What do [Connecticut] voters think?

A new Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project Report provides insight into the opinions of voters on several voting reform issues. We comment on Connecticut specific results and editorialize on voting integrity implications of the survey.We recommend the survey and commentary be contemplated by activists, legislators, and future Secretaries of the State.

Voter Opinions about Election Reform: Do They Support Making Voting More Convenient? <read>

The thrust of they survey is a state by state assessment of the level of support for several voting reforms. We find the National summary interesting and somewhat surprising:

Overall Support for Election Reform
Require [Govt Photo] ID 75.6%
Make Election Day a holiday 57.5%
Auto-register all citizens to vote 48.3%
Election Day Registration 43.7%
Election Day to Weekend 41.8%
Absentee voting over Internet 30.1%
Vote by Mail 14.7%

We will have more to say about the Connecticut Results and provide CTVotersCount Commentary after the conclusions from the report:

Conclusions

Our analysis of the American voting public’s support for the many potential election reforms provides a variety of important insights into the potential direction of innovations in the electoral process in the near future. First, we found that some other reforms have mixed support. These include attitudes toward automatic voter registration, Election Day voter registration, and moving Election Day to a weekend. These reforms do not have majority support among all voters in the United States but there are some states where these reforms do have majority support and could be implemented. Second, we found that Internet voting and voting-by-mail did not receive a great deal of support from American voters. There was no state where Internet voting was supported by a majority of voters and there were no states that do not already have expanded vote by mail Washington and Oregon) where expanded vote by mail had majority support. Finally, we found that a majority of Americans support two reforms — requiring showing photo identification (overwhelming support) and making election Day a holiday (bare majority support). These two reforms have strong support nationally and amajority of support in most of the states. Americans, in general, are more interested in the one reform that would promote security, requiring photo identification, than any of the conveniencevoting reforms that would improve the accessibility to the voting process.

Our findings are indicative of where the public stands today, with what they know aboutthese election reforms today. These results do not mean that election reforms with substantial support from voters are inevitable, that reforms without substantial support will never be enacted, or that or that voters actually have strong or well-formed opinions about the potential ramifications of reform. Still, the patterns we discover here have implications for current politics and for the likelihood of election reform in future years.

Partisanship, for instance, is strongly associated with support for and opposition to virtually every reform proposal. To a large degree, these popular reform attitudes tend to map onto the attitudes of legislators, both at the national and state levels, and as with most attitudes in legislatures these days, the partisan divisions are likely stronger among legislators than among their electoral supporters. Although there are exceptions, Democratic lawmakers tend to be the advocates of most of the reforms we explore in this paper, and that support tends to be mirrored, in a muted fashion, among the electorate. (The exceptions are requiring photo identification and Internet voting.)

Younger voters tend to support the reforms studied here, except all-mail voting and moving Election Day to a weekend. What we cannot judge is whether this is a cross-sectional or a cohort effect. That is, we cannot tell whether younger voters are more likely to support reforms because young people are inherently prone to support making it easier to vote, or because they have lived more of their lives surrounded by easy conveniences and electronic appliances. If the latter, and if reforms tend to be more likely when voters support them, then it may be a matter of time before support for some of these reforms, such as voter identificationand making Election Day a holiday, become irresistible. If the former, then there are no obvious future trends favoring or opposing reform.

Finally, the findings here provide an interesting insight into how the adoption of weakly supported (or even strongly opposed) reforms may eventually win over voters. Note that respondents were overwhelmingly opposed to vote-by-mail, except in Oregon and Washington — one state that has long had the practice, and the other which has recently transitioned to it. Unfortunately, we do not have evidence of attitudes toward vote-by-mail in these two states prior to its adoption, but it is hard to believe that residents in Oregon and Washington were wildly out of step with voters in other states, even though they may have supported it more than average. For all Oregon and most Washington voters, voting by mail is “the way it’s done,” and voters there by-and-large support it like voters in no other state. And in general, now that we have benchmarked all states according to their voters’ attitudes toward electoral reform, it will be possible in the future to answer causal questions concerning public attitudes toward electoral practices. Are states whose citizens most support particular electoral reforms more likely to enact them? Do voters in states that adopt reform become more accepting of those reforms after they have been adopted and put into place?

Here are some other items in the report that we found particularly interesting:

The slow pace of election reform in national and state legislatures is no doubt due to multiple causes, including the low salience of election reform in the face of other governing crises, the inertia of elected officials who have succeeded under current electoral rules, economic factors, and uncertainties about the political consequences and political costs of each reform.

The factor we focus on in this article is public opinion. Based on data derived from a unique national survey, we show that a major hurdle many election reforms face is public opinion. Only one prominent reform proposal, requiring photo identification, is supported overwhelmingly nationwide. Other reforms—reforms that are justified based on convenience— at best divide the public, and are generally opposed by them…

There were, generally unsurprising, party and demographic differences in voter preferences.  What was surprising was that, for the most part, the differences were marginal, with voters generally agreeing across the political, age, racial, educational, and income lines.  For the details, see table 3 on page 29 of the <report .pdf>

Connecticut Results

Connecticut tracked very closely with the National averages:

National Connecticut
Require [Govt Photo] ID 75.6% 72%
Make Election Day a holiday 57.5% 57%
Auto-register all citizens to vote 48.3% 44%
Election Day Registration 43.7% 43%
Election Day to Weekend 41.8% 44%
Absentee voting over Internet 30.1% 31%
Vote by Mail 14.7% 12%

We looked at several other states near Connecticut and around the Nation. We find, in general, that other states varied more than Connecticut from the National averages.

CTVotersCount Commentary

The primary focus of CTVotersCount is on voting integrity. We also consider total costs and the implications that voting reforms would have on the objective of our democracy flourishing. Through our filters we comment:

  • We are not ready to celebrate the lack of public support for reforms that we conditionally against(*), such as vote by mail and internet voting. Nor are we ready to give up on reforms that we are conditionally for(*). such as election day registration and automatic registration. As the report points out, voters well educated on these items might change their conclusions. As we have pointed out, fast-food is not good for us, but despite lots of evidence and education it remains popular. When it comes to voting reforms we see little education and usually a lack of evidence or balance available to the public.
  • We caution against recommending a reform or opposing a reform based on public perception reported in a single, or several surveys providing simple reform descriptions. However, public support and perception is an important factor worthy of consideration. This report should provide caution to legislators and Secretaries of State who believe there is a strong degree of public support for some of these reforms.
  • We repeatedly pointed to surveys, some a generation old, supporting complex reforms such a national popular vote and instant runoff voting. We wonder what the result would have been, if these reforms had been included in this survey. Yet, it is risky to decide complex issues based on simple surveys – we suspect most surveys of the public would support cutting taxes, cutting the deficit, with a majority also supporting almost any list of proposals to maintain and increase spending on specific items.
  • CTVotersCount has not taken a position on voter id. It is clear from the survey that voter id is supported by a significant majority of voters and it is also a relatively simple reform to understand. Yet, caution is still prudent – it does have implications on ballot access that may be complex and less generally understood.
  • Optimistically, we note, as the survey did, that the voter id preference may well indicate that the public is more concerned with and supportive of reforms associated with voting integrity, while significantly less concerned with increasing the convenience of voting. Perhaps this is our bias celebrating.
  • We wonder how the survey would have come out if voters were asked voters about requiring a paper ballot, an independent post-election audit, transparent close election recounts, the preservation of the anonymous/secret ballot, public campaign financing, corporate/lobbyist contributions, or stronger National minimum standards in these areas etc.?  What would the public do first? Where would voters be willing to make expenditures and investments?

Update 8/19/2010 More Research:  How Polling Places Can Affect Your Vote How Polling Places [and early voting] Can Affect Your Vote <read>

Their first finding was hardly a shocker: While distance to the polling place did influence the likelihood of voting, the impact was much greater for households in which no one owned a car. But the researchers were surprised by a seemingly counterintuitive statistic: Moving the location of a polling place actually increased voter turnout…

A follow-up laboratory experiment confirmed their theory that the voters had been “primed” with the idea of schooling. Participants shown images of a school were more likely to support increased education funding than those who had seen photos of a church. In contrast, those who viewed the house of worship were more likely to support an initiative to limit stem-cell research — a favorite issue of the religious right.

This same dynamic was documented in a study published earlier this year in the journal Political Psychology. Abraham Rutchick of California State University, Northridge, found that during a 2006 election in South Carolina, a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage was supported by 83 percent of voters who cast their ballots in churches, as opposed to 81.5 percent of those who voted elsewhere...

“There are good reasons to adopt early voting,” he and his colleagues concluded in the journal Political Science & Politics. “Ballot counting is more accurate, it can save administrative costs and headaches and voters express a high level of satisfaction with the system. If a jurisdiction adopts early voting in the hopes of boosting turnout, however, it is likely to be disappointed. We find that early voting reforms have, at best, a modest effect on turnout.”

Priscilla Southwell of the University of Oregon, Eugene, came to a similar conclusion in a 2009 issue of the Social Science Journal. She reports that the effect of voting by mail in primary and general elections is “positive but fairly minimal.” However, the format apparently increases voter participation “in low-stimulus special elections where the context is a single candidate race, or when a single or a few ballot measures are involved.”..

Update 9/10/2010: MD: Little interest shown in early voting <read>

Despite spending millions of dollars on early voting this year, it appears that only about 2 percent of Marylanders will take advantage of the new option before the primary election…

Local election officials say early voting has been a success, but has caused a few problems, primarily with staffing and budgets.

Like in the other districts, Baltimore city Election Director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. said his employees worked Saturday and on Labor Day to staff early-voting centers and the local election office. He said employees have been putting in 12-hour days during early voting, and are being paid overtime and holiday wages.

“It’s really tough on us,” Jones said. “On Election Day it’s bad enough. It’s just spreading everyone real thin, but the job is getting done.”

As of Wednesday, 5,604 of the city’s 319,342 eligible voters had voted early at the polls, or 1.75 percent, according to the state Board of Elections.

Jones expects to spend about $1 million on early voting this month and before the Nov. 2 general election.

(*) When we say we are “Conditionally Against” a proposition, we mean that nobody has proposed a realistic safe way to accomplish the proposition. We remain open to the possibility that a means may be found that would pass the scrutiny of the majority of computer scientists, security experts, election officials, and voting integrity advocates.

When we say we are “Conditionally For” a proposition, we mean that other states have safe implementations of the proposition or computer scientists, security experts, election officials, and voting integrity advocates have recommended a safe solution. We caution that a particular implementation or law may not meet a reasonable standard of safety.

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