Author Archives: thadhall

The Rules Matter

This article today from Politico makes a clear case for the fact that the rules by which elections are held do matter. Over the next year, state legislatures will be changing the rules of election administration to promote rules that they think will help their favored candidates in the presidential primaries and then will help certain candidates in the general election. As the article notes, as long as you do it in statute, rigging the game is generally legal.

The Implementation Problem

Florida is considering changing their primary election date for the 2012 and has a commission that will determine the date. The article linked below raises an interesting point, which is that elected officials rarely consider the implementation question when they make election laws. The best recent example of this was Washington DC, which expected their election board to implement a half dozen major reforms flawlessly with less than year lead time. Given the difficult environment in which they work, managing a quasi-volunteer workforce, the need for lead time is key in implementation.

India to get VVPAT

India, which has had e-voting for some time, will soon be testing out a new VVPAT technology, something they have not had previously. There is an interesting discussion here also about the amazing set of physical demands their machines have to handle — from super hot and high humidity to freezing cold and very high altitudes.

primary elections

This letter in a Pennsylvania paper illustrates how primary elections frustrate independent voters. I have seen and heard this so many times from voters that is raises several questions for me:

1. Why don’t more election officials create better signage at polling places in primary elections explaining the voting rules? I have seen this in some Utah counties, where they literally give out a piece of paper saying, “If you couldn’t vote in the closed primary and don’t like it, call the political parties or your legislator.”

2. Why don’t educators — and yes, I include myself here! — do a better job explaining primary elections in civic education courses?

3. How is it that experienced voter often fail to figure out the whole “closed primary” process after multiple elections?,0,7171152.story

The 90 – 10 Problem with Election Laws

One of the more interesting basic studies about election administration in recent years was done by David Kimball and his colleagues. One of the basic findings in that study was this — most voters live vote in large jurisdictions — most people live in larger jurisdictions — but most election policies are implemented by small jurisdictions — there are a ton of small counties/cities in the US who implement laws.

I bring this up because I came the article below today about the cultural issues associated with the implementation of photo identification laws. The basic idea of the law is simple; people in small towns know each other and don’t expect to be forced to show identification at the polls to people that they see every week at the grocery or at Sunday church. I have an idea that, in may rural precincts, the any law requirement like this will not be implemented consistently. I have my doubts that Mrs. Smith, the 85 year old retired school teacher and coordinator of Wednesday Tea at the church, is going to be sent home on a snowy day to get her ID by poll workers who are her former students and people who come to her Tea events. However, in urban areas, where people are less likely to know one another, there may be less of a sense of knowing and community, making these laws less culturally difficult to implement.

This discussion is something we have seen in numerous surveys. Voter identification laws are often not implemented correctly, with folks who are supposed to show identification often not doing so — which is what they are suggesting between the lines may happen here — or people who are not supposed to be asked for identification being asked.

At the same time, the story does get to something that all of us have seen in doing election observations, which is the case of the hard of hearing poll worker. I had to laugh at this point because it is something you see on occasion — poll workers asking for ID because it is easier to find people in the poll book, especially if the polling place is loud of they have trouble hearing.

Eliminating the EAC

The House Administration Committee has voted to eliminate the EAC. The story can be found here.  This is an interesting case — from a public administration perspective — because it raises the interesting question of how helpful/relevant can an agency be when it has no real powers to motivate those who it should regulate (i.e., state and local election offices).  Given that California still does not have a statewide voter registration system and numerous states have very weak laws for what constitutes a vote, it is not surprising that the House Administration Committee wonders what it gets from the EAC.  Of course, it was this same House committee that explicitly refused to give the EAC any regulatory power in the first place.  There is a certain irony in creating a weak agency and then criticizing it for being ineffective.

Turnout and Election Reform

Jonathan Nagler is examining absentee voting and its effect on turnout.   He compares the way you can request an absentee ballot — in-person, by-mail, online, or being a permanent absentee voter — and their affect on turnout.

For presidential elections, Jonathan finds that:

  • absentee voting increases turnout
  • registration closing dates really matter for turnout
  • election day registration matters for turnout.

Laguna Conference — Evolution of Ballot Design

Martha Kropf is doing a presentation on ballot design at the conference.  Here are some key points to her presentation.

  1. HAVA did not consider ballot design seriously in the legislation.
  2. Reports on ballot design from EAC or the Brennan Center has not resulted in many changes in state laws to make ballot design better.
  3. We know that ballot design is quite important.
  4. She compares ballots across three states.
  5. She notes how terrible “complete the arrow” optical scan ballots are.
  6. Font sizes are important, especially as Americans age and more people have visual acuity problems.
  7. Ballot designs have not improved greatly since 2002.

What Has HAVA Wrought?

Mike Alvarez, Charles Stewart, Lonna Atkeson, Paul Gronke, and I are at the Bush v. Gore 10 Years Later Conference at UC Irvine (being held in Laguna Beach).

Charles has an amazing paper — really four papers — where he examines the policy process that got us to where we were with election administration. He starts first by examining how the policy problems were identified and articulated after Florida 2000 and how did these problems get married to policy solutions.  He explains how we went from Florida 2000 to HAVA in a really interesting fashion.

Second, how do we develop metrics for evaluating elections over time?  He considers an array of metrics and discusses the following ones.

  1. Do voting machines work better after HAVA? The answer here is yes.
  2. Are voting registration systems better?  Again, the answer here seems to be yes.
  3. Is accessibility better?  It is unclear but does seem to be.
  4. Do we have more or less voter fraud?  The data on fraud is quite skimpy and so this issue is difficult to evaluate.

Third, he considers how Florida 2000 gave certain policy issues a “free ride”. So what were the free rider issues that came from HAVA?

  1. The disability access issue led to the backlash to DREs that came after HAVA. He notes that the adoption path for technology had been black box to black box — levers to DREs — or paper to paper — paper to punch cards to optical scan.  When this switched — when people went from paper to DREs, the political world changed and the debate over DREs came to the fore.
  2. A second unintended consequence is the issue of voter identification.  The ID requirement was already there but election reform made it more salient.

Finally, Charles considers how whether people have learned anything since HAVA and Florida 2000. For example, does New York City consider the lessons from other states when they pass a new election law or adopt a new voting technology.