Category Archives: news

CA voting rights act leads to gerrymandering again

I just saw an article describing another case where the CA voting rights act imposes a remedy of (gerrymandered) districts on an at-large election.

(I previously wrote about the CA voting rights act and the city of Modesto)

Madera Unified case is changing elections throughout California

An injunction in the case is forcing Madera Unified, which is 82% Latino, to change the way it elects its board.

The latest step along that road was a ruling in September by Madera County Superior Court Judge James E. Oakley, who invalidated, in advance, the results of the November school board election. Oakley said Madera’s at-large voting system, in which all voters in the district cast ballots for all board members rather than for a candidate representing their section of town, violated the Voting Rights Act.

Relying on the remedy suggested by the law, he called for the district to be divided into seven trustee areas, with candidates to run in each.

The state’s Voting Rights Act, enacted in 2002, bans at-large voting if there is evidence that it “impairs the ability” of a minority group “to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.”

Other jurisdictions are paying heed. In the wake of Oakley’s order, the Madera City Council decided to switch to district elections, City Councilman Robert Poythress said. And in neighboring Fresno County, where 28 of 32 school boards use at-large elections, all 28 decided to follow Madera’s lead and switch to district elections, county schools Supt. Larry Powell said.

And this gem:

Deciding not to fight the ruling, the school board drew up a map in which three of the seven voting districts have Latino majorities. In a delicate exercise in gerrymandering, each of the incumbents was given a separate district.

I’m no fan of at-large voting but imposed gerrymandered districts is a remedy that is worse then the previous situation. There should either be a process to ensure that the districts are not gerrymandered (such as algorithmic redistricting) or use of a decent multi-winner election method.

Doonesbury on the partisan nature of voter ID

This one has been making the rounds:



Personally I’m still conflicted on Voter ID. Loosely my position is that it is a good idea in principal but it must be implemented in a way that minimizes disruption to voters and partisan advantage. That certainly has not been occurring. You can read more at my post ‘supreme court rules on Indiana Voter ID case’. In case I discuss this again, see all articles tagged ‘voterid’.

supreme court rules on Indiana Voter ID case

I’ve mostly stayed quiet on this issue but it is newsworthy.

The Supreme Court just ruled on the Indiana Voter Id case
(Crawford v. Marion County Election Board) in support of
allowing states to issue stricter voter id laws.

Rick Hansen gives his initial thoughts at the Election Law Blog:

Today’s much anticipated decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board is a significant win for those who support stricter voter identification laws, even if they support such laws for partisan purposes. It will encourage further litigation, because it relegates challenges to laws imposing onerous burdens on a small group of voters to “as applied” challenges, but those challenges will be difficult to win. The lack of a majority opinion, moreover, injects some uncertainty into the appropriate standard for reviewing other challenges to onerous election laws.

I am disappointed by how cursory that opinion was in its review of the state’s interest in light of the highly partisan atmosphere of election administration, and I fear that, despite the Stevens-Kennedy-Roberts’ opinion’s best intentions, this opinion will be read as a green light for the enactment of more partisan election laws in an attempt to skew outcomes in close elections.

I’m personally a bit conflicted on voter ID requirement laws. Opponents (1 2) of these sorts of laws argue that they are effectively poll taxes, that there is very little evidence of significant fraud by voters that they would help prevent (as contrasted with election fraud by election system insiders) and that the motivation for these laws is a partisan push to discourage voters from classes of people that lean to the Democratic party.

Despite these arguments, it seems very reasonable to me for our election system to have means to prevent or detect fraud attempts by voters. Intuitively a voter id requirement does not sound very burdensome. The question for me becomes not “Can / Should Voter ID requirements be enacted?” but rather “How can Voter ID requirements be implemented in a fair, non-partisan way that will not effectively result in partisan voter suppression?” I don’t have answers except for suggesting that laws like this not phase in for ~10 years so that the negative impacts can be minimized and partisan effects be less predictable.

Dan Wallach at Freedom To Tinker has a couple of very thoughtful posts on the topic:

  • How can we require ID for voters?

    he real issue is making sure that all people who might want to vote actually have IDs, which is a real problem for the apparently non-trivial number of current voters who lack normal ID cards (and, who we are led to believe, tend to vote in favor of Democrats).

    The question then becomes how to get IDs for everybody.

    The only way I could imagine a voter ID requirement being workable (i.e., having a neutral effect on partisan elections) is if there was a serious amount of money budgeted to help people without IDs to get them. That boils down to an army of social workers digging around for historical birth records and whatever else, and that’s not going to be cheap. However, I’m perfectly willing to accept a mandatory voter ID, as long as enough money is there to get one, for free, for anybody who wants one. The government is willing to give you a $40 coupon to receive digital signals for an analog TV, as part of next year’s phase-out of analog broadcasts. Why not help out with getting identification papers as part of phasing in an ID requirement?

  • voting ID requirements and the Supreme Court

    In the end, the court found that the requirement wasn’t particularly onerous (the New York Times’s article is as good as any for a basic summary, or go straight to the ruling).

    The big technical question, of course, is whether the root desires behind the voter ID requirement can be addressed in some more effective fashion than ID requirement. What are those root desires?

Follow up to Sacramento central tallying

The SacBee gives us some follow-up information to the decision to tally votes centrally in Sacramento:

mproper maintenance of some of Sacramento County’s voting machines – and the tint of the Feb. 5 ballots – were to blame for malfunctions that sidelined vote-counting scanners and delayed results of last month’s presidential primary, according to the county’s top election official.

The problems have been corrected and the scanners are expected to be used in the June election, Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine said in a report to the county Board of Supervisors.

Because of the malfunction, all ballots had to be counted in the election department’s central command in south Sacramento – instead of some being processed as usual at the precincts.

During its investigation, the county said that the vendor that supplies and maintains the scanners, Elections Systems & Software, conducted improper recalibration and preventive maintenance on the machines in December.

My take:

  • I’m glad to see that there was some sort of quality testing that occurred so that problems were noticed.
  • I’m surprised that the issues were universal at all precincts. For a problem of that scale you would expect that someone (ES&S – the vendor?) would be contractually responsible for their mistakes.
  • I’m not very comfortable with the resolution which was to use central tabulation. Central tabulation requires that there are observers of the counting and a strong chain of custody for the ballots. Precinct level counting is more robust in this regard. Perhaps a fall-back to manual precinct level counting might have been better.

shenanigans in Chicago

From the Chicago Methods Reporter comes this story about poorly trained election administrators and misapplied overrides. One of the affected voters writes:

“Jim and I went to vote at 7 a.m. We were given Democratic ballots and pens. But when I got to the booth, my pen didn’t work — it was like a felt-tip marker with no ink. So I went back to the desk and was told — along with several other confused voters trying to swap out their nonfunctional pens — that these were “invisible ink” pens that would not leave marks on the ballot but would absolutely be read by the scanners.

Except that they weren’t. The optical scanners were spitting out ballots until one of the election judges used a key to override the system and get the ballots into the box. After my ballot was rejected once, I got a confirmation that my vote “counted” (when the number on the ballot box blipped from 19 to 20), but Jim was given a regular ballpoint to fill in his, and it counted right away.”

The voter made enough of a fuss that they managed to get the precinct to try to “make good”. They did this by contacting the first 20 voters at that location and inviting them to re-vote.

The Chicago Tribune covers this too.

(Aside: There are voting systems that really do use special pens. For example the soon-to-be publicly described Scantegrity II system uses invisible ink on part of the ballot that is only visible when highlighted.)

Sacramento to tally votes centerally

From the SacBee, Sacramento County machine flaws to delay results:

Problems with Sacramento County voting machines will stall Feb. 5’s election results for hours. Results may not come until well after your morning coffee – the next day, county elections officials said Wednesday.

“It might be slow, but it will be accurate,” offered Brad Buyse, a spokesman for the local election office.

He said the county discovered problems with the equipment used to count ballots in neighborhood polling places a couple weeks ago.

After days working with the ballot printer and election machine vendor to try to solve the problem – and Feb. 5’s presidential primary only days away – elections officials decided to take the faulty machines out of the mix.

So rather than scan ballots at each of the county’s 548 polling places, ballots will be taken back to the central office and tabulated using larger, faster machines that have passed required tests.

Tuesday election results usually come in by midnight. This time around, it could be 9 a.m. Wednesday before all the ballots are counted, Buyse said.

Comments:

  • An 8 hour delay in knowing election results is not an issue in my view
  • It would be nice to understand what specific issues were found with the machines.
  • In addition to not providing feedback about over/under votes (brought up in the article) there is an election integrity concern with moving from precinct tallying to central tallying. The chain-of-custody of the ballots becomes more suspect and the possibility of tampering while ballots are in transit or storage arises. Most election integrity advocates (who are not pushing for end-to-end verifiable systems) advocate for counting the ballots at the precinct level so that chain-of-custody issues are less pressing. For an example of recent chain of custody issues with central counting, consider the case of New Hampshire’s democratic primary (scroll down to the “Butch” and “Hoppy” part).

Our Voting System Is a Loser

An article featuring Range Voting is in the news. William Poundstone is interviewed by Mother Jones. This is also featured on Slashdot.

The basis for the coverage is Poundstone’s new book Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It)

From the MotherJones interview:

It’s heartening to know, as primary season begins, that ours may be the worst of all the voting systems in common use. That’s the takeaway from Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It), the latest of eleven books by William Poundstone, a professional skeptic who studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before he began pumping out nonfiction in 1982.

Poundstone became interested in voting theory after reading about Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, a 59-year-old paradox wherein economist Kenneth Arrow, now a professor emeritus at Stanford University, identified what he perceived as a fundamental flaw in our democracy: Put simply, he argued that devising a perfectly fair voting system is mathematically impossible.

Mother Jones: Is there a way around Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem?

William Poundstone: For decades, there was almost a kind of despair among voting theorists of getting any better system than we had. What’s interesting, though, is that the impossibility theorem doesn’t apply to systems where you score the candidates rather than rank them. With scoring, you’re essentially filling out a report card—if you think there are two candidates who deserve four stars you can give them both four stars—whereas with ranking you have to artificially give one a number one and one a number two. That turns out to be crucial.

MJ: And yet plurality voting—where a person can vote for only one candidate for a particular office—is the most common system in use. What’s wrong with it?

WP: Whenever you have two candidates whose support overlaps, that’s bad for both of those candidates, the obvious example being Nader and Gore in 2000. So a candidate can be a spoiler and cause the second most popular candidate to win. This is something that’s been appreciated at least going back to the 18th century, and people have tried to devise different ways of dealing with it, but for a very long time this was one of those unsolvable problems.

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