It’s déjà vu all over again. In a 6-3 ruling this week, the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down the state’s constitutional ballot initiative process. This is not the first time MS’ highest court killed off direct democracy on a technicality, though the last time was a century ago.

In the second decade of the 20th century, the Mississippi legislature referred two direct democracy amendments to the people for adoption. In 1912, the referred measure was defeated at the polls, gaining only 35% of the popular vote. In 1914, though, Mississippi voters passed the measure with 69% of the vote, adding, at least nominally, the right of people to place statewide measures on the ballot. In 1922, the state’s Supreme Court voided the election. My article in the APSR with Dustin Fridkin looks at some of the factors that led to the legislative referral to the people of measures such as these.


The 1914 legislative referral gave considerable power to the citizens, at least in theory. Initiative petitions, for either constitutional amendments or statutes, required valid signatures from 7,500 qualified voters to qualify a statewide measure for the ballot. The Governor could not veto an initiative if approved by the electorate. An initial legal challenge, Howie v. Brantley (1917), the state Supreme Court upheld the initiative process (as well as the popular referendum). Several years later, after a group circulated a ballot initiative to reduce the $40,000 annual salary of the State Revenue Agent, Stokes V. Robertson, Robertson sued in state court, arguing that the 1914 referred measure placed on the ballot by the legislature was invalid for a technical reason, specifically, that it did not allow voters to to “vote for or against each amendment separately.” In 1922, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed its earlier ruling and held that the state’s short-lived (and never actualized) initiative process was unconstitutional.

The legislative crackdown on mail voting across the states will likely result in longer lines and increased wait times at the polls…and studies show that such barriers to voting are not evenly distributed across the electorate.

Here are some articles on who is affected when there are lines at the polls.

Herron and Smith, 2015. Precinct closing times in Florida during the 2012 general election, Election Law Journal.

Herron and Smith, 2016. Precinct resources and voter wait times, Electoral Studies.

Cottrell, Herron, and Smith. 2020. Voting lines, equal treatment, and early voting check-in times in Florida, State Politics & Policy Quarterly.

Interested in differential effects on racial & ethnic minorities and young voters (e.g., wait times, rejected VBM and provisional ballots, turnout) when states alter their election codes? Links here:

  • Enrijeta Shino, Mara Suttmann-Lea, and Daniel A. Smith. 2021 “Assessing Rejected Mail Ballots in Georgia: Implications for COVID-19,” Political Research Quarterly (February).
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2021. “Postal Delivery Disruptions and the Fragility of Voting by Mail: Lessons from Maine,” Research & Politics (January).
  • Anna Baringer, Michael Herron, and Daniel A. Smith. 2020. “Voting by Mail and Ballot Rejection: Lessons from Florida for Elections in the Age of the Coronavirus,” Election Law Journal 19(3): 289-320.
  • Enrijeta Shino and Daniel A. Smith. 2020. “Political Knowledge and Convenience Voting,” Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (August).
  • Enrijeta Shino and Daniel A. Smith. 2020. “Mobilizing the Youth Vote? Early Voting on College Campuses.” Election Law Journal 19(4): 524-541.
  • David Cottrell, Michael C. Herron, and Daniel A. Smith. 2020. “Voting Lines, Equal Treatment, and Early Voting Check-in Times in Florida,” State Politics and Policy Quarterly.
  • Thessalia Merivaki and Daniel A. Smith. 2019. “A Failsafe for Voters? Cast and Rejected Provisional Ballots in North Carolina,” Political Research Quarterly 73(1): 65-78.
  • Hannah L. Walker, Michael C. Herron, and Daniel A. Smith. 2019. “North Carolina voter turnout and early voting hours in the 2016 General Election.” Political Behavior 41: 841-69.
  • Daniel Biggers and Daniel A. Smith. 2020. “Does Threatening their Franchise Make Registered Voters More Likely to Participate? Evidence from an Aborted Voter Purge.” British Journal of Political Science 50(3): 933-954.
  • Brian Amos, Daniel A. Smith, and Casey Ste. Claire. 2017. “Reprecincting and Voting Behavior,” Political Behavior 39(1): 133-156.
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2016. “Race, Shelby County, and the Voter Information Verification Act in North Carolina,” Florida State University Law Review 43: 465-506.
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2016. “Precinct Resources and Voter Wait Times,” Electoral Studies 42: 249–63.
  • Thessalia Merivaki and Daniel A. Smith. 2016. “Casting and Verifying Provisional Ballots in Florida,” Social Science Quarterly 97(3): 729–47.
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2015. “Precinct Closing Times in Florida during the 2012 General Election,” Election Law Journal 14: 220-38.
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2014. “Race, Party, and the Consequences of Restricting Early Voting in Florida in the 2012 General Election,” Political Research Quarterly 67: 646-65.
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2013. “The Effects of House Bill 1355 on Voter Registration in Florida,” State Politics and Policy Quarterly, 13: 279-305.
  • Michael C. Herron and Daniel A. Smith. 2012. “Souls to the Polls: Early Voting in Florida in the Shadow of House Bill 1355,” Election Law Journal 11: 331-47.

New Paper: “Residual Votes in the 2020 Election in Georgia”

“Residual Votes in the 2020 Election in Georgia”

David Cottrell, Felix E. Herron, Michael C. Herron, and Daniel A. Smith

Abstract

The 2020 General Election took place against the backdrop of a pandemic and numerous claims about incipient voter fraud and election malfeasance. No state’s presidential race was closer than Georgia’s, where a hand recount of the presidential contest is planned. As an initial post-election audit of the 2020 election in Georgia, we analyze residual vote rates in statewide races. A race’s residual vote rate combines the rates at which ballots contain undervotes (abstentions) and overvotes (which occur when voters cast more than the allowed number of votes in a race). Anomalously high residual vote rates can be indicative of underlying election administration problems, like ballot design flaws. Our analysis of residual vote rates in Georgia uncovers nothing anomalous in the presidential race, a notable result given this race’s closeness. We do, however, nd an unusually high overvote rate in Georgia’s special election for a seat in the United States Senate. This high overvote rate is concentrated in Gwinnett County and appears to reflect the county’s two-column ballot design that led roughly 4,000 voters to select more than one candidate for senate in the special election, in the process rendering invalid their votes in this contest.

The full paper is available here.

Vote-by-Mail and Early In-Person Turnout in Florida, an Update

With just a day and a half of early in-person voting remaining (in large counties; it ends in most smaller counties today), and with about 80 hours left to get those VBM ballots to Supervisor of Elections offices (7pm Election Day deadline), I thought I’d look into who has voted so far in the Florida General Election.

The Division of Elections posts daily updates here, broken down by party; I dig deeper.

So, as of the morning of Saturday, October 31, 54.2% of the state’s registered voters have cast a ballot. That’s 8.3m voters out of over 15.3m who were on the books as of September 30 have voted. Below, I’ll discuss those who registered Oct 1-Oct 6.

Of those who have either had their VBM ballot accepted as “valid” (V) or have voted early in-person (EIP), 39.6% are Ds, 38.2% are Rs, and 20.9% are NPAs (No Party Affiliates). In raw numbers, that’s about 150k more Ds than Rs in raw numbers. Obviously, it’s how the NPAs break for Trump or Biden that will decide this election.

In 2016, NPAs on who turned out on Election Day voted decisively for Trump. Republicans made up about 40% of the 3m voters who cast their ballots on ED, Democrats about 35%, and the balance NPAs and 3rd party adherents. Trump won Election Day in the 2 party vote over Clinton by 13 points. That difference, 13 points, was NPA support for Trump, particularly among voters who are relatively infrequent voters.

So far in 2020, as a fraction of those registered by party, 58.4% of Ds have voted, 58.5% of Rs have voted, but only 43.0% of NPAs have voted. There is massive GOTV and persuasion targeting these voters, and for good reason.

With regard to race/ethnicity, in advance of November 3, 49.8% of the state’s 2m registered Black voters, 49.9% of the state’s 2.6m registered Hispanic voters, and 57.0% of the state’s 9.4m registered white voters have cast ballots (VBM + EIP). In addition, 50.2% of the 1.7m voters of other race/ethnicity (or unknown) have voted. These totals are of those who were registered as of September 30.

As for age groups, 39.4% of 18-23 year olds, 33.2% of 24-29 year olds, 41.7% of 30-44 year olds, 58.7% of 45-64 year olds, and 70.3% of 65+ have voted. There are 1.7x as many 65+ registered in the state (4.2m) than 18-29 year olds (2.5m), so the effect of lower youth turnout is only magnified in terms of impact on the vote totals. Maybe youth turnout is strong in other states, but if it’s going to make any impact in Florida, younger voters have some work do to heading into Election Day, dropping off their mail ballots (in person, one hopes), and voting in their local precinct on Tuesday.

There was lots of talk by Republicans about how they’ve narrowed the registration gap with Democrats this year. Nearly 857k registered by September 30, 2020, and already 42.8% have turnout out. More of these 2020 registrants who have voted are Rs than Ds — some 35k more, to be precise. In fact, more newly registered NPAs have voted (276k) than newly registered Ds (255k); 291k Rs who registered in the first 9 months of 2020 have voted.

So, what about those voters who got their registrations processed just under the state’s 29-day deadline (which was moved to 28-days before Election Day due to the crashing of the Secretary of State’s voter registration online portal). Nearly Some 184k Floridians registered in the waning days; 59k Rs, 52k Ds, and 65k NPAs. So far, 33.4% of Rs, 30.7% of Ds, and 31.7% of NPAs have voted. Pretty lack-luster turnout across the board, but particularly among Ds. Turnout of these newly registered voters is a function of age: Among Ds, 18-29 year olds make up roughly 42% of all late registrants, whereas they comprise only 33% of Rs last-minute registrants. If your GOTV strategy is to turn out these voters, either having them turn in the VBM ballots on time, or turning them out on Election Day, it’s a risky proposition.

Should be close to the finish. After all, it’s Florida.