The Impact of Early Voting

AHappy to say I voted early and have moved one step closer to putting this madness behind me. Thanks to the Hancock County Public Library for setting up such a seamless operation. (I had been in that very room just two weeks prior listening to a presentation by local ghost hunters. God bless public libraries!)

FiveThirtyEight outlines early voting factors and how it may impact this presidential election:

Early voting may have a slight potential to affect the outcome of this election, but experts say its predictive value is not particularly high.

Burden and McDonald agreed that the majority of people who cast their ballots early would have participated in the election anyway and likely would not have changed their minds if they’d waited until Election Day, so the timing of their votes probably won’t change the outcome. Moreover, McDonald said it’s very difficult to identify national trends in early voting, since the laws vary widely by state and different voting opportunities attract different kinds of voters.

In general, though, Democrats who vote early tend to do so in person and Republicans tend to do so by mail. But that isn’t true everywhere — Oregon, Washington and Colorado all offer mail-in ballots to every registered voter, and most of their votes have gone to the Democratic candidates in presidential elections, at least in the last two electoral cycles. Early voting in the past two presidential elections has favored Democrats, McDonald said.

Well-organized campaigns do have opportunities to capitalize on early voting, however, and this year that could benefit Hillary Clinton, who has a stronger ground game than Donald Trump.

It “opens up more possibilities for voting, boosting turnout in the long run,” said Mark Stephenson, the CEO of Red Oak Strategic, a political consulting firm in Arlington, Virginia. “But it also gives the campaign tacticians the opportunity to analyze and see what is happening over a longer period of time and be efficient with where spending is going as a result. Both, when done successfully by either party, can provide a real tactical and strategic advantage.”

“I suppose it probably advantages the Democrats slightly,” Burden said, “but that’s mostly because the Democrats are organized to take on the early vote more than the Republicans are.”

Jon Ralston, a prominent political reporter in Nevada, noted that Clinton can take advantage of the Democratic Party’s edge in organizing early voting, which was built in 2008 and 2012.

The Clinton campaign uses a variety of techniques for reaching out to early voters, including door knocks, phone calls, emails and text messages, said Lily Adams, a Clinton campaign spokeswoman.

Ad War Winner is TV Stations in Key States

Combined television advertising spending in the presidential race is on pace to top $1 billion by Election Day. And while you might think you’re seeing more than a few attacks and the occasional "I have an idea" spot here in Hoosierland, we’re actually barely a blip on the radar screen.

Residents in the battleground states are being bombarded. Just last week, the tally came to an estimated $14.3 million in Florida, $13.9 million in Ohio and $9.3 million in Virginia. Colorado and Iowa have also been part of the mix since the summer.

In fact, before the campaign was even in full swing, here were the 10 media markets as defined by most gross rating points (an advertising measure that, in simplied terms, means  reach times frequency) for just July and August.

  1. Colorado Springs
  2. Roanoke-Lynchburg
  3. Richmond-Petersburg
  4. Denver
  5. Des Moines
  6. Columbus
  7. Cincinnati
  8. Cleveland
  9. Tampa-St. Pete
  10. Cedar Rapids

I guess one can always switch the channel, but there’s no guarantee you won’t be "attacked" there as well. Good luck and remember there are only two more weeks to go.

West Lafayette IT Company Helping Change the Way Indiana Votes

Before the 2010 election, I wrote a piece for BizVoice® about online voting registration in Indiana. It featured Quest Information Systems’ FirstTuesday technology and the company’s work in helping the state streamline the process. As some counties now move to voting centers, which allow voters flexibility to cast ballots in different locations, West Lafayette-based DelMar Information Technologies has created web-based Electronic Poll Book software to track voter activity on Election Day.

In 2011, the Indiana Legislature passed a law allowing all 92 counties to install voting centers, should they choose to. Before that, Tippecanoe County was allowed to launch a pilot program in 2006. The county then approached DelMar, which operates out of the Purdue University Research Park, to develop technology to help  track voters in the 2007 election.

“If you’re going to allow people to vote anywhere, you have to be able to validate in real time that they didn’t show up at the church on 1st Street, then hop over to the community center on 3rd Street and try to vote,” explains Mikel Berger, Delmar IT software developer. “Back in 2006, there were no electronic poll books that were all interconnected and did real time verification or validation of a voter’s ability to vote. So they came to us and asked us to build it. We said, ‘Sure, but we would like to own it and license it to you.’ That way we could sell it to other counties, as other counties adopt the vote center concept.”

DelMar’s technology is now used in Cass County, and it is marketing its software to other counties in Indiana and beyond.

“(DelMar’s product) was the only one used in the pilot,” relays Doran Moreland, founder of Indianapolis-based public affairs consulting firm Exponent Strategies and partner on this project. “So you have a product made specifically for Indiana elections and to this point today, we’re the only local team that’s still doing this. We hope it’s exciting for election officials that there’s a local business that’s getting into this. We want to do this in the best interest of the state.”

DelMar’s Electronic Poll Book doesn’t require extra hardware, which can drive up the costs for municipal end users. Berger contends counties will incur some costs for the poll book, but save more money by needing less voting machines, and having fewer poll workers to hire and feed. 

“Getting adequate staffing in place for precinct-based elections is a very difficult process,” Moreland asserts. “Election officials have to find a large amount of people and train them for something you only do twice a year. You can imagine there are a lot of inefficiencies. The poll book takes out a lot of the guesswork that happens, so election officials can focus on selecting the best people and not just getting warm bodies to the table.”

Berger adds that voting convenience is significantly enhanced.

“Some people that are skeptical of (voting centers) ask, ‘You mean there will be fewer polling places?,’” he shares. “And the answer is, ‘Yes, but for the individual voter, you only ever had one polling place. Now you have 20, 40, depending on the size of your county.’ You have options, and our society is a lot more mobile than it was over 100 years ago – the last time our election laws were changed. You spend part of your day in this part of town, and part in that part of town.”

Berger says Indiana is the first state to allow all of its counties to pursue voting centers, and that Indiana is the only state allowing them to be implemented on Election Day (some states are using them just for early absentee voting).

“Once we get past the November elections, we think counties all over the country will be taking a close look at vote centers because of the cost savings,” Moreland contends. “Society’s becoming more technologically focused and there’s no reason the way we vote shouldn’t change as well.”

Here’s a Vote for Cleaning Up the Rolls

When you read as many reports, studies, analyses and similar materials as I do, it’s difficult to be shocked by many of the facts that emerge. But check out these numbers from the Pew Center on the States regarding voter registration:

  • 24 million vote registrations either invalid or largely inaccurate
  • 1.8 million dead people still listed as active voters
  • 2.75 million who are registered to vote in more than one state
  • 51 million (estimated) voting-age U.S. residents who are not registered

Here’s a portion of the NPR story on the findings.

Election officials say one problem is that Americans move around a lot. And when they do, they seldom alert the local election office that they’ve left.

Ben Skupien, a registered voter who now lives in Northern Virginia, is pretty typical. He has moved repeatedly over the years and says he’s probably registered to vote in about a half-dozen states.

"The assumption, I would think, is that they would do the courtesy of letting the other states know that if you’re registered with a new state, [the old registration] would no longer apply," said Skupien.

In fact, states seldom share such information. The Pew study found that almost 3 million people are registered to vote in more than one state.

Voters also die, which leads to another problem, says Linda Lamone, who runs Maryland’s elections.

"If a John Smith lives in Maryland and goes to another state, say on vacation, and dies," Lamone said, "the law of the state where John Smith dies dictates whether or not the Maryland vital statistics people can share that information with me."

And even when they do — or if a person dies in-state — there’s often a delay before election officials are alerted. It’s also not always clear that the individual on the death certificate is the same one who’s registered to vote. Election officials still have to do a lot more digging to avoid accidentally taking someone off the rolls who is very much alive.

Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed says it’s amazing how many times his state has come across names on the voter rolls that appear to be the same person, but turn out not to be.

"We’ve even had cases, in very small counties, people [with the] same name and same birth dates," added Reed.

He said that has led to inaccurate reports that "dead" people are voting. He admits there have been a few cases in his state where widows or widowers have cast ballots for former spouses, but he said such fraud is very rare.

Still, election officials say it’s important that the public have confidence in the system.

So Washington and seven other states — Oregon, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Utah and Nevada — are joining a pilot program to share more voter information and other databases, to try to make their lists more accurate. 

Revising the Electoral College: Time for a Change?

I, and many others it’s safe to say, are not in the habit of seeing something happen in California and wondering if that might be a good idea for the rest of the country. I’m not going to go that far here either, but at least this California development is worthy of debate.

Governor Jerry Brown has made his state the ninth (I honestly don’t know who the other eight are other than a reference to all being "solidly blue") to strive to change the way the president of the United States is elected. The group, now representing 132 electoral votes, wants to award those electoral votes to the candidate who earns the most votes at the ballot box nationwide.

A couple of law professors have spearheaded the initiative, which apparently has been around for nearly a decade. There is some credence to the fact that a small number of swing states seemingly hold a level of power far exceeding what would be expected. You can put Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and a few others (Iowa and New Hampshire at this time of the year) in that mix.

But maybe it’s just the biggest of the big — California, New York, Texas, etc. — complaining because they get little attention during the campaigns. And then there is the Indiana scenario, relatively forgotten based on its late primary date and consistent GOP backing until the spotlight shined brightly in both the spring and fall of 2008.

Does this measure give every state a real voice, as the supporters say? Check out the full story and let us know what you think.

Dialing Up a Voting Change

A story yesterday about a number of Indiana colleges and universities doing away with telephone landlines for students (I may never forget that phone box that was shared with those next door back in the Ball State days) makes total sense in today’s world. Along the same lines, trudging to the polls on Election Day is seemingly still the "right thing" for only a shrinking number of eligible voters.

Why do I say that?

  • Early voting is becoming a dominating force, only restrained in part by the state or local laws in place. In Indiana, 24% of ballots in 2008 (more than double previous totals) were cast ahead of time. Currently, in a contentious Florida primary, more than 500,000 (30%) early votes are expected.
  • Other states are being much more innovative, with various methods to save voters the trip to the local fire station, school, church or other facility on November 2 this time around. Unlimited absentee periods, alternative early locations and even mail-in votes are part of the mix.
  • Technology is our friend. Amazing things can and do happen every day. Voting someday will certainly take place electronically. Let’s not be afraid to move in that direction. Doing things the way we have always done them — with the reasoning being we have always done them that way — simply isn’t good enough.

And if we’re going to have some voting take place on Election Day — which we certainly should — why not incorporate vote centers? These are centralized locations that make it possible for more people to participate and can save counties and states tremendous amounts of money. Pilot projects were successful. The time for widespread implementation is now.

Our BizVoice magazine, available at this time next week, will include some early election coverage, including comments on early voting and the impact on the candidates and campaigns.

Cleaning Up Indiana Elections

This week’s Indiana Supreme Court ruling upholding the requirement that voters show a picture ID to vote really wasn’t much of a surprise, considering case law.  However, it does represent an important reform to stop years of egregious frauds committed by slimy characters from both parties.

I once followed a suspicious voter between three polling sites where she cast ballots, before I was able to get an official in place to challenge her at a fourth site. At the time, all she had to do was give a name, no ID, and sign in the poll book. The unusual thing was catching someone in the act, not the act itself.

Electronic voting systems have come to most counties and the age-old game of tweaking paper ballots and machines has largely passed into the ashbin of history. However, absentee balloting continues to be a gaping hole in Indiana elections.

A voter casting an “absentee ballot” simply files a basic application indicating they will not be able to physically go to a polling site on Election Day. A ballot is then mailed to their residence to be filled out and returned by mail.

Convenient? Yes. Secure and fraud-free? No. 

Slimy political agents hang around mailboxes to collect applications and ballots they filed for eligible or not eligible (dead, moved, non-citizen, etc.). Absentee ballots are cast from voters at homes that don’t exist. Small rental homes or single apartments can be found from which dozens of absentee votes are cast. The list goes on.

Prosecutions in this state for voter fraud are up, but you’ll find the cases are almost always about absentee ballot abuses.