Sunday, August 13, 2017

Part I Primary Election Post Mortem: Matchbacks and Tips on How to Avoid a Challenged Ballot

The results of August 2017  Primary Election will be certified on Tuesday evening. Monday will be the last chance for 200 plus voters to cure their challenged ballots.   Wednesday, many people will be analyzing the final results with implications for the November 2017 General Election. But as a prelude, I would like to talk about the mechanics of the vote with some public matchback  and return numbers available as of last Friday (08/11/2017). These numbers will be updated in the days to come, but are sure enough for my general points.

Primary turnout in "off year" (e.g. no federal, state offices) elections is especially diminished across America as a whole.  Electoral analysts nearly universally consider this a major flaw in our electoral landscape. Solutions are not forthcoming.  Here is how the top nine counties (exclusive of Yakima) voted in WA this August. This list is ranked by turnout percentage of those counties with over 100K participating in the elections and it will change after certification on Tuesday:

County Registered TotalBallots Turnout
King 1295691 437035 33.73%
Whatcom 105045 32364 30.81%
Kitsap 161590 42001 25.99%
Benton 107770 26503 24.59%
Snohomish 459409 109717 23.88%
Thurston 105284 24000 22.80%
Spokane 304058 66985 22.03%
Clark 238855 47462 19.87%
Pierce 499152 93226 18.68%

Whatcom County did comparatively well in turnout percentage.  It is the case that the registered voting population of many of these counties is limited by precincts in play for the August Primary. Our full voterdb for the general will be 138K or more. But for this primary (which involved only those races with three contenders each), 40 Whatcom County precincts did not vote for Port, County, or City.  Many other counties had big holes in their electorate for the primary. But in some sense that doesn't affect the turnout percentage:  'those who did vote' / 'those would could have voted'. So why are primary turnouts so low?

Those of us that study the electorate are aware of the great casualness of voters. Whatcom County's incredible 83% turnout in GE 2016 was exceptional and probably the result of one of the most expensive and engrossing Presidential elections in history. Does it require that type of publicity to produce that high a turnout percentage for every election? Many of us wish that wasn't the case.

Let's drill a little deeper into the vote itself. In the table below we have 'AVReturnStatus' from the 08/11/2017 matchback summarized with my annotations:

   AVReturnStatus     N
1:           Good 32652 # Number of "Good" Ballots 08/11 MB
2:                69936 # Number of "Recycled" Ballots
3:           Void   140 # Number discard when Ballots are"Cured"
4:     Challenged   300 # Challenged (See Below)
5:  Undeliverable  2143 # Returned to Sender

As of last Friday 32,652 ballots were fit for tabulation. 69,936 were not returned. (e.g. They end up "Recycled").  2,143 were targeted to addresses no longer valid. 300 remain "Challenged". Many of the "undeliverable" or returned ballots come from students. We can infer that by  looking at some age distribution:

summary(MB_vdb[AVReturnStatus == "Undeliverable",.(Age=2017 - year(mdy(BirthDate)))])
 Min.   :18.00  
 1st Qu.:20.00  
 Median :22.00  
 Mean   :28.06  
 3rd Qu.:29.00  
 Max.   :99.00  


However, not all who move are students or young.  If you are a student, as soon as you move back in the fall and find your new address, you should update your voter registration. I think most students may not recognize that if they register in a timely fashion (essentially 28 days before an election), they can shift registrations between their home county and Whatcom County such that they can vote in both the Primary and the General Election for that year. Regardless of whether you are a student,  please update your voter registration address at each time you move .  If you don't do this, your ballot will not find you! Once your ballot bounces back to Elections, you will be inactivated as a voter until you update your address and reactivate. Now let us look at "Challenges" to the your vote. This August's 300 Primary challenges nearly account for 1% (0.91) of the recorded vote. (For other years percentage, see table at end).

           AVReturnChallenge      N
1:                           104871 # Those not challenged
2:                  Too Late    134 # Almost all postmarked too late
3:        No Signature Match     98 # See discussion below
4:              No Signature     38 # See discussion below
5: Letter doesn't match env.     12
6:                 No Ballot      8
7:   Wrong Voter's Signature      7
8:    Second Ballot Received      3

To be honest, there are numbers of way you can screw up your ballot. In any industrialized collection that features human beings, lots of errors happen. Here are some critical challenges and how to avoid them.

Too Late

WA gives voters an 18 day voting period. As a party, we encourage early voting. This allows you to return your ballot, check for your Ballot Status and deal with any errors you might have. Submitting your ballot too late is tragic, but there is no possibility for cure. And yet this happens by the hundreds every election:

   Election Challenged:'Too Late'
1:   GE2008                   127
2:   GE2012                   136
3:   GE2013                   326
4:   GE2014                   293 
5:   GE2015                   234
6:   GE2016                    90
7:  Pri2016                   315

The return curve is almost always right skewed with notable kurtosis near or on election day. In other words, most voters wait until the last weekend.

No Signature Match

In our voting system, you signature at time of registration is your proof of identity. Unfortunately, signatures can and do change over time and in response to illness. If you suspect it has changed, resubmitting your signature to Elections might be useful.  If your vote is challenged on lack of signature match, I recommend calling the Elections Office or visiting them with your ID. Do not try to forge your sick relative's signature or turn in someone else's ballot. Surprisingly, the age range, median and interquartiles for Good Ballots appear older across a longer range than those of much smaller samples of "No Signature Match"  or "No Signature" for this year's primary:

 summary(merge(MB_[AVReturnStatus == "Good",],vdb[,.(RegistrationNumber,BirthDate)],all.x=TRUE, by="RegistrationNumber")[,.(Age=2017 - year(mdy(BirthDate)))])

 Min.   : 18.00  
 1st Qu.: 45.00  
 Median : 62.00  
 Mean   : 57.89  
 3rd Qu.: 71.00  
 Max.   :103.00  
 NA's   :14   
 summary(merge(MB_[AVReturnChallenge == "No Signature Match",],vdb[,.(RegistrationNumber,BirthDate)],all.x=TRUE, by="RegistrationNumber")[,.(Age=2017 - year(mdy(BirthDate)))])

 Min.   :19.00  
 1st Qu.:24.00  
 Median :33.00  
 Mean   :37.89  
 3rd Qu.:49.75  
 Max.   :88.00 

summary(merge(MB_[AVReturnChallenge == "No Signature",],vdb[,.(RegistrationNumber,BirthDate)],all.x=TRUE, by="RegistrationNumber")[,.(Age=2017 - year(mdy(BirthDate)))])
 Min.   :23.00  
 1st Qu.:39.75  
 Median :56.00  
 Mean   :54.00  
 3rd Qu.:67.50  
 Max.   :82.00  

Historical percent Challenged Ballots of Select WC Elections (updated 7:28 AM 8/14/2017 )

   Election Pct Challenged/All Ballots Returned
1:   GE2008                           0.3746348
2:   GE2012                           0.6156475
3:   GE2013                           0.9841375
4:   GE2014                           0.8770712
5:   GE2015                           0.7667691
6:   GE2016                           0.6946167
7:  Pri2016                           0.9697087

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