Thursday, October 02, 2014

Department of ICYMI

How did we get into the mess that 21st century American politics have become? Doug McAdam and Karina Kloos "state the obvious":
Forget about weak explanations for today’s deep political divisions like “the culture of Washington,” gerrymandering... 
(Tangent: It's less about gerrymandering than about birds of a feather flocking together, or what political demographers call " the big sort," a point which further emphasizes the depth of cultural division. We now return to McAdam and Kloos already in progress:)
...or the rise of cable TV: The civil rights movement, while a victory on many levels, was also the origin of our present morass. It spawned a powerful national “white resistance” countermovement that decisively altered the racial geography of American politics, pushing the national Democratic and Republican parties off center and toward their ideological margins, undermining the centrist policy convergence of the postwar period and setting the parties on the divisive course they remain on today.

Many will blame today’s unprecedented political polarization on recent events, such as the rise of the Tea Party or Obama’s election in 2008, but they will be wrong. The seeds of America’s dysfunction were planted 50 years ago. And the ugly politics of race had everything to do with it.

Delving into the details, Matthew Pulver examines the South's persecution complex and suggests it dates back not just 50 years, but 150:
 A sense of persecution has always mingled with the rebellious independence and proud notions of the South’s latent power, the promise that it “will rise again!”

Every major issue is argued in terms of persecution and attack. The racial minority is not the oppressed subaltern but a threat, whether physical or fiscal. Liberatory advances for women and LGBT Americans are assaults upon the family. Religious pluralism and fortifications of the wall between church and state evoke biblical accounts of Christian persecution. Deviations from increasingly neoliberal capitalism are described as authoritarian socialism. Relaxation of military aggression, especially under Obama, is even seen as collusion with the enemy.

There is a problem, though, for the GOP in the 2014 and subsequent elections: Once the Fort Sumter-like salvo of superlatives and hyperbole is launched, it is likely impossible to quiet the fear and anger of the party’s base. 
That resentment is not just a Southern thing anymore, as this look at the crazy like a fox career of our own Steve King illustrates.

But no one here is a racist, right? Isn't it just about defending the "homeland"? Umm...
Hitler  wanted to create an identity that went beyond language and culture. He wanted to invent a "German race," and have Germany be that race's "homeland," all so he could sell to the German people their own racial superiority and use that to justify exterminating others.

So, in 1934, at the Nazi party's big coming-out event, the famous Nuremberg rally, Nazis introduced the term "homeland."

Prior to that, they'd always referred to Germany as "the Fatherland" or "the Motherland" or "our nation."

But Hitler and his think-tank wanted Germans to think of themselves with what he and Goebbels viewed as the semi-tribal passion that the Zionists had for Israel.

So, in that most famous 1934 Nazi rally's opening speech, Rudolph Hess, Hitler's deputy Fuhrer, said that, "Thanks to [Hitler's] leadership, Germany will become the homeland. Homeland for all Germans in the world."

So I'm not the only one who's always been a little creeped out by that word.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Election Resource Allocation: A Real Issue, A Tricky Solution

As a lot of you recall from the last three presidential elections, election resource allocation is an issue in many states.

The charge has been that resources are allocated in a partisan manner, specifically that wealthy white neighborhoods get more workers/machines/etc. than poor black neighborhoods:
Three states that featured some of the longest wait times on Election Day 2012 are routinely failing to have as many voting machines and poll workers as they are required to -- and the shortfalls are most negatively impacting minority voters, according to a new study.
"We need to fix that," President Obama said as he claimed re-election victory. There's been no action, of course, in the hyper-partisan atmosphere of 21st Century DC. But eventually there may be, and as one who works in the trenches of elections I worry about unintended consequences.

Here's some stats that worry me:
In Maryland, just 11 percent of precincts studied by Brennan met the state's standard of having one voting machine for every 200 registered voters.

In South Carolina, a study of 16 counties showed just one-third of precincts in those counties met the state's standard of having three poll workers for every 500 registered voters. It also found 75 percent of precincts didn't meet the standard of having one voting machine for every 250 registered voters.
They worry me because, of course, they indicate insufficient resources. But they also worry me because they hint at a one size fits all solution which would work poorly here in my community.

Note that the standard used is registered voters. That assumes that registered voters translates directly into turnout, and does so in a flat, linear way across different types of elections. It also assumes that every registered voter is an equal workload.

Let's look at my own precinct, Iowa City 11. It's atypical, but that only helps illustrate the problem. We're about 80% students in downtown apartments, and 20% working class folks and some students in the Miller-Orchard neighborhood. (We used to be the Roosevelt School neighborhood till we lost the school.)

In the 2012 primary, we had 1409 registered voters. By the South Carolina standard, we would have had nine workers and six machines... for nineteen voters. Because our primary is in the SUMMER when school is out. A fact that might be relevant if you're writing a law.

Jump ahead to November. Registration has climbed to 2107 - at the beginning of Election Day. So the resources increase, by South Carolina standards again, to 15 workers and nine machines. There's not really ROOM for that in most polling places, but let's continue.

So registration has increased by half again between June and November... but turnout has jumped from 19 to 709. Young voter turnout is far more volatile and variable than any other demographic, and this is just an especially dramatic example.

Yet it's likely that legislation would be drafted to cover "federal elections," meaning both the primary and the general. And if the standard is based on "registered voters," the same level could mean workers are bored to tears in one election and overwhelmed in the next.

And some voters are simply more work than others. Of those 709 voters in my precinct in November 2012, at least 183 were election day registrations. An election day registration is far more work, for both the voter and the poll worker, than a voter who shows up registered and ready. We account for that when we assign workers... but would a one size fits all federal law let us?

The state laws cited above also, unless the fine print of the law says otherwise, fail to take into account the registered voters who have voted BEFORE Election Day.  Johnson County is the early vote champ of the state, with 58% of our total vote cast early in 2012. And we take that into account when we assign workers.

A federally mandated, registered voter based standard would leave us feather-bedded and waste loads of money, because the most expensive part of running an election is the workers, and we'd be hiring workers to wait on voters who voted a week or a month ago.

And in a final irony, even if the intent of a federal standard would be to equalize resources, it would end up skewing them in a different way. Absentee voting rates vary dramatically by state, by county, and even by precinct. Within our county in 2012, the rate ranged from 26% of registered voters voting early in small town/rural Oxford to 64% in Iowa City Precinct 2, dominated by the large Oaknoll senior living complex. So with a registered voter standard, Oxford would be under-served compared to Oaknoll.

There's so, so much else to think about. How long are each state's voting hours? Can you push the same number of people through with the same number of workers in two, three, even four hours less time? How long are the ballots?  (Just a few days into voting it's already obvious that people are taking MUCH longer in the booth with our long general election ballot than they did in the June primary with just a couple contested races.) How complicated is the check in process?

Sorry to not solve anything here. But any federal law is going to have to take all those things into account and more. And if the federal law throws it back to the states to set the standards, well, isn't that the problem in the first place?

Iowa law is relatively limited on this subject. We have a minimum three workers per precinct, with some level of party balance. Even that can be challenging, if your workforce has to be evenly balanced and your community isn't. Have I mentioned our office needs some Republican poll workers? (No idea how Sioux County finds Democrats.)

What guidance there is, though, directs auditors to base things like ballot printing and delivery on past similar elections. So if your primary is in June when a huge chunk of your community is gone, you can base it on past turnout rather than on registered voters. (Voter list maintenance - that's a whole `nother post...)

Even that can be challenging - in a downtown Iowa City precinct, how similar is the 2014 Senate election to the 2010 21 Bar and oh yeah governor and some other unimportant stuff election? But at least it allows us to take local realities into account. Maybe some type of federal legislation can address the very real, and yes very partisan, issues while still leaving some leeway for the locals.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Back To Work On Monday

I'm in the Election Season Bubble earlier than usual this year. The closer it gets to Election Day, the more I'm caught up in the process and mechanics of my job and the less focused I can be in specific races and issues. So today I'm going to talk about work, more or less.

When this is over, I'm going to look at a pet theory I developed during our June primary: a trend toward Early Voting Earlier. As polarization increases, more and more people have their minds made up earlier and just can't wait to cast that vote (I cast my own ballot Saturday at the Iowa City Farmer's Market).

There are some other reasons for that. Cycles vary but it's clear that this year the state Democratic Party, far more of a driving force in this than Republicans, is pushing mailed ballots above in-person early ballots. Republicans are trying harder in the Branstad 6.0 Era than they did post-Florida, when they spent a decade teaching their voters that early voting was fraud.

Speaking of voter fraud, Matt Schultz is going to need to investigate this guy:
And THIS guy:
Just kidding, Chris. Nice to see you teaching him early. But worth noting: where they can, Republicans are taking a if you can't beat `em, stop `em approach to early voting.

No, Early Voting Earlier does not mean letting six year olds vote, though that would certainly change campaign tactics. It means legal adults (attention Iowa City Council: the Constitution says that's 18) who used to vote a week before an election now voting a month before.

Adding to that trend here locally, our in-person early voting schedule is also more front-loaded. Sites are spread across more time. The Hy-Vee schedule has changed from all four stores on one day to Votemobile visits on different days. A home football game cuts into the schedule on the final Saturday (we've tried satellite sites on home game days and they don't do well). So when it's all over, a turnout curve that used to look exponential is going to flatten out and be more linear.

Among other things I'm dealing with in my professional life: mistakes. Now, lord knows that I didn't do everything I tried doing for the first time right when I was 20. But in this article about partisan finger-pointing in Georgia registration drives, some interesting stats:
According to the most recent report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's Election Administration and Voting Survey, 13.9 percent of registration applications were flagged as either invalid or duplicate nationwide in the last election cycle. The Election Assistance Commission's report does not list data about invalid or rejected forms collected by advocacy groups or parties in Georgia. However, there were problems with 8.8 percent of applications collected by these groups nationally...
Anecdotally, I think our local error rate is way below that, a tribute to all the people on both sides and all the neutral folks who are signing up new voters.

And I was going to wrap up with a look at the controversial question of election resource allocation, but that got long enough to be its own post. Sorry to tease but check back tomorrow.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A touchdown behind?

One poll is one poll, and the Iowa Senate race has been bounding around within a few points. But I'm not going to try to deny or spin the Register's numbers. 44 to 38, Braley a touchdown back as we enter what's more or less the fourth quarter.

The Democratic field operation covers some of that spread, but not all. Time to fight harder.
OK. So Joni Ernst is a very likable person with very good one on one people skills. I've met her and seen that. But campaign skills are different than governing skills.

And Bruce Braley is the smartest kid in the class and doesn't mind letting everyone know that. And according to the poll crosstabs that's pure poison in rural Iowa, though I suspect those margins have as much to do with the increasing rural-urban polarization of American politics than with his ham handed case that a very conservative-non-attorney should be running the committee that's the gateway to the Supreme Court.

I'm a political person. And most of the people I spend most of my time with are political people on my side of the game. But I know a fair number of non-political people, too, most of whom know I am a political person. I try to avoid the subject around them, just to be polite.

But multiple times, I've had people come up to me, and initiate the political conversation, and invariably it's this race. And invariably it's some version of "that crazy pig lady can't actually WIN, can she?" I respond with something like, "she could, it's going to be very close." They usually shudder at the idea.

Granted, this is all in Johnson County, But this is coming from Regular Folks, not People's Republic types.

This is NOT an election about who's more likable or more colorful or more folksy. Of COURSE Ernst and her mentors want it to be, she wins that. This is not an election about who gets the most attendance gold stars. Though it was remarkable chutzpah that Ernst made it so, when she missed about half the session mostly for campaigning, with just enough Guard duty to blur the issue, while anyone with ANY DC experience knows that almost EVERY meeting of EVERY committee is sparsely attended because meetings are scheduled on top of each other.

This is an election about MAINstream vs. EXtreme, and it's not over for another 37 days.

Monday, September 22, 2014

How To Make Your Mailed Ballot Count

Auditors across Iowa are starting to mail live ballots. Federal law requires the overseas ballots to go out by 45 days before the election - which was Saturday - and while they're at it, the domestic ones usually go out, too.

I'm always a little leery of mailed ballots, as opposed to in person early ballots.  Almost every ballot at a satellite site or auditor's office gets counted. But over the years in my county, for every 10 requests for a mailed ballot, you get about nine counted votes.

Some of that's from insincere requests, to make the canvasser go away or with a plan in mind to vote on election day anyway. (Pro tip: once you've requested a mailed ballot, it's easier to just vote that ballot than to try to vote election day.) But most of it is mistakes, mistakes that are prevented with an in-person vote because a Trained Election Professional is there to walk you through it.

I'm a Trained Election Professional but I can't come over to everybody's house. So I'll do the next best and invade your computer screen with advice on How To Make Your Mailed Ballot Count.

Don't Die. If you die before election day your vote won't count (in Iowa; laws vary by state).  This may, however, be beyond your control.

Don't Move. It's kind of too late on this one for most people. But if you know you're moving, don't request a ballot for your old address. If you know your move-in date, indicate that you need your ballot sent to the NEW address AFTER that date.

Don't Wait. The drop dead deadline for requests is 5 PM the Friday before the election (this year, that's Halloween). The request has to be to your auditor by that time. The closer you get to that witching hour - see what I did there - the more you're taking a chance.

Don't Fax. Not unless it's very close to election day and you're very far away. Auditors can send your ballot OUT based on a fax, but need the hard-copy original to count the vote. So there's no reason to send a fax now, six weeks out, from across town.

Make Sure You Can Get Your Mail. Include your apartment number and/or post office box, if you have those. If you need your ballot sent somewhere other than your registration address, indicate that. Again, if you're in transit, make sure you can get your mail at your destination. (If you're leaving town after Thursday, when in-person voting starts, you're better off to vote before you leave.)

Don't Wait. I know I already said that. Don't wait to request, and once you get it don't wait to vote. All right, maybe you like voting at home so you can take your time to "research the soil and water commissioners." Fair enough. (But Pro Tip 2: there is no information whatsoever available on those types of races.) But the sooner you send it, the sooner it will arrive at your auditor's office. And until the last few days, auditors are able to open the outer envelope and check the inner envelope (which is still sealed!) for mistakes. If there's a problem, they can contact you and you can try to fix it.

Don't Erase Or Cross Stuff Out. If you make a mistake, contact your auditor for a fresh ballot.

Sign It. Most common mistake. Not signing the "affidavit envelope" containing your ballot. Also, if your address isn't pre-printed on the affidavit envelope, you need to fill it in.

Seal It. Don't Re-open it. It seems like a silly thing but the law actually says: ballots arriving in an unsealed affidavit envelope can't count. And no, the auditor can't seal it for you. You have to re-vote.

Another common mistake is re-opening your ballot. Auditors include a "secrecy folder" with your ballot. You're supposed to put the ballot in the folder and the folder with the ballot in it in the envelope. Then on election day, someone opens your envelope, takes the folder out, and passes it on to someone else who takes the ballot out.

A lot of people get this origami wrong. If you leave the ballot out of the secrecy folder, that's not a Your Vote Won't Count mistake. But if you open your envelope because you forgot to put the ballot in the secrecy folder? That IS a Your Vote Won't Count mistake.

Bring it. This may be as almost as difficult as Don't Die if you're overseas. But if you're local and it's late, bring it to the auditor's office, or have someone bring it.

Ballots have to be postmarked by the day before the election (or delivered in person before the polls close) to count. Due to Postal Service budget cuts, most local mail is no longer postmarked. Auditors have been arguing with the postal service about this for several years but it's not likely to change.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wenesday Long Reads

The most important thing to read this week comes from Virally Suppressed, who calls out the unsustainability of refrigerated cities in the desert:
Take so much as a cursory glance at the landscape on which Las Vegas rests and it should be pretty clear that people were simply not meant to live there. How could they? Las Vegas’s very existence is an affront to the immutable order of the natural world. It is a city built on silt and sandstone—a metropolis nestled in the caustic furnace of the earth. When viewed from space, the greater Las Vegas area looks like some sort of ill-advised Martian colony; nothing but a vast sea of barren valleys and skeletal ridges with all of the chromatic variation of a box of Crayola multicultural crayons. When experienced at ground level in the middle of the summer, it’s like walking into the moisture free maw of hell. 

Ezra Klein looks at a difference between the parties that's deeper than even issues:
While voters tend to agree with Republicans on the philosophical questions in American politics (should government be smaller?) they tend to agree with Democrats on the policy questions in American politics (like should Social Security be smaller?).
The Republican Party, in other words, has a very good reason to base itself around philosophical conservatism, while the Democratic Party has a very good reason to base itself around policy deliverables. And so the Republican Party bases itself around philosophical conservatism and the Democratic Party bases itself around policy deliverables.

"these are differences in degrees that are based on a difference in kind between the party coalitions."

But they're a reminder that American politics is fundamentally rational. Republicans are uncompromising because compromise tends to expand the scope of government. Democrats are willing to make deep concessions because policy moves in a generally liberal direction. Republicans have a clearer message about government because their message about government is fundamentally popular. Democrats talk more about policy because what they have to say about policy is fundamentally popular.
Similarly, Richard Tofel argues that McGovern won. Well, he beat Goldwater anyway:
The fact, of course, is that the drift of American politics since the rise of urbanization, the turn of the twentieth century, and the accession to the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt has been to the left.

It has not always been a steady drift, it has not been without moments where the “arc of history” seemed to bend back the other way (1921, 1947, 1981, and 1995 come to mind), but those have been, in retrospect, moments.
And how digital rights management is an assault on the nature of the computer itself


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Harkin Steak Fry Tweets Compiled

Here's how we live blog in 2014.

News Flash:

Elsewhere in Iowa:


Also noted: Murphy's exceptionally high decibel level.

I may have gotten the last steak at the last steak fry; they were already putting leftovers away
And what I missed: great come from behind win!

What Do I Expect?

I'm going to miss something today, between the million things at one nature of the Harkin Steak Fry and the likelihood of spotty 4G with every journalist in Democratic pol in the state on site. You'll get what you get when you get it. Times like this I miss the all star team we had back at Iowa Independent in 07-08.

I expect to be steered to Harkin, Harkin, Harkin all day. But that won't work and everyone knows it won't work. 

I expect SHORT. The speaking protocol is Harkin, Hillary, Bill. It's Harkin's last hurrah so he'll talk as long as he wants, and Bill of course will go on all day as well because this kind of thing is exactly what he loves. So she's in the middle and will leave people wanting more.

I expect NO POLICY, except maybe an issue-based shot at some Iowa Republican candidate, and even that's better left to Harkin.

I expect one very well rehearsed, carefully parsed, soundbite length reference to 2016 and that will be the national lede.

What am I curious about? How open vs. controlled Hillaryworld will be.

What do I WANT? Just one reference, which would likely be well rehearsed, carefully parsed, soundbite length, to Iowa, caucuses in general, and First In The Nation. Something to move on from the caucus-bashing, Iowa bashing and accusations that followed third place.

Then she's welcome back and we can talk some issues.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Pate's Partisan Postal Plan

Way back when in Paul Pate's term as secretary of state, election administration wasn't the highly partisan battleground it's become in the post hanging chad era.

Pate has changed with the times, as his recent editorial showed, and he gladly toes the Republican Party line that massive voter impersonation is an actual problem and only voter ID can solve it.

But beyond this solution in search of a problem, Pate is offering a "solution" that causes more problems than it solves.

"I believe no one should be touching your absentee ballot except you, an authorized election official or a postal worker," Pate writes in a soundbite that's not as simple as it seems.

The idea is to end the practice of "chasing," where campaign volunteers and staffers pick up ballots from voters and deliver them to auditor's offices. It's a practice that helps Democrats. The demographic reality is, Democrats have to work much harder to get their marginal voters to follow through. Pickup and delivery helps, so Dems do it.

"I propose to eliminate absentee ballot couriers from the election process," Pate adds. That term "courier" is an interesting one, and one that points to the problem with the Pate plan.

Under current law, anyone except a candidate can pick up and return your ballot. But for two cycles, 2004 and 2006, Iowa had a cumbersome "ballot courier" law that limited who could chase ballots. There were mandatory yet pointless training sessions (summary: duh, you have to bring the ballots back), a tedious check in process, and cumbersome paperwork.

Democratic campaigns were willing to do the extra work. But the biggest burden wasn't on campaigns. It was on the general public.

"No one should be touching your absentee ballot except you, an authorized election official or a postal worker." What about your spouse? Or your parent? Or your adult child? Or your care provider? Countless times in 2004 and 2006, I had to tell spouses they could not return their partner's ballot, and go through the absurd step of instead directing them to the mail box outside.

The mail is the other problem here. County auditors across Iowa have been battling the Postal Service the last few years about postmarks.

Iowa law says that to count a mailed ballot, it has to be 1) postmarked by the day before the election or 2) delivered in person before the polls close. But due to budget cuts, very little local mail is postmarked anymore. When auditors raise the issue with postmasters, they're basically told Too Bad So Sad.

So if you put your ballot in the mail box on Monday, there's a good chance it won't count. By eliminating ballot chasers, Pate would eliminate one more way by which an absentee voter could get their ballot in on time and counted, and make it harder, not easier, to vote.

That's a false priority, compared to Brad Anderson's goal of making  Iowa the highest turnout state in the country. Something to remember before you send that ballot back.