Florida’s Primary Election “Vote by Mail” Numbers Crunched by Florida Chamber of Commerce Don’t Add Up

I’ve been puzzling over a story by Adam Smith in the Tampa Bay Times that ran a couple of days ago. According to analysis done by the Florida Chamber of Commerce‘s “data people,” over on-quarter of all the Vote By Mail (VBM) ballots (née, Absentee Ballots) cast as of last Thursday were done so by voters who had never voted in any of the last four primary elections (which, I assume, they mean the primaries in August 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014).

These figures struck me as odd, if not implausible.

So I ran the numbers.  My figures are a little more recent than the Chamber’s, as I’m analyzing VBMs received by SOEs through yesterday (Saturday, August 27).

As of yesterday, some 1.11m VBM had been received by the state’s 67 SOEs.

Of those 1.11m, SOEs have received 13.2k VBM ballots cast by voters who’ve registered since January 1 of this year; they received another 20.5k cast by voters who registered in 2015.

These new voters had no chance of casting ballots in the 2014 August primary election, and thus, there’s no reason why they should be included in the Chamber’s analysis, much less be assumed to be “unlikely voters.”

Indeed, over 13k of the 20.5k who registered in 2015 and who’ve voted VBM this August primary had voted in the March 15 Presidential Preference Primary earlier this year.  Although they’ve recently registered, I’d be hard-pressed to classify these presidential primary voters as “unlikely voters” this general primary election.

Furthermore, of the 1.11m VBM received so far, 635.9k have been cast by voters who voted in the 2014 August primary. That’s 57.3% of the total, and that’s not even excluding from any analysis the more than 33.7k who’ve already voted VBM who couldn’t have cast ballots two years ago because they weren’t registered. Take them out of the equation, and nearly 60% of the VBMs cast so far in this primary were cast by those who were eligible to vote in the 2014 August primary).

By my count, some 286.8k VBM ballots received by SOEs thus far have been cast by voters who skipped the previous four August primaries. Perhaps the Chamber’s “data people” were on to something. This does seem like a pretty high figure at first glance.

But upon closer inspection, of these VBM August 2016 primary voters, less than half — some 131.1k — were actually registered on the books back in January, 2008, and thus eligible to partake in all four of the August primaries underpinning the Chamber’s analysis. Thus, these are the truly “unlikely voters.” But they account for only 12% of the VBMs cast thus far in this primary election, and not “more than a quarter” of all VBMs, as Adam Smith reports.

Contrary to the Chamber’s analysis, then, three-fifths of the VBM ballots received by SOEs thus far have been cast by VERY regular primary voters, not “‘new’ primary voters.”

 

Looking forward to FSU Law Review special issue on Voting Rights. Here’s Michael Herron & my take on NC’s VIVA

RACE, SHELBY COUNTY, AND THE VOTER INFORMATION VERIFICATION ACT IN NORTH CAROLINA*

MICHAEL C. HERRON & DANIEL A. SMITH

ABSTRACT
Shortly after the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder struck down section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the State of North Carolina enacted an omnibus piece of election-reform legislation known as the Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA). Prior to Shelby, portions of North Carolina were covered jurisdictions per the VRA’s sections 4 and 5—meaning that they had to seek federal preclearance for changes to their election procedures—and this motivates our assessment of whether VIVA’s many alterations to North Carolina’s election procedures are race-neutral. We show that in presidential elections in North Carolina black early voters have cast their ballots disproportionately in the first week of early voting, which was eliminated by VIVA; that blacks disproportionately have registered to vote during early voting and in the immediate run-up to Election Day, something VIVA now prohibits; that registered voters in the state who lack two VIVA-acceptable forms of voter identification, driver’s licenses and non-operator identification cards, are disproportionately black; that VIVA’s identification dispensation for voters at least seventy years old disproportionately benefits white registered voters; and, that preregistered sixteen and seventeen year old voters in North Carolina, a category of registrants that VIVA prohibits, are disproportionately black. These results illustrate how VIVA will have a disparate effect on black voters in North Carolina.

Here’s a link to the pre-publication

Latest Research: “A Bipartisan Election Reform? Explaining Support for Online Voter Registration in the American States”

William D. Hicks, Seth C. McKee, and Daniel A. Smith

Abstract
Online voter registration (OVR) is an election reform that has recently taken hold in more than half of the American states. Election administration observers have marveled at both the rapid diffusion and bipartisan support associated with legislative passage of OVR. We examine the likelihood a lawmaker voted in favor or against OVR in legislatures approving the reform. Despite the leading narrative of both parties overwhelmingly embracing OVR, we find that lawmaker support is clearly rooted in political calculations. Most prominent is a partisan divide, with Republicans in polarized legislatures with a Democratic majority decidedly less supportive of OVR. In addition, a host of contextual factors tied to the variation in partisan and electoral power affect the probability a state legislator votes in favor of this reform. We argue that the near-consensus position of Democrats (more than 90% voted “yea” on OVR) and the impressive supermajority of Republicans backing OVR (greater than 70%) have diverted attention from the reasons why there is opposition to this seemingly noncontroversial reform.

Available here