or unintentionally, with other forms of election misconduct or irregularities.

To be fair to the authors, they do not conflate in their analysis situations such as being registered in two places at once with “voter fraud”, but the definition is sloppy, isn’t supported by the report they cite, and reinforces a highly misleading claim that voter registration errors are analogous to voter fraud.

David Becker can describe ad nauseam how damaging this misinterpretation has been.

  • The report makes unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of Voter ID in preventing voter fraud.

Regardless of how you feel about voter ID, if you are going to claim that voter ID prevents in-person vote fraud, you need to provide actual proof, not just a supposition. The report authors write:

GAI also found several irregularities that increase the potential for voter fraud, such as improper voter registration addresses, erroneous voter roll birthdates, and the lack of definitive identification required to vote.

The key term here is “definitive identification”, a term that appears nowhere in HAVAThe authors either purposely or sloppily misstate the legal requirements of HAVA.  On pg. 20 of the report, they write that HAVA has a

“requirement that eligible voters use definitive forms of identification when registering to vote”

The word “definitive” appears again, and a bit later in the paragraph, it appears that a “definitive” ID, according to the authors, is:

“Valid drivers’ license numbers and the last four digits of an individual’s social security number…”,

But not according to HAVA. HAVA requirements are, as stated in the report:

“Alternative forms of identification include state ID cards, passports, military IDs, employee IDs, student IDs, bank statements, utility bills, and pay stubs.”

The rhetorical turn occurs at the end of the paragraph, when the authors conclude that these other forms of ID are:

“less reliable than the driver’s license and social security number standard”. This portion of the is far from precise.

and apparently not “definitive” and hence prone to fraud.

Surely the authors don’t intend to imply that a passport is “less reliable” than a drivers license and social security number. In many (most?) states, a “state ID card” is just as reliable as a drivers license. I’m not familiar with the identification requirements for a military ID—perhaps an expert can help out?[ED NOTE: I am informed by a friend that a civilian ID at the Pentagon requires a retinal scan and fingerprints]–but are military IDs really less “definitive” than a driver’s license?

If you are going to claim that voter fraud is an issue requiring immediate national attention, and that states are not requiring “definitive” IDs, you’d better get some of the most basic details of the most basic laws and procedures correct.

  • The authors claim states did not comply with their data requests, when it appears that state officials were simply following state law

The authors write:

(t)he Help America Vote Act of 2002 mandates that every state maintains a centralized statewide database of voter registrations.14

That’s fine, but the authors seem to think this means that HAVA requires that the states make this information available to researchers at little to no cost. Anyone who has worked in this field knows that many states have laws that restrict this information to registered political entities. Most states restrict the number of data items that can be released in the interests of confidentiality.

Rather than acknowledging that state officials are constrained by state law, the authors claim non-compliance:

In effect, Massachusetts and other states withhold this data from the public.

I can just hear the gnashing of teeth in the 50 state capitols.I am sympathetic with the authors’ difficulties in obtaining statewide voter registration and voter history files. Along with the authors, I would like to see all state files be available for a low or modest fee, and to researchers.

There is no requirement that the database be made available for an affordable fee, nor that the database be available beyond political entitles.  These choices are left to the states.  it is wrong to charge “non-compliance” when an official is following statute (passed by their state legislatures).

I don’t know whether the report authors didn’t have subject matter knowledge or were purposefully trying to create a misleading image of non-cooperation with the Commission.

  • The report shows that voter fraud is nearly non-existent, while simultaneously
    claiming the problem requires “immediate attention”.

But let’s return to the bottom line conclusion of the report: voter fraud is pervasive enough to require “immediate attention.” Do their data support this claim?

The most basic calculation would be the rate of “voter fraud” as defined in the report The 45,000 figure (total potential illegally cast ballots) is highly problematic, based on imputing from suspect calculations in 21 states, then imputed to 29 other states without considering even the most basic rules of statistical calculation.

Nonetheless, even if you accept the calculation, it translates into a “voter fraud” rate of 0.000323741007194 (45,000 / 139 million), or three thousandths of a percent.

This is almost exactly the probability that you will be struck across your whole lifetime (a chance of 1 in 3000

I’m not the first one to notice this comparison—see pg. 4 of the Brennan Center report cited below. And here I thought I found something new!

There are many, many experts in election sciences and election administration that could have helped the Commission conduct a careful scientific review of the probability of duplicate registration and duplicate voting.  This report, written by Lorraine Minnite more than a decade ago lays out precisely the steps that need to be taken to uncover voter fraud and how statewide voter files should be used in this effort. There are many others in the field including those worried about voter fraud and those who are skeptics of voter fraud who have been calling for just such a careful study.

Unfortunately, the Commission instead chose to consult a “consulting firm” with no experience in the field, and which chose to consult database companies who also had no expertise in the field.

I’m sure that other experts will examine in more detail the calculations about duplicate voting. However, at first look, the report fails the smell test. It’s a real stinker.

Paul Gronke
Professor, Reed College
Director, Early Voting Information Center

More on MOOCs

Chiming in on Michael’s post, credit for sparking the idea in my head was a comment by a poll worker. I apologize for not writing down his name, but it was either Clyde David (Prince George’s County MD) or Stephen Graham (District of Columbia).

He discussed the need for ongoing poll worker training, which got me to think of the poll worker training studies at the the Pew Center on the States (including an online component) that never really got off the ground.

This led me to reflect about how online learning has changed in the last five years, and how ongoing training might be revived, and even how young people could be encouraged to be poll workers… and all this led to MOOCs (massive open online courses).

As Michael notes, there has been a lot written about MOOCs, from breathless commentary that compares them to the disruptive impact of the Internet on newspapers to a recent story that claims real profits from MOOCs are a decade off. We in higher education really don’t know how online learning will affect our lives, but nearly everyone is paying attention. (This link takes you to a whole section at the NY Times website on MOOCs.)

For election officials, however, it’s not the MOOC (I don’t think there are millions of users worldwide desperate to learn how to manage a voting queue!) as much as the training method that struck me as valuable.

I am currently taking a basic Python programming class at Udacity. I encourage any interested election official to watch the first few videos. Google is financing this, so the production values are pretty high. However, the price of the toolbox to produce these kinds of videos has come down tremendously in recent years. Every PC and Mac is distributed with software that can edit videos. Most laptops have cameras attached, or you can buy a high definition webcam or video camera for a few hundred dollars.  The most elaborate device you’ll see above is a digital drawing tablet, and you can do a lot without using one of these devices.

And for production? Find someone under the age of 25 in your shop. They probably know how to use all this software.

What I’ve already learned from considering these for my classes:

  • Keep the videos to 3-5 minutes at most. Consequently, you have to break your teaching material into many short segments.
  • Avoid talking heads.
  • Short reminder quizzes and exercises are a great way to engage the viewer and reinforce learning.

Maybe this is a heavier lift than I am understanding, but it seems to me that dozens if not hundreds of jurisdictions can share intelligence about managing lines, operating the same model of a voting machine, or dealing with common voter problems.  In a state with a voter identification statute, videos like this would uneven and inequitable application of the law.

And heck, maybe this would even make working at the polls hip and edgy!

    A tide of amateurs in state legislatures in 2013?

    This story from The Thicket, an online blog of the National Conference of State Legislatures, is a cause for concern. A likely close election, fiscal and pension crises (compare the fiscal health of states at the Pew Center), and a burst of inexperienced legislators is a recipe for potential legislative follies (a link to David Canon’s classic study on amateurs in Congress).

    There will surely be a burst of activity on the elections front.

    Here’s a toast to Tim Storey and the NCSL staff, who will have to redouble their efforts to help provide information and guidance to these new legislators in 2013.

    If the public “thinks” something is a problem, does that make it a problem? Voter ID and the new Rasmussen Poll

    The new Rasmussen Poll on voter ID opens with this tendentious lead-in:

    Despite his insistence that voter fraud is not a serious problem, Attorney General Eric Holder was embarrassed last week when a video surfaced of someone illegally obtaining a ballot to vote under Holder’s name in his home precinct in Washington, D.C.

    First, le’s remind ourselves of what really happened: an activist showed up at a DC voting location, asked “Do you have an Eric Holder,” identified their ward location, identified how the name was spelled, and then said their name was “Eric Holder,” and then refuses to sign his name.

    No ballot was obtained.
    No fraudulent votes were cast.
    And the activist, if he’d been stupid enough to sign, would have committed a felony.

    Yet this is evidence of a “serious problem”? Perhaps the problem is uncritical media attention to what was essentially a non-event. Here is some context to judge this polling result:

    • Throughout most of the 1940s and 50s, approximately 25% of the public expressed support for poll taxes, and another 10-15% were undecided.
    • In 1986, 21% of respondents still thought it was “true” that the “US Constitution permits a state to require a literacy test before a citizen could register to vote.”
    • 55% of respondents in a 2007 poll said that someone who could not speak English should not be allowed to vote.
    • (Results courtesy of the Roper Center / Gallup).

    Luckily, we don’t allocate fundamental democratic rights by public opinion poll.

    Another cool panel on election rules, procedures, and voter choice

    One of our bloggers is on this panel as discussant. Andre Blais is principal investigator for “Making Electoral Democracy Work,” a very interesting sounding comparative elections project coming out of the Canadian research system. Finally, if memory serves (confirmed from his website), Garrett is one of Mike’s many successful graduate students. Aha! And Morgan is on this panel, too! Guess I’m waking up early again tomorrow.

    25-3 Election Procedures: The Impact of Polling Places, Ballots, and Voting Systems
    Date: Friday, April 13 8:30 am
    Chair(s): Andre Blais, Université de Montréal

    Paper(s): Does the Location of a Polling Place Influence Voting Behavior?: Voting in Churches and Support for Proposition 8
    This paper examines whether support for California’s Proposition 8 (banning gay marriage) was higher in those voting precincts that used churches as their polling place as compared to those precincts that used some other type of public building.
    Garrett Glasgow, University of California, Santa Barbara

    Straight-ticket Scapegoat? The Impact of the Straight-ticket Option on State Legislative Contests
    An analysis of 1990s Illinois state legislative electoral returns demonstrates that the removal of the straight-ticket option from state ballots may have been counterproductive to partisans seeking an advantage via changes to the ballot design.
    Michael Allen Lewkowicz, Georgia Gwinnett College

    The Effect of Electronic Voting on Voter Behavior and Representation
    This paper tests the hypothesis that electronic voting effects voter behavior and representation, relative to paper voting. Using ballot level data, we analyze voter expression and choice conditional on an individual’s voting technology choice.
    Morgan Llewellyn, Institutions Markets Technologies, Lucca

    The Effects of Ranked-choice Voting Systems on Racial Group Voting Behavior in Urban Elections
    An examination of strategic racial cross-over voting in two ranked-choice voting urban mayoral elections. Data are individual ranked-choice ballots with race of voter estimated via a modified ecological inference procedure.
    Jason Alan McDaniel, San Francisco State University
    James Newburg, Brown University

    Prevalence and Moderators of the Candidate Name Order Effect: Evidence from all Statewide General Elections in California
    Does the order of candidates’ names on the ballot have the power to alter vote shares and change election outcomes? This research re-evaluates conflicting results of order effects in California elections, revealing a consistent pattern of influence.
    Josh Pasek, University of Michigan
    Jon Krosnick, Stanford University
    Alexander Moss Tahk, Stanford University

    Discussant(s): Andre Blais, Université de Montréal
    Charles H. Stewart, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Strategic Voting and Election Laws

    This panel looks cool! My students have been big fans of election rules, laws, and strategic voting.

    Chair(s): Ken Kollman, University of Michigan

    Paper(s): Voting Behavior in Dual Ballot Contests: The Case of French Presidential Elections
    Using survey data from French presidential elections, we examine the extent to which voters’ strategies differ in dual ballot contests. Specifically, we explore if the differences demonstrate some kind of sophisticated behavior on the part of voters.

    Eric Belanger, McGill University
    Mathieu Turgeon, Universidade de Brasilia

    Duverger’s Law and Information: The Role of Media Availability in the Relationship Between Electoral and Party System
    This paper examines whether variation in the availability of reliable election information from the media affects coordination on two parties in single member plurality systems.
    Emily Clough, Newcastle University

    Estimating Strategic Voting at the District Level
    We present the first approach to estimate strategic vote transfers at the district level. Using data from British General Elections we examine, among other things, how many constituencies changed hands due to strategic votes.
    Michael Herrmann, University of Konstanz
    Simon Munzert, University Konstanz
    Peter Selb, University of Konstanz

    Every Election You May Make Progress: The Gradual Impact of Electoral Reform on Voting Behavior
    Using a regression discontinuity design, the paper addresses the question of how electoral reform changes the voting behavior of young people. In order to test the arguments, the 1994 New Zealand electoral reform is examined.
    Pedro Riera, European University Institute

    Choice, Information and Complexity: Voting Behaviour in Swiss Elections
    The Swiss open ballot PR electoral system allows voters to cast a customized ballot but doing so requires considerable political information. We consider who customizes their ballot using survey data from the Making Electoral Democracy Work project.
    Laura B. Stephenson, University of Western Ontario
    Marian Bohl, University Zurich
    Ekrem Karakoc, Pennsylvania State University
    Andre Blais, Université de Montréal
    Hanspeter Kriesi, University Zurich

    Discussant(s): Steven J. Brams, New York University
    Ken Kollman, University of Michigan

    Data ARE awesome, graphics maybe less so

    Doug Chapin just doesn’t have enough snark.

    He rightly lauds the District of Columbia’s election office for making detailed early voting information easily accessible.

    But then he puts this put this graphic up front: Mike DeBonis?  Ick!   I guess it’s colorful!

    DeBonis did a nice job cranking out the figures, but he commits a few mild sins in his presentation. The most common is to express the numbers of early voters are raw numbers rather than percentage of registered voters, but the largest ward has 42% more voters (party registration figures vary even more–by 70%). This makes Ward 2 look like it’s casting fewer early votes, but it is the smallest ward. But using proportions would actually expand some of the differences (DeBonis deserves credit when he compares by party).

    But you’d need to take a few more swipes to really show what Doug notes: how early voting varies by “campaign and candidate specific factors.” I think he’s probably right, but as DeBonis notes, early voting can take place at any of eight locations, so the interesting cut here would be to compare the ward of residence with ward of vote. I can’t find the original data on the DCBOEE website to see if that’s possible.

    New edition of California Journal of Politics and Policy, articles on election reform

    I just got sent the new edition of the California Journal of Politics and Policy, and there are a number of excellent papers related to election reform.  The articles all seem to be freely distributable as PDFs at this point.  All articles are linked below.

    Introduction–Dedication to Tim Hodson

    Reforming California: Political Patchwork versus a Constitutional Convention
    Di Sarro, Brian; Hussey, Wesley; Lascher, Edward L.

    Redistricting California: An Evaluation of the Citizens Commission Final Plans
    Kogan, Vladimir; McGhee, Eric

    The Top Two Primary: What Can California Learn from Washington?
    Donovan, Todd

    Power to the People: Checking Special Interests in California
    Gordon Fisher, Stacy B.; Nalder, Kimberly L.; Lesenyie, Matthew

    The Limits of Citizen Support for Direct Democracy
    Dyck, Joshua J.; Baldassare, Mark

    Administering Democracy: Public Opinion on Election Reform in California
    Bergman, Elizabeth


    Do clean elections produce extremists?

    Nice paper being presented at next week’s Midwest Political Science Association meeting, and blogged by Seth Masket here:

    Michael Miller, his collaborator, has written about clean elections in the Election Law Journal.