Author Archives: thadhall

Auditing Risks

There is a great story in the NYTimes today about new British rules related to auditing.  Specifically, under the new rules:

Auditors are supposed to comment on the particular risks that companies face and to say what they did to deal with those risks.

They are supposed to discuss how much of the company they actually audited, to disclose what figure they deemed to be the lower limit for materiality [the importance/significance of an amount, transaction, or discrepancy], and to explain how they arrived at that number.

Imagine if we did this in elections!  What if, in every election, we knew the particular risks that were evident in each jurisdiction — based on an audit of the election, processes, and procedures in the jurisdiction — and what the jurisdiction had done to mitigate the risk?  It would provide excellent data on management and allow people to know how well a jurisdiction is working to minimize problems, reduce the possibility of malfeasance, and ensure elections are of the highest quality.

My Two Cents on Schools as Polls

As Mike and Lonna noted, each of us have had less than pleasant encounters with school principals regarding polling places in schools and I have blogged about this before. In one of our many polling place observations in Southern California, Mike watched with some amusement when an elementary school principal expressed anger when I took a picture of an election sign at her school.; she didn’t like adults with cameras on her property, and for good reason.

Let me note a couple of other reasons schools are terrible polling places, other than the security of students.

  1. They have lousy parking.  Schools are not designed with excess parking capacity, especially schools in populated areas.  Schools have parking for teachers and some high schools have student parking but they aren’t meant for having hundreds of people park there.
  2. Rush hour for schools is rush hour for voting.  The busiest time for schools is when they open — typically between 7-8:30, which are also peak morning voting times.  The crush of people coming to vote and parents or buses dropping off kids can be quite chaotic.
  3. Where to put the polls in a school?  There often aren’t good places for the polls in a school.  Schools can be noisy places before classes, during lunch, and after classes.  Putting to polls near gathering places is a problem for this reason.  Putting them away from the immediate entrance puts voters too far into the building for security purposes.  And the polls need to be near the disability accessible entrance and this too can be a challenge.

The easy answer is to make election day a holiday and schools would not be open in the first place.  THEN, they would be great polling locations.

NJ Elections

I have been fielding an inordinate number of calls today about the voting in New Jersey and the use of email for ballot transmissions.  The email balloting solution is not a bad idea — it is something that overseas and military voters have done for some time — but it raises an array of interesting issues.  First, it illustrates the tradeoffs voters are willing to make vis-a-vis privacy/security and access to voting.  Voters will often sacrifice a lot in order to be able to vote.  Second, it illustrates how many modern solutions have digital divide problems; not everyone has email.  Third, it shows my experimentation with electronic ballot delivery and return would be helpful.

Smithsonian Political Machines Symposium

The Smithsonian National Museum of National History sponsored a symposium — Political Machines:  Innovations in Campaigns and Elections today.

This morning started with a keynote talk by Darrell West of the Brookings Institution.  He gave an interesting talk on how politics is being changed by technology.  He noted how campaigns and political groups are using consumer and political data are being combined to allow for micro-targeting and nano-targeting of political messages.  There was a fascinating question asked to Professor West, which was that, in the future, campaigns and groups may know your cell number and perhaps can know your GPS location so that, as you approach the poll or even when you are right inside the room, campaigns will be sending you texts and emails encouraging you to vote for or against a specific candidate or issue.

The second panel focused on campaigns.  Jon Grinspan, a doctoral candidate in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia, talked about the craziness of campaigns in the 1800s.  He noted that, back then, the undecided voter was derided; people were members of political teams and the teams competed to win, having large rallies, marches, and intimidating voters at the polls by challenging people thought to be of the other party.  Zephyr Teachout talked about the 21st century election work, noting how the internet works in politics and how its use also is threatening to the traditional campaign, because it allows voters who support a candidate to act independently, without guidance from the campaign.

I am speaking this afternoon and will post more later.

Post Sandy Questions

Tropical Storm Sandy has created a disaster in New York and along the eastern seaboard.  The states that were affected all have to have their elections up and running on Tuesday; except for New Jersey, the states most directly affected are not states with early and absentee voting.

In New York, numerous subway tunnels were flooded and each tunnel has to be checked for debris by hand.  Power outages in the region are severe and so is flooding– CBS news has a state by state breakdown.  This disaster creates a two-part problem:

1.  The week before an election is critical for logistics.  All voting machines and tabulators have to be L&A tested.  Everything has to be sealed.  Supplies have to be packed.  Ballots have to be staged.  Polling place locations checked one last time.  Last minute training classes held.  All of this will now have to be packed into a shorter window and the potential for a major problem increases

2.  The storm may also create a series of political problems.  If the storm and its aftermath lowers turnout, it could not only affect the outcome of  close races but it could also affect the Presidential race rather directly.  Given how close national polling is between the two candidates, and that the storm hit Obama voters more directly, lower turnout among Democrats may not mean that Obama does not win the affected states but it could mean that we have a re-run of 2000 — an electoral college winner who does not win the popular vote.

NYC Elections….How?

It is unclear to me how election officials will prepare for the election on November 6. With no power and parts of the city flooded, how exactly will they get polling places open, all the polling stations manned, all of the voting machines, voting equipment deployed? This will be the challenge of the election.

Another Election, Another Potential Disaster

As Hurricane Sandy approaches the coast of New Jersey and is causing havoc on the coast from North Carolina north, it is interesting to ask a simple question — what if this storm was hitting on November 5, not at the end of October?

The impact of such an event could be devastating to the ability of states to hold elections and to national politics.   Steven Huefner at the Moritz College of law wrote a nice legal analysis of some of the implications of Sandy on elections.   I want to make some of what he implied more specific and also raise some additional questions for consideration.

First, lets briefly consider some of the things likely to be wrought by Sandy.

Massive and lasting power outages.

  • No power means that DREs will only operate as long as their batteries last.  It also means that voters voting on paper ballots will not have the use of scanners to identify errors on their ballots.  But wait, there is more!
  • No power means no alarm clocks to wake up poll workers, no phones to call the custodian to open the school, and no lights in the school for voting.
  • No power means no call centers for when problems arise, no printing last minute changes to the voter registration roster, and limited use of those automatic poll books.

Evacuations and Traffic.

  • Some voters will literally not be able to vote because they will have been evacuated from their local polling place and there is no provision for remote voting.  Imagine if Long Island was under an evacuation notice; how would those voters vote?
  • Today in New York and DC, there is no transit.  How do people get to the polls where there is flooding, no power for traffic lights, and no public transport available?

The Horizontal State Problem and the Early Voting Problem

  • The horizontal state problem are best epitomized by Pennsylvania and New York.  Neither state has early voting and both have very strict absentee voting laws.  Hurricane Sandy hits tonight and there is no power on Election Day in Philadelphia or New York City.  People are warned to stay indoors because of downed power lines and flooding.  However, in the rest of both states, people can vote.  Such an event could systematically disenfranchise major metropolitan areas critical to determining who wins these states in Presidential and Senate races.  Also, who wins the contested House races in these localities.
  • The early voting problem is an extension of the horizontal state problem.  Imagine that North Carolina is severely hit — a state with extensive early voting and liberal absentee voting.  Does the system make any allowance for one voter having an easier time voting than the voter who wants to vote on Election Day?

Not A New Problem

Ever since 9/11, we have all been well-aware that disasters can completely disrupt an election.  However, Congress and state legislatures have avoided considering these contingencies.  Perhaps we should before we have a real constitutional crisis.

Moritz Conference on HAVA

Charles Stewart, Paul Gronke, and I are attending the HAVA@10 Conference at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University today.  The morning panels covered What HAVA Did and Did Not Do and about Federal and State aspects of HAVA.

Charles and I spoke separately but both covered the history of HAVA and the issues the led to its enactment and why it looks as it does.  I discussed the voter registration component of HAVA and how the language of HAVA – and the goals of the commissions and research groups that helped to shape HAVA – recommended the creation of statewide voter registration databases and how the implementation of these systems varied across states.  Some adopted the top-down statewide system discussed in HAVA and some states developed “bottom up” systems that were more of a stitching together of local systems.  I presented some data showing that top-down systems may outperform bottom up systems when it comes to voters reporting problems with voter registration.

Charles noted how the problems with elections were first identified in Florida, how these changed to some extent when the Congress started to address election reform (adding, for example, disability access to the pool of issues being considered), and how the HAVA law and implementation again are different.  He noted that much of election administration is governed by state laws that are based on years of tradition and culture that is hard to overcome.  For example, Charles noted that there may be differences between how states that had provisional balloting before HAVA treat provisional ballots compared to states that had provisional voting pushed on them by HAVA.

Dan Tokaji discussed the legal aspects of HAVA in the courts and found, in his study, that there are relatively few lawsuits use HAVA as the basis for election-related lawsuits.  Part of this might have to do with the lack of any private right of action in HAVA.

David Kimball did a nice presentation noting that counties have very different capacities and different demands.  He discussed three types of counties:

  1. SMALL (Less than 1,000 voters), where the local election official (LEO) is like a school principal,
  2. MEDIUM (Between 1,001 and 50,000 voters), where the LEO is like a restaurant chain owner, and
  3. LARGE (More than 50,000 ballots), where the LEO is like the CEO of a large corporation.

What is interesting is this:  there are 5,149 small jurisdictions but they only serve 1.8 million voters.  The 457 large jurisdictions serve 88 million voters.  The 4,893 medium jurisdictions serve 43 million voters.  Most voters live in large jurisdictions but most jurisdictions are small.  David argues that size matters.  Large jurisdictions have lower residual vote rates compared to small jurisdictions but they also report more problems in the voting process, largely because they have more challenging populations to serve – more mobile, more diverse.


Personalized Voting

Yesterday and today I am attending an Accessible Voting conference and we have had an interesting experience. We were broken into 4 groups, discussing different aspects of the voting process — from the pre-voting registration and voter information component through voting modes (remote and in-person) and ballot design.

The fascinating part of the experience was this: several groups independently agreed on the need for two things in the voting process. First, there should be more options for voting — early, absentee, and vote centers — because it provides individuals with special needs options for voting that can accommodate their needs. Second, and more interesting, several groups wondered why each of us do not have the ability to create a voter profile that specifies the voting experience we want to have.

Imagine that, when you registered to vote that, after you registered, there was a survey you were given. (Something similar could be done at a kiosk for in-person voting or be included as a scannable document in an absentee voting packet). The survey asked you your preferences for voting. The survey would ask you several things, such as:

1. I would like to receive a voter guide before the election. (by mail, via email)
2. I would like to receive a voter guide in large print.
3. I would like to receive a ballot in large print. (in-person or absentee)
4. I would like to be a permanent absentee voter.
5. I would like to receive a list of early voting locations.
6. I have a Handicap Parking permit and will need that parking at my polling place.
7. I will be using the accessible voting machine at my polling place.
8. I would like an email reminder of my polling location.
9. I would like an email notification that my absentee ballot was received.

The idea here is simple: people should be able to express their needs and wants (not assumption-based because a person is identified as blind or disabled) and the system would provide voters with a preference-enhanced experience. Some people don’t need a sample ballot but others need one in large print or an audio version. Some people may want to be permanent absentee voters and others may want to get a list of early voting centers in a text message.

This system should be dynamic — I can update my preferences easily using the Internet, the phone, or some other mechanism — and should reflect my needs.

I realize that there are a million details here: cost, state laws, etc. However, the interesting thing here is that it could be scalable: states could provide this service across local jurisdictions and utilize new services like print on demand for helping make this all work.