Ballot Measure Disclosure in California

Unfortunately, I do not have time right now to chime in on the very important ballot measure committee contribution disclosure lawsuit,, which is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  I’ve served as an expert in several campaign finance lawsuits across the country, including the case California Pro-Life Council v. Getman (9th Cir. 2005), when my research was used to bolster the constitutionality of California’s ballot measure disclosure requirements.  I must say that it’s gratifying to see that my 2005 Election Law Journal article with Elizabeth Garrett that details the deceptive practices of “Veiled Political Actors” is once again being used to support the case for the public disclosure of the activities of ballot issue committee, as required under California’s Political Reform Act.

If you’re interested in the topic, I’d urge you to read the Campaign Legal Center’s amicus brief filed in v. Bowen

As the Legal Center points out in its press release, “In the last decade alone the Supreme Court has upheld disclosure laws by votes of 8-1 three times, most recently in Doe v. Reed.  In his concurrence in the case, Justice Scalia made very clear the importance of transparency to the health of our democracy:

Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.  For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously (McIntyre) and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism.  This does not resemble the Home of the Brave.”

As the lead author of the “Direct Democracy Scholars” amicus brief in Doe v. Reed, I couldn’t agree more with Justice Scalia’s wise words or the Campaign Legal Center’s analysis.

Petition Signing Draws Infrequent Voters to Polls

So says a University of Arkansas press release touting my recently published article in Political Behavior, “The Impact of Petition Signing on Voter Impact,” that I coauthored with Arkansas political science professor, Janine Parry, and her former undergraduate honors student, Shayne Henry.

The University of Arkansas press release is below, and here’s a link to the article.

Petition Signing Draws Infrequent Voters to Polls

Research suggests Wisconsin governor faces tough recall election

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Janine Parry, professor, political science, University of Arkansas.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Given the 1 million signatures on a petition to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, research on the voting behavior of petition signers suggests that Walker faces a tough time in the June special election. A study published in the March 2012 issue of Political Behavior finds that people who sign petitions are more likely to show up to vote.

“Not only does recall history generally suggest that the governor’s odds of surviving a special election are low, but our study demonstrates that the people who signed the petitions and who become uncharacteristically motivated may well drive his ouster,” said political scientist Janine Parry of the University of Arkansas.

Parry teamed up with Daniel Smith of the University of Florida and Shayne Henry, then an Honors College undergraduate at the University of Arkansas, to analyze data from 1,000 registered Arkansas voters, 1,100 registered Florida voters, and all 71,119 registered voters in Gainesville, Fla., to measure the relationship between petition signing and voting. The researchers matched individual petition-signers with their election behavior and found that voters who signed petitions were more likely to go to the polls.

While the data showed the probability of voter turnout was higher for voters of all voting histories who signed a petition — from functionally inactive voters to super voters — petition signing had the greatest effect on irregular voters and on voters in off-cycle elections, such as the recall election in Wisconsin. The researchers found that infrequent voters who signed a petition were sometimes as much as 20 percentage points more likely to turn up at the polls compared to those who did not sign a petition.

“The magnitude of the effects was most surprising and unexpected for voters with the spottiest records,” Parry said. “Having a 20 point increase in anything in social science is pretty amazing.”

Few studies have focused on the significance of petition signing as motivation for individual voters to go to the polls. This study is the first to couple actual ballot petitions with official voter records, because the data were available through the Know Thy Neighbor online database, a publicly available database of those who had signed a statewide constitutional initiative against gay marriage and adoptions.

“The data have never been available for scholarly purposes because no one has the time to type in 100,000 names and then cross check it with registered voters,” Parry said. “Most people don’t have the time or staffing to digitize that kind of information.”

In recent election cycles, having controversial social issues on the ballot has driven voter turnout.

“If you can get a hot-button social issue out there, people are more likely to respond and show up to the polls,” said Parry. “Parties and candidates were banking on this process, hoping to drive turnout, like in 2004 with George W. Bush and gay marriage, or in 2006 when the Democrats tried with somewhat less success with minimum-wage ballot measures.”

In contrast, Parry said, “Our findings add more authority to the claim that campaign contact matters and that it matters a lot for certain people.”

Parry is a professor of political science in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas and director of the Arkansas Poll. Smith is a professor of political science at the University of Florida. Henry was an Honors College student at the University of Arkansas and now studies law at the University of California, Berkeley.

The study, “The Impact of Petition Signing on Voter Impact,” appears in the March 2012 issue of Political Behavior.

It must be the Cheese: 96.8% Valid Signature Rate for WI Recall Petitions

The staff of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board earlier this week recommended to the Board that there were a sufficient number of valid signatures on the recall petitions submitted for Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Kleefisch to order a recall election.

Were there ever!

The staff’s reports are available on the Board’s website.

Here’s a helpful summary of the staff’s findings.

Officeholder Signatures Submitted Signatures Struck by Staff Duplicates Struck Valid Signatures
Gov. Walker 931,053 26,114 4,001 900,938
Lt. Gov. Kleefisch 842,854 29,601 4,263 808,990

I’ve been studying ballot initiatives for some time now (nearly 20 years), and I have to admit, I am stunned by the high validity rate for the recall elections. I’ve been involved as an expert in lawsuits, hired to defend and challenge the legitimacy of signatures gathered for initiative and popular referendum petitions which have a far lower rate. For example, in the state of Washington, as I document with Todd Donovan in our 2008 book chapter on the incidence of signature gathering fraud in ballot measure campaigns, an average of nearly 19% of signatures submitted on initiative and popular referendum petitions between 1990 and 2006 were ruled to be invalid, mostly due to names on petitions not being found in the voter file. And compared with other states, Washington has a fairly high validity rate for signatures submitted on petitions.

Perhaps we should expect the validity rates for signatures collected in recall elections should be higher than those collected in initiative and popular referendum campaigns, but I’m at a loss to explain why. The same tactics used by recall petitioners are used by those collecting the signatures in I&R campaigns. Some gatherers are volunteers, others are paid, sometimes incentives or bounties for valid signatures are offered the proponents. So why the outstanding validity rate?

Whatever the reason, we should expect that many of the 900,000 plus Cheeseheads who signed a petition and who are registered to vote (which is not a requirement to sign a valid recall petition in Wisconsin) will be likely to turn out to vote in the upcoming recall elections, even if many of them are not regular voters.

My just-published article with Janine Parry and Shane Henry, “The Impact of Petition Signing on Voter Turnout,” reveals that those who sign ballot initiative petitions, controlling for a host of other factors, are more likely to turn out to vote, especially in low-turnout but high salience elections, like the June 5 recall elections are likely to be.

My scholarly hat is off to the recall petitioners for their truly impressive feat, and I look forward to delving into the petition data in the coming months.

The NYTimes discovers the “educative effects” of ballot measures

Crack reporter, Nicholas Confessore, in his story, “Anti-Gay Marriage Group Recommends Creating Tension Between Gays and Blacks,” recounts a classic tale of an interest group trying to use a ballot initiative to drive a wedge into a party’s base.

More than a decade ago, I wrote about the GOP using this tactic in California and Colorado. No time to summarize it here, but here’s a link to my 2001 article, Initiative to Party, with Caroline Tolbert on the topic, and it’s also retold in my book, Educated by Initiative.


Think Your Provisional Ballot in Florida Counts? Think Again

In the 2008 general election, Florida voters cast some 35,635 provisional ballots on Election Day.  That’s but a fraction of the more than 8.3 million ballots cast in the election, but in close elections, local, state House and Senate, or even presidential, they could determine the outcome an election.

But unlike regular ballots cast by voters, provisional ballots–despite what we’re told–often don’t count.  In fact, in the 2008 general election, less than half of all provisional ballots cast were actually deemed to be valid.  Days after the polls closed on Tuesday, November 4, 2008, and long after the unofficial results were posted by the Secretary of State and broadcast by the media, local three-member canvassing boards in the state’s 67 counties opened thousands of envelopes containing provisional ballots and began to tabulate them.

Whether they count, is another question altogether.  Of the 35,635 provisional ballots cast in the 2008 general election, local canvassing boards validated only 17,312, or less than 50%.

The dirty little secret in the Sunshine State is that provisional ballots often don’t count. Or at least they don’t count as frequently in some counties as in others. There are innumerable reasons for the disparity, but the disparity exists. For whatever reason, provisional ballots cast by registered voters don’t have an equal shot of being accepted by local canvassing boards. The assault on voting rights by the Florida legislature in 2011, with the passage of HB1355, will likely increase the proportion of provisional ballots cast in the 2012 general election, and could very well lead to an even lower likelihood that provisional ballots will be validated.

In the 2008 general election there was a tremendous amount of variation across the state’s 67 counties regarding the number of provisional ballots cast and the percentage that were actually added to the final tabulation.  In six counties, all of them largely rural, all of the provisional ballots cast (a total of 54) were deemed to be valid by the county canvasing boards (Baker (0/0); Dixie (11/11); Hamilton (12/12); Holmes (13/13); Lafayette (3/3); and Suwannee (15/15)).

Other counties, as this Provisional Ballots Chart reveals, also had high percentages of validated provisional ballots.  For example, over 82 percent of the 731 provisional ballots cast in St. Johns County, 72 percent of the 411 provisional ballots cast in Pasco County, and nearly 60 percent of the 4,659 provisional ballots cast in Hillsborough (a Section 5 Voting Right Act county) were added to the total vote.

This 2008 Provisional Ballot Plot, crafted by my collaborator, Dartmouth University Professor Michael Herron, helps the visualization of where provisional ballots were cast in Florida in the 2008 general election. The proportion of the total votes cast in each county that were provisional ballot runs along the horizontal axis, and the percentage of provisional ballots cast in each county that were validated by the 67 county canvassing boards runs up the vertical axis. The size of the dot is proportional to the total number of provisional ballots cast, as distributed across the 67 counties.

There are several outliers, but two are pretty dramatic: Broward County, with its paltry acceptance rate of cast provisional ballots, and Osceola County, with its exceptionally high proportion of provisional ballots cast.

As I’ve written elsewhere with Dr. Herron, the rate of provisional ballots, the acceptance rate of provisional ballots, and the variation across counties should all be of grave concern as we head into the 2012 general election.

In the coming months, we’ll be investigating why there might be so much variation in the casting and counting of provisional ballots in Florida.  I suspect it’s quite likely that these clear disparities across Florida’s 67 counties are not out of the ordinary when it comes to voting provisional ballots in other states.