About electionsmith

Dr. Daniel A. Smith is Professor and Chair of Political Science at the University of Florida and President of ElectionSmith, Inc. He is former Director of the Political Campaigning Program at the University of Florida. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1994, and his B.A. (Phi Beta Kappa) in History and Political Science (Foreign Affairs) from Penn State University in 1988. Professor Smith's research examines how political institutions affect political behavior across and within the American states. Currently, he is working with Dr. Michael C. Herron (Dartmouth College), on several projects that exam how changes to election laws in the American states are influencing voter participation. Dr. Smith has published more than eighty scholarly articles and book chapters on politics in the American states. His book with Caroline J. Tolbert, Educated by Initiative: The Effects of Direct Democracy on Citizens and Political Organizations in the American States (University of Michigan Press, 2004), examines the “educative effects” of the initiative process on voter turnout, citizen engagement, and political efficacy, as well as the indirect impact citizen lawmaking has on interest groups and political parties. Smith’s first book, Tax Crusaders and the Politics of Direct Democracy (Routledge, 1998), investigated the financial backing and the populist-sounding rhetoric of three anti-tax ballot initiatives: Proposition 13 in California (1978), Proposition 2 1/2 in Massachusetts (1980), and Amendment 1 in Colorado (1992). He is also the coauthor, with Todd Donovan, Tracy Osborne, and Christopher Mooney of a widely-used textbook, State and Local Politics: Institutions and Reform (Cengage, 2015), now in its 4th edition. Professor Smith serves on the Board of Directors of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation (BISCF), a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, and is a member of the Advisory Board of Common Cause Florida. Smith served as a Senior Fulbright Scholar at the University of Ghana in 2000-01 and as a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Democratic Development in 2011, and has written widely on contemporary Ghanaian electoral politics. A seasoned observer of election laws, voting rights, and ballot initiative campaigns around the country, and on the politics of Florida, Professor Smith’s commentary has appeared in or has been heard on numerous news media, including The New York Times, the Economist, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, BBC, National Public Radio, Voice of America, and ABC and NBC News. Professor Smith has advised the state legislatures of Colorado and Florida, as well as numerous groups across the country, on the mechanics of the initiative process and the politics of voting rights and redistricting. He has served as an expert witness in dozens of legal cases dealing with voting rights, ballot measures, campaign finance laws, and redistricting, and is the lead author of an amicus brief in Doe v. Reed, decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2010.

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.

Why has President Trump relentlessly attacked the opportunities of Americans to vote by mail? Putting aside his baseless claims about voter fraud, efforts to curtail registered voters from casting a ballot prior to Election Day could, in fact, limit more knowledgeable voters from turning out to vote in November.

Why has President Trump relentlessly attacked the opportunities of Americans to vote by mail? Putting aside his baseless claims about voter fraud, efforts to curtail registered
voters from casting a ballot prior to Election Day could, in fact, limit more knowledgeable voters from turning out to vote in November.

Well before the COVID-19 pandemic made it public health necessity, a growing number of
states had been expanding ways for registered voters to cast ballots prior to Election Day, either in person or by mail. Drawing on five Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) pre- and post-election national surveys, as well as an original survey of registered voters in Florida, Enrijeta Shino and I find in our new article, “Political Knowledge and Convenience Voting,” in Elections, Public Opinion & Parties, that more politically knowledgeable voters are significantly more likely to cast their ballots before Election Day.

Why might more knowledgeable voters be willing to cast their ballot early? Won’t they possibly miss the unearthing of a scandalous 11th hour event that could tip their decision to support a different party or candidate? We argue that such last-minute information—no matter how salacious—does not alter the electoral sensibilities of voters who have higher levels of political knowledge. We argue that prospective voters who have a command over basic facts about government institutions and political actors—what are known as “static-general” facts—are more willing to take advantage of “convenience” voting opportunities, casting their ballot days, or even weeks, prior to Election Day. In short, having a greater facility of the players and the “rules of the game” affects both when and how voters decide to vote, even after controlling for standard socio-economic, political, and campaign factors, as well as a respondent’s partisanship, ideology, and political engagement and awareness.

We find that those who possess less political knowledge, as well as Republicans, are much more likely to hold off to cast their ballot on Election Day. If voters with less political knowledge across the American states are less likely to vote early—particularly by mail—is it any wonder the President has made voting-by-mail Public Enemy #1?

OK, there’s been a tremendous amount written on voter registration trends, by party, in Florida. It’s all wrong. Here’s why.

I’ve published quite a bit on the topic, served as an expert witness in dozens of successful lawsuits, and know these files inside and out.

Here are the facts, using proper voter files (i.e., contemporaneous), comparing Jan-July 2016 registration numbers with Jan-July 2020 voter registration numbers, comparing apples to apples.

To look at new registrations (that is, how the parties and groups are doing on the ground), you cannot merely use the Florida Division of Elections summary files to figure this out, as I explained four years ago, here.

OK, here are the numbers. Comparable voter registration, as of July 1, 2020, was down by a total of 136,392 registrants. And Democrats and Republicans both account for 32.1% of new registrants over the first six months of the year.

New Registrations by Party, January-June, 2016 vs. January-June 2020

Dem Rep NPA 3rd Total
Jan-June 2016 152,320 131,059 149,090 10,273 442,742
34.4% 29.6% 33.7% 2.3% 100.0%
Jan-June 2020 98,439 98,472 99,879 9,560 306,350
32.1% 32.1% 32.6% 3.1% 100.0%
Difference (2020-2016) -53,881 -32,587 -49,211 -713 -136,392
-2.3% 2.5% -1.1% 0.8%

 

So, cut these numbers as you will, but by no means can it be said that Democrats are killing it out there.  In fact, a total of 33 more Republicans registered to vote anew between January 1 and June 30 (and remained registered as of June 30) than newly registered Democrats.

COVID-19 is obviously the major reason why Democratic numbers are down, as nonpartisan groups who usually hit the ground are not as active, SOEs who usually are in the schools preregistering young voters had no classrooms to go to in April or May, etc.  We’ve seen this pattern before, in 2011, after the Republican legislature passed HB 1355, which, among other things, cracked down on voter registration efforts by 3PVROs, as Michael Herron and I have written about before.

Perhaps Democrats and their allies will turn it around before the October registration date. Young voters who register immediately before an election in Florida are more likely to turn out in that proximate election, as Enrijeta Shino and I find, but their turnout levels aren’t sustained in subsequent elections, casting some doubt on the habitualization of voting.

But until we get some book closing numbers, the data are what they are. Republicans, as a proportion of new registrants in Florida, are doing better than they did four years ago over the first six months of the presidential election year.