Sunday, May 01, 2016

Big Picture Thoughts On District Convention

I'm not going to attempt a play by play on yesterday's 2nd CD Democratic convention, or the other three. Those who wanted that were following the Twitter feeds anyway. The ego of Shelley, my new pet turtle, is swelling at her online stardom as our metaphor for slow pace, and my old friends from the Fear The Turtle O'Malley campaign enjoyed it as well.

So instead, just a few big picture takeaways.

Less contentiousness than I expected. I'm Hillary-identified now, despite my neutrality through caucus season. I deliberately spent some time reaching across to Team Bernie, out of the need for unity and out of self-interest, as I was running (unsuccessfuly) for the presidential elector seat. Now that it's over, the mandatory disclaimer. The conventions only choose CANDIDATES for elector. You're not an ELECTOR unless your party's nominee wins the state.

Anyway, out of a few dozen conversations I only got one hostile reaction, and in the atmosphere of a competitive convention, only one isn't bad.

As I was in the Hillary room, I heard conflicting reports about the degree of Bernie Or Bust during the campaigning for Bernie delegates, and I'm not going to judge what I didn't hear. As I've said before, I don't mind letting every state vote, and I don't even mind people casting symbolic votes for their candidate in the roll call. But as soon as the last state votes, we need to get to work. We can't wait till the convention roll call to acknowledge who's going to be nominated and print the H on the doorknocking lit.

Points of contention. I'm not a platform guy and never have been. Sometimes I vote no on final passage just to troll the whole process. But I was trapped and had little choice but to watch. There were two points of heated debate that were proxy wars between the campaigns, and are likely to be end-game goals in Philly for Team Bernie.

They want to kill off superdelegates. I don't think that completely happens in the end, but I think some kind of reform discussion, perhaps a reduction in the number, happens.

The sad thing is, killing superdelegates probably has the opposite of the intended effect. All else being equal, the most likely person to win any election is someone who has won an election before. So if the congressman has to run against the grass roots activist, the congressman is likely to win, and that's one less seat available for a grass roots activist. We saw this on a smaller scale in the vote for Hillary's two female delegates; the top vote getter of 28 candidates, and the first ballot winner,  was the only elected official running, Clinton's Sen. Rita Hart. I ranked her high myself, as I didn't know most of the others.

The other proxy war in platform debate was minimum wage, and this is likely to be the number one national platform fight. Sanders supporters strongly want to specify $15 an hour. They may win this one, and as an Overton Window negotiating point that doesn't bother me a bit.

But one thing to remember: Even if Hillary crushes Trump in a landslide, gerrymandering and social separation may mean that there aren't 218 winnable Democratic House seats. The next president is likely to be on defense much of the time. What difference does a platform plank of $12.50 vs. $15 make if you're facing a Republican House that doesn't believe in any minimum wage?

Shelley. Because she has a shell.

Instant Runoff Voting did NOT speed things up.  Some convention steps cannot be speeded up. If 50 people run for a job, that's an hour of one minute speeches. If a candidate is trying to hit four districts, there's inevitably an interruption.

But the longest delays, the cause of down time, and the reason for 1:33 AM adjournments, has always been voting, more specifically vote COUNTING. In an effort to pick up the pace, Democrats introduced an IRV system of ranked choice voting this year. After a test ballot with ducks (incredibly, AFLAC! was not included), most people caught on.

We wound up casting fewer votes than in past years, but the process took just as long because counting them became more complicated. I don't know the rules, and in fairness to them I didn't offer to help on the rules committee. (In fairness to me, I think I paid my process dues for the year already with organizing our county caucuses and co-chairing county credentials.)

The problem I had with IRV was having to make too many choices. It's hard to choose your top 18 out of 28 candidates for two delegate slots. The top three or four were easy, and in some contests I voted Hell No from the bottom up first. But after 28 speeches, that seventh or eighth choice becomes a blur. In my contest for elector, we had roughly 30 candidates and were asked to pick a top six, and that seemed more reasonable.

Thanks, Washington County. The host county did a great job arranging things. It helps that county chair Lorraine Williams has a fantastic restaurant. She not only catered the lunch for a county party fundraiser - when things ran later than the "expected" 5:00 close (Zach Wahls noted that PM vs AM was not specified), she quickly organized a pasta dinner that she sold for a free will donation. (By 7 PM some delegates were out of cash.) That kind act made it possible for dozens of delegates to stay and keep working. But in retrospect, Lorraine, I'm sorry that I asked you at about midnight if you could also cover breakfast.

The rest of the Washington County party sold drinks and snacks at a minimal markup. A dollar for a Coke is below vending machine rates yet still yields a small profit. Amazingly, they still had a small supply of pop and doughnuts available at midnight.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Shop Talk: Countywide Mailing Shifts Stats

Look, I know you've been waiting for more Deeth Blog posts. I've been a busy guy. I've had a small but significant career change.

Most folks don't realize that for most of my 18 years at the auditor's office, I've been on the accounting staff, not the elections staff. True, I did a lot of elections work, but there were a few other things that were much less interesting.

But as of last week, I am now officially and permanently 100% elections. It's a move I've long wanted and has been long in the planning. And the timing is good, with voting for the June 7 primary starting tomorrow. Time to celebrate.

My work obsession this past month has been the county wide voter card mailing that dropped on March 31. To keep you readers entertained (as if drunk monkeys didn't already do that) I'm going to just rewrite the press release I wrote at work today.

Brief refresher course: As I've said so many times, no one's registration gets cancelled just for not voting. Everything depends on the mail. The law - mostly Motor Voter, from 1993 - requires us to send mailings periodically and regulates how and when we can and what we do if the mail gets returned to sender.

You knew I would.

When mail gets returned by the post office, or if someone signs a card saying "this person doesn't live here," we have to move the voter to "Inactive" status. Inserting standard rant: No campaign staffer understands Inactive status. They think it means what they call "a weak voting D" when it really means Probably Moved Away.

If we inactivate someone we have to do ANOTHER mailing to make sure the post office didn't mess up (a common culprit: missing apartment numbers or boxes). We can't cancel people without their OWN signature till two general elections happen - a fact I have patiently explained to parents of adult children for two decades. (The parents always seem more concerned about it.)

The law is set up to make it very hard to cancel a registration, and is NOT set up to reflect the realities of life in a college town. My personal holy grail for at least 10 years has been a woman who is now 46 who graduated and last voted here in 1992 but was still active registered at her sorority house. We had to just assume she was on the 25 Year Graduation Plan and just wasn't interested in voting.

I'm skimming over some details but you get the big picture. I've written it before and I want to get to the new stuff: the NUMBERS.

On Friday, March 31, Johnson County had 90,122 Active registered voters. The cards hit my house on Saturday April Fool's Day, and by Tuesday the 4th, we were getting two flats of cards a day at the office, mostly from people who had no changes and didn't have to return them. (More on that later.) But there were enough inactivations, changes, and full cancellations that our Active status numbers were dropping several hundred a day. (We did other registration stuff, but most of the changes were from the mailing.)

Beginning Tuesday, April 26, Active registration began increasing again, as the mailing tapered off to below the rate of routine new registrations. So we decided to say the mailing was "done," even though cards will trickle in indefinitely.

On Monday, April 25, our Active registration bottomed out at 83,119, a drop of 7,003.  

The mailing made a significant shift in Johnson County's party percentages. Young voters are both 1) more likely to graduate and/or move away from a college town, and 2) the most likely to register as No Party voters (what the Objective Press insists on calling "independent") or with the third parties.

No Party
County Total
No Party
County Total
No Party
County Total

Between March 31 and April 25, 6460 Johnson County voters were changed from Active to Inactive status: 2361 Democrats, 1132 Republicans, 40 Libertarians, 17 Greens, and 2910 No Party voters. 

Another 857 voters were either fully cancelled or moved to other counties in Iowa (when someone moves within the state, the new county just takes them away from the old county on the statewide system): 368 Democrats, 173 Republicans, six Libertarians, a Green, and 309 no party voters). There's going to be more than that: I sent out about 50 letters to people who diligently sent back a card, carefully gave me their new address... but forgot to sign the card. Here's an envelope. Here's a form to sign. I get close to 100% response that way.

The inactivations and cancellations statistically overwhelmed the post-caucus "change my party back" folks. (The mailing also included all the new registrations and changes from caucus night). I looked at the immediate post-caucus trends in this post.

520 voters changed affiliation between February 16, when data entry from the caucuses was complete, through April 25. And the net shift is even smaller because nearly as many people changed TO a party as AWAY from a party.  For the amount of grumbling I've heard about the parties, the number of people who followed through and changed was quite small. (My guess is some folks know they have to be affiliated to vote in the primary and are waiting till after.) 
Party on April 25
Party on Feb. 16
No Party
No Party
(no voters changed away from Green/Libertarian to other affiliations)

The upshot of all this is that as a percentage of active voters, Democratic registration is at an all-time record high 48.54% - and likely to go even higher by June 7, since Democrats have as usual a hot supervisor primary, while most precincts have no contested GOP races at all. Can the Johnson County Democrats top 50%?

Republicans hit their peak at 24.37% in June 1994, after the epic Terry Branstad-Fred Grandy primary, and stayed above 22% for about three years after that. At the moment, they're at 21.92%, well below the Gopher peak but almost exactly where they were after the 2012 caucuses. So more or less a tie for their highest level that's not related to the 1994 primary.

The Branstad-Grandy primary also dropped No Party registration to an all-time low of 31.03%, but that record is now shattered. No Party dropped 5.5% on caucus night and briefly dipped below 30%. After rallying a little in March (routine registrations tend to default to No Party), No Party registration dropped another full point from the mailing and is now sitting at just below 29%, two full points below the 1994 record.  That'll change fast this fall; No Party jumped a full percent from August to November 2012 and another full point just from Election Day registration that year. No Party registration last passed the Democrats in Johnson County during the run-up to the 2000 election, a lead which held up until caucus night 2004.

Our office last did a countywide voter card mailing in February 2012, under the Old Management and just after reprecincting. Active registration dropped by 11,623, from 92,451 on February 24, 2012, to 80,828 on April 13.

Most years, we choose the other option for the required list maintenance mailing, the National Change of Address (NCOA) list from the post office. We typically drop 3000 to 5000 a year, depending on how long ago a presidential election or the 21 Bar issue was on the ballot.

If you're REALLY number nerdy, I have a whole monster spread sheet of Johnson County data going back to the Ford-Carter election.

Of course, when you send 90,000 cards, some stuff goes wrong and some folks fall through the cracks. Anyone who hasn't gotten a card yet should contact the auditor's office so we can figure it out. 

Some folks were confused by the wording of the cards. If you don't move and don't change anything, and you don't have trouble with your mail, you never have to "renew" your registration. Enough people seemed to think you HAD to send the card back, even if nothing was changed, that clearly the wording could have been better. The wording got set statewide, not locally, but we're passing the feedback on to the Secretary of State and hoping to help improve it for the future. 

And yes. The sorority house sent back the card for the 46 year old grad who last voted in 1992, and she's Inactive at last.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Life is just a party and parties weren't meant to last

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
2 get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that's a mighty long time
But I'm here to tell u
There's something else
The after world
A world of never ending happiness
U can always see the sun, day or night...

This means so, so much more than just the hat that became my accidental trademark. I wouldn't have accepted it as my trademark otherwise.

I've written before that the Clash was my first ticket out of the mainstream. But even with the leftist politics, Strummer and Jones still exuded a much smarter but still pretty traditional machismo.

Prince broke all the rules. "Am I black or white, am I straight or gay? Controversy!" In a country where we're still fighting about who gets to use what bathroom, Prince was ahead of his time till the day he died.

And in my world, we had some local pride. I found Prince early. My college town was on the outskirts of the Twin Cities cultural orbit. I had one set of friends from that area who had Dirty Mind and Controversy and a few had tales of seeing him out at the clubs. Not a worldwide superstar yet, but definitely a big deal to us. Another set of friends, from the suburban side of the greater Milwaukee cultural-political divide that the rest of America only realized in the last few years, looked askance at the purple and the bikini briefs and the racial and sexual ambiguity.

So the release of 1999 was a big deal in my universe, and a challenging turning point. When my tape got unstrung, I chose the friends who got it, and moved into the theater house where straight wasn't an automatic assumption and where, yes, we partied like it was 1999 (a phrase Prince added to the language that has survived even after the millennium passed).

And the peak many of the parties I DJd there was the climax of the "Let's Go Crazy," when The Artist whose sound was so impeccable made the clearly deliberate choice of over modulating so hard, burying the needle so deep in the red, shredding harder than his only contemporary guitar rival Eddie Van Halen, that it felt like you'd hit a wall, shot clean through, and emerged on the other side unscathed yet changed.

That incredible run of 80s albums from Dirty Mind through Sign "" The Times and the hastily withdrawn Black Album - and the scattered gems that followed, will be the core of the legacy. It was a particularly intense music at a particularly intense period in my life. It at once dominated its time and was so far ahead of its time that it's STILL ahead of its time.

And when it was attacked by a certain senator's wife, I grew a permanent chip on my shoulder. Sometimes I wonder if 538 Prince fans in Florida felt the same way.

In his prime the albums weren't enough. How great were Purple Rain and 1999? Erotic City, 17 Days, and How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore didn't even make the albums. ... not even on the albums. (And Erotic City was so great that the DJs pretended it said "we can funk until the dawn" and put it on the radio.) Even a throwaway like "Horny Toad" or the forgotten hits like "Pop Life" or "Mountains" or the keyboard riff from Stevie Nicks' "Stand Back" would have been a career moment for a mere mortal.

I'm not a musician. I'm just a fan who can spot passion and inspiration without being able to describe it technically. My brother, who IS a musician and a sound engineer in the Minneapolis area, and who had the privilege of working with Prince once, never ceased to marvel at the man's genius. Prince set high standards for those who worked with and for him, and seemed to bring out the best in others. Who would have though Sheena Easton of all people would have had a killer duet vocal like "U Got The Look" in her?

"I Feel For You," "Manic Monday," "Nothing Compares 2 U"... Prince gave those hits away to other people. He had to make up whole new "bands" like Madhouse and the Family and whole new personas like Jamie Starr just to get all the music out of his system. And do you really think anything on the Time or Sheila E's albums other than Morris Day's lead vocals was played or written by anyone but Prince? (OK, Sheila E. for sure played some drums. But again - he brought out the best work in others.)

And please don't let him have left orders to destroy the unreleased stuff.

The popularity faded in the mid 90s, with the record company feud and the name change to ⚥ thing and his uneasy relationship with technology. I can't fill this attempt to do justice to his legacy with the one thing that would do it, the music, because he aggressively scrubbed the definitive versions, the classic tracks and videos, from the internet. But the man still had it, as anyone who caught the mini-set on Saturday Night Live a year and a half ago.

And just when I choke up for the who knows how many times today, I flip to MTV, which is doing what it did back in the day and playing videos, all Prince, all day today. And they're playing that song, the one you might associate with me. I adjust the beret and I smile.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

In Praise of Closed Primaries

I'm going to express an unpopular opinion here. And I'm not even going to try to make a reasoned argument, I'm just going to blurt my gut-level opinion. Part of my latest bout of writers block is that I've been too guarded, too cautious. (Too many hours in closed door meetings do that to a guy.)

I really LIKE New York's tightly closed primary.

Maybe October 9 is a little too early for a party change deadline for an April 19 primary. But I'll be honest. I like that better than what Iowa has, where a $10,000 a year Republican donor can walk in on primary day, choose the Democratic Party's local candidates, all while asking "how soon can I change back?" as if party affiliation is just an inconvenience or some kind of joke.

(That'll be especially prevalent in Johnson County this year, when most Republicans will see a ballot with no contested races at all.)

Political parties, and political loyalty, are two things that are undervalued in our current political culture, and the decline of these institutional values play a big role in our current dysfunction. Both parties have nomination processes that are spiralling into chaos, and in both cases it's people who have no interest in the functioning of the party who are causing the distress.

Leaving aside the issues of third parties and single member districts for now, and dealing with the structure we have, I think actual Democrats should choose Democratic candidates, and actual Republicans should choose Republican candidates. And I think "independents" - why do people love that word so much? - should wait for the general election.

Now, is that an absolute? Maybe, maybe not. Pat Rynard makes a strong case for Democrats to cross over for Rick Bertrand against Steve King. And there are sincere independents who are drawn to a given candidate, though it's fewer and fewer each year due to generational change and because now there are actual consistent ideological differences between the parties. Not perfect, but there are no more segregationist Democrats or liberal Republicans. 

I also believe "I vote the person not the party" is mostly an excuse, falsely elevated and ennobled by the press, for "I have no consistent belief system." The outdated institution of print media loves the outdated concepts of split tickets and pure independents.

Here's a sniff test: If you went to one party's presidential caucus in February, you shouldn't get to vote in the other party's courthouse primary in June. That's the law in a lot of state, and I wouldn't complain if it were the law here. I say one change a year is fair. And the party change deadline should be BEFORE the candidate filing deadline. You should make up your mind about what you think about the big picture before you pick candidates.

And if you buy into a process, you should buy into the outcome. I am completely in support of Sore Loser laws that bar primary losers from general election ballots.

I also think the core party activists, they types who hold precinct committee seats, should either support the ticket or resign. And you get one pass in a lifetime on that. I used mine on Al Gore. The SECOND time you bolt the party, you're not really part of it any more. The third time, you're a cancer that needs to be amputated.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Qualified Support

EITHER Bernie or Hillary are FAR more qualified than Trump, Cruz, Kasich, or whoever else the Republicans pull out of a hat on the 13th ballot.

Let's all remember this, because it's looking more and more likely that the local activists are going to have to do the heavy lifting of post-primary patching things up and uniting behind the nominee - which math says is almost certainly Hillary.

Because the campaigns, and the Sanders campaign in particular, aren't helping things much.

There's two big problems with the "not qualified" remarks. Most obviously, it's a hard remark to walk back because it's too plausibly, too obviously, what the man actually thinks.

Part of Sanders' appeal is that he is incapable of bullshit. But bullshit is unfortunately a necessary political skill. He needs to walk it back, and he clearly knows he went a step too far. But he has no idea HOW to walk it back, and if he TRIES to walk it back, he looks like a fraud and damages his own image.

The other problem comes about in the unlikely but theoretically possible scenario where Sanders wins. He will need Hillary's supporters as much as she would need his. But he's just delivered a face slap to which he's completely oblivious.

In the mind of Sanders, ideology and issues are all. So when he says "unqualified," he believes he is talking about Iraq and campaign finance and banks.

As much as I hate to call something a "trigger," UNQUALIFIED is just that. It conjures up every openly sexist (Trump) or clueless (Sanders) boss who ever denied a woman with a better resume a promotion, and that's nails on chalkboard to female voters. You just want to tell Bernie, "dude, are you listening to yourself?"

So Sanders has basically just told his supporters not to vote for Hillary if she's nominated.
I'm a hopeful person, and I want to think that most of Bernie's supporters are reasonable people who simply like him better on issues. That's been my experience for the most part in my corner of the world. There is definitely a cult of personality, but I like to hope that it's noisy out of proportion to its real numbers the way the Ron Paul cult was. (For the record, I still hate the phrase "feel the Bern." And "the Bronx is Berning" and "Mississippi Berning" were also tone deaf.)

So if we locals keep the channels open, we can keep things together. The continuing national contest and a divisive local primary will delay this. But by fall, almost all Sanders supporters will readily acknowledge that Hillary is a far better option than Trump or Cruz.

Sanders talks at length, every speech, about building a movement. And he's succeeded far beyond what anyone expected, with long range implications for our politics. Not to sound patronizing. But I'm confident that Sanders' supporters will in the end be wiser than the man himself.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

New Voter Cards, Old Sorority Members

People Who Left Johnson County Decades Ago May Still Be Registered Voters

Thanks Mark Carlson and KCRG for the really scary headline. I seriously mean that. It's an attention grabber, and we need the attention.

Time for another long work related voter file maintenance mailing post. Let's just get the Elvis clip out of the way right away.

I repeat the jokes, like I repeat variations of this same post, and like I repeat the reminder to the new readers that I work at the auditor's office, because it can't be repeated enough. It all comes down to what the kid sorting the mail at the Alpha Xi Delta house does Saturday or Monday Friday. And because for some reason people seem to really like it when I write about the deep in the weeds details of my job.

That's roughly the day that Johnson County's county wide voter card mailing will reach your mailbox. (It was shipped out of Des Moines Thursday - I got mine today.) What you do - and what the Alpha Xi Delta house does - will have a big impact on how clean a voter roll we have this fall.

The most important thing to remember is: No one gets their registration cancelled just for not voting. Everything depends on the mail.  Iowa's system used to be simple: Four years without voting (or updating your registration), you were out.

That all changed with Motor Voter, which passed in 1993 and kicked in at the beginning of 1995. In addition to its better known component of registration at drivers license station, Motor Voter also made it very, very hard to cancel a voter registration. That was its intent - to keep people from being cancelled without their knowledge.

And there are restrictions on how often and under what circumstances we can mail you. Singling people out for different treatment, a practice called "caging," is controversial and sometimes illegal.  So we need to make the most of this county wide mailing, our first since 2012 because it's the best chance we have to clean things up. But a lot of it, we can't do without public help.

This is the worst one.

Suzy Sorority here registered to vote at the Alpha Xi Delta House in 1988. She graduated in 1991. Because people ask every time, no, she is not the house mom. She is still registered, on active status (more on that below), at the Alpha Xi Delta house. She is 46 years old.

I found her on Linked In. She's out of state, married with a different name. But we can't DO anything with that. Singling her out for different treatment, just because common sense indicates that she moved away, would be caging.

This one is the worst, but are many others and they start in the early 1990s. That's because the people who last voted in the 1990 governor election got cancelled in December 1994, right before Motor Voter kicked in.

The Greek houses are where the biggest problems are because the post office delivers their mail bundled and the residents sort it themselves. I did a pre-emptive strike memo to the Greek Council, and they've told the houses what they're supposed to do. (The dorms also sort their own mail, but they're excellent. The postal service itself handles the off campus apartments.)

We just have to hope that, Saturday or Monday, when the mail gets to the house, the person in charge of the mail got the memo, sorts the cards, checks the boxes that say “The person to whom this card is addressed does not live at this address,” SIGNS THE CARDS, and returns them.

That didn't happen four years ago when we did this mailing.

As long as the mail gets delivered, an election office has to assume that a person still lives at an address, and simply hasn't been interested in voting the last few elections. Same thing happens if your letter carrier is still delivering mail with your name on it to Mom and Dad's. We have to assume you're still in the basement.

And if Mom and Dad call, upset about it? We can do a little, but not a lot. We need YOU to respond, in writing, to completely cancel you. The most we can do with a response from someone else is put a voter on "inactive" status.

I've been trying to explain "Inactive" to every campaign staffer for 15 years, and they never get it. They assume it means the same thing as what staffers call a "weak voting D." So they invest a lot of time and effort because they think these are exactly the voters who need a push.

Wrong. These are voters where the election office has evidence indicating they moved away! I call it "preliminary cancellation." Because remember, the intent of Motor Voter is to make cancellation very, very hard. You have to sit on inactive status through two general elections. Meaning even if Alpha Xi Delta or Mom and Dad sends the card back, the person doesn't completely get cancelled till 2018. But at least it starts the clock ticking. If we don't get the card back, we can't send another one till 2020. (Also if Mom and Dad send us your address, I can follow up with a letter to you and a form to sign.)

We also inactivate people if the post office itself returns mail as undeliverable. That's why the law says your card has to be mailed, with return service requested - it's our double check that you live there.

But that also means if your mail ISN'T delivered for some minor and legit reason, such as you left your apartment number off when you registered, or you have a post office box (Tiffin is EXTREMELY picky) and it gets Returned To Sender (yes, we call this "Elvised") back to the auditor's office, we have to assume you DON'T live there. We inactivate your registration, and have to send you more mail. (The second mailing is sent forwardable and gives you a chance to fix stuff.)

So, repeating the steps. If you get a card for someone who doesn't live there:

1. Check the box: "The person to whom this card is addressed does not live at this address.” 
2. SIGN THE CARD. The signature is a big deal. My weird brain has never understood why a signature proves anything, but it doesn't matter because that's what the law says. Without it, we can't do a thing. 
3. Send it back. 

We recommend conventional mail, rather than owl. Owls are messy, and the cards are prepaid postage. 

There are a few other ways we cancel people - if we get a notice from another state, for example (all Iowa counties are on a statewide system). But if you re-register in another state and forget that you voted in Iowa City that one time in that one bar election, we don't find out. There is some cross state matching, but that's also iffy - especially if you changed your name, which is why our most extreme cases are mainly women.

And we've heard all the jokes before and we cancel people from the obituaries every morning.

So what happens when you get your own card?

If everything is correct, just keep it. You don't have to show it to vote, but it tells you where to go. We've had a lot of polling place moves since 2012.

If you want to change anything, put it down on the correction card, SIGN IT, and send it back. This mailing also includes all the new registrations and changes from the caucuses. I could insert my rant about people who change parties for a primary or caucus while asking "how soon can I change back?" but since I'm in public service mode I will note you have the right to change stuff.

If, for example, your godfather is murdered by Death Eaters and you inherit his house and elf.

The hardest problem, and the saddest unintended consequence of the law, is people in late life with cognitive problems. As long as the mail gets through, we can't inactivate the registration. You can't sign anything election related in Iowa as "power of attorney," so if you're caring for someone who can't understand enough to sign their own name anymore, we can't do anything till the end.

The data for the county wide mailing was processed by the Secretary of State on March 15. We've kept processing routine changes since then, so if you made a change in your registration after that date, you may get two cards and they may contain different information. Check the issue date, or ask.   

Monday, March 28, 2016

Unsolicited Democratic Unity Advice

One of the luxuries of amateur status is that I can block or unfriend or otherwise disengage with whoever I don't want to deal with. It seems I use this power most at primary time.

So if you're ranting about how you will NEVER EVER EVER vote for Hillary and that you're going to write Bernie in come November, buh bye, you're unfollowed.

If the Republican Party weren't collapsing very loudly and publicly, people would be more visibly worried about tension within the Democrats. I think about that, of course, so here's some unsolicited advice. Not universal principles, just applicable stuff for the current situation. There's something in here for everyone to both love and hate.

Be realistic and intellectually honest. This week's Bernie bump is less about "momentum" than it is about which contests came in which order. And while it may be THEORETICALLY possible for Sanders to win the nomination, if every remaining state votes like a downtown Iowa City precinct, it's extremely unlikely. The mathematical reality is, Hillary Clinton is very likely to be the nominee, and the rest of this rant works with that assumption.

Stop bashing states and processes. Bernie people, stop talking about how Hillary only wins in "red states" or "conservative Southern states." That's insulting to the largely African American electorates in those places, an electorate that's already disenfranchised by math and in some cases by vote-suppressing law in November. No, the Democratic nominee will not win Alabama (though North Carolina and even Georgia are in play). The presidential primary is the one place in the process where Alabama Democrats have a voice. Respect that.

On the other hand, Hillary people, stop talking about how Bernie only wins white voters and caucus states. That's ignoring a weakness that Team H needs to shore up with the activist base. People who'll sit at a convention all day also sit in a phone bank.

Do a couple more debates. Hillary, you're good at debates. This is an easy symbolic concession.

Rein in the crazies. There's a lot of ugly talk out there, and frankly more of it is coming from Sanders supporters. The campaign needs to do what it can to get a lid on it, and whatever they're doing so far isn't working. Tell them to loosen the tin foil hats - not every loss is a conspiracy.

Let everyone vote. Hillary, you of all people know how this feels. There's an old saying that people caucus with their hearts and vote in general elections with their heads. Let people have that spring fling.

But wrap it up soon after that. No matter how rosy the Bernie scenario,  Hillary is going to come out of the last state with a couple hundred delegate lead just on the pledged delegates, and with a multiple million vote lead in the body count. Yes, get your people to the convention, pack the hall for his Monday or Tuesday night speech, and do your thing. But you need to be on boad long before that. 

Give them something. I've always felt platforms are just symbolism without substance, But there are people who think they're important, so I see them as a no-cost way for Hillary to make some concessions.

In approximate decreasing order of likelihood, issues include:

1) Minimum wage. Just give this one up, Hillary. Say you're for $15. Won't matter. Even if we do flip Congress in an anti-Trump landslide, seats 200 through 218 are going to be Blue Dogs too scared of re-election to back anything much over $10 anyway, and the Republicans are ideologically opposed to HAVING a minimum.

2) Wall Street. Give your friends a heads up that you're going to have to talk tougher (you probably already have). Tweak the position paper in a way than makes Team Bernie a little happier. Even use the words "Glass-Steagall if you have to.

3) Health care. Sorry, Bernie, but Hillary is the last person who will open up a health care war again. You'll have to settle for, at best, peripheral improvements to Obamacare and, more likely, repeated vetoes of repeal.

4) TPP. Nothing can be done here. Bernie's an isolationist, Hillary's an internationalist.

The bird moment was great. But the moment after it was more revealing. Sanders was visibly struck speechless, then his first instinct was to call it a "dove of peace" and call for "no more war."

Which is why he's so visibly annoyed when debates turn to foreign policy: because in his heart, Sanders is a pacifist-isolationist, and he's smart enough to know that's not an electable stance so he immediately pivots back to macroeconomics.

Losers don't get to make demands. By this point the contest has played out everywhere and she got more votes. That's how this works.

She's not gonna dump the donors. Substantively, Clinton and Sanders are in the same place on campaign finance: overturning Citizens United via constitutional amendment. The biggest difference is: Clinton is not willing to unilaterally disarm against the Republicans with a no SuperPAC pledge or other such symbolism.

But someone needs to get thrown under the bus: Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  Removing DWS at DNC, and replacing her with someone who says and does 50 State Strategy, would go a LONG way toward easing tensions. Given her endorsement from Obama today, this seems unlikely, but that was just an endorsement for her seat in Congress. That even gives DWS an "I want to focus on my district" out.

The running mate. There are a lot of measures of "progressive," Tom Fiegen, other than how badly someone Feels The Bern or not (egad I hate that phrase). There are very, very few high level electeds who have endorsed Sanders. Don't start naming the counter-examples. The fact that you can list them all just proves how short the list is.

Sanders supporters will be lucky to get someone who, despite solid issue credentials, was with Hillary for the nomination. An interesting name surfacing over the weekend: Al Franken.

But it's not gonna be a two woman ticket so forget Elizabeth Warren.

The super delegate problem. I don't have the answer here but this is clearly a symbolic thorn in Sanders' side, and superdelegate process will at least need to be discussed between the two camps.

Wasserman Schultz very ineloquently said that one reason for superdelegates is so the party leaders don't have to run against the grass roots activists. I've heard that same argument for years, but from the other direction.

No one is more likely to win an election than someone who has already won an election. So if the congressman has to run for national delegate against the 18 year old volunteer, the congressman is extremely likely to win. By taking the congressman out of that mix, it gives that volunteer a better chance.

Fight The Real Enemy. Eyes on the prize, people. The alternative is not a "pure" conscience free vote. The alternative is Mein Trumpf and the end of Weimar Amerika. And Republicans, if you're serious about Never Trump, the one viable Stop Trump candidate is Hillary Clinton.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What Happened In Arizona: One Professional's Speculation

As I've been following the Maricopa Meltdown from Tuesday night's Arizona primary, I've been frustrated by the lack of in depth-geeky detail.

The big picture is easy. The Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. No longer under the constraints of the pre-clearance requirement, local officials cut the number of polling sites from 200 down to 60, and also seriously mis-under-estimated turnout.

But that big picture doesn't tell ME what I need to know. The details of elections are literally my life's work (at least for the last 18 years and probably for the next 16 to 20 till retirement) and my To Do List includes primary responsibility for the turnout estimates.

So I've dug for details and here's the impressions I have so far.

First of all, this is NOT part of the Grand Unifying Theory Anti Bernie Conspiracy. Is it inexcusable? Yes. Did it suppress the vote and deny people their rights? Of course. But the decision to close 70% of the polling places was made by a Republican courthouse official, weeks before it was clear that either party's nomination contest would still be competitive. Human error is a more reasonable explanation than conspiracy.

An election infrastructure is both big and temporary. We rely on hundreds of temporary poll workers and locations that are on loan, and the workload is compressed into a small amount of time.

Contrary to myth, we do NOT have one ballot for every registered voter in our elections, and we do NOT have enough workers to handle it if every registered voter to show up.  Because that never happens and that only comes close to happening in a presidential general election.

There is an inevitable amount of resource-wasting in election administration, but every election we are balancing Likely Scenario against Worst Case Scenario. Past turnout and behavior in similar elections are the most accurate indicators. We are prepped for something MORE than we expect, but at the high end of the range we expect.

And we have back up plans just in case. In my county our polling places check in at least four times a day: 9 AM, 11 AM, 3 PM, 6 PM. This serves two purposes. It feeds the media beast with information. More importantly, it gives us an alert. There are long-established turnout patterns in our county. By the 11 AM check in, we have a good sense if a site is at risk of running out of ballots or other supplies (or in need of more workers), and we can ship more out the door. I don't know if Maricopa County does something like this (they should) or if they were simply SO overwhelmed that they couldn't do anything about it.

Clearly, Maricopa was under-prepared. Here's some of my theories as to why.

It seems that the Arizona recorders and Secretary of State have been lobbying the legislature to dump the primary and go to either a caucus or a party-run primary. The issue is money and the argument is "it's the party's nomination process so the parties should pay." (Which, with the caucuses, is what Iowa does.)

There's a case to be made for that, and I suppose you could bill the parties for a primary the way Iowa counties bill school districts and cities for their elections. But billing the parties, or making them run the primary themselves, is not the law in Arizona yet.

This may be part of why the Maricopa recorder cut sites. If the attitude is, "we shouldn't have to pay for the parties' nomination contests," she may have been trying to either send a message or be passive aggressive about it. I'm going to prepare for what my budget can afford.

The polling site cuts in Maricopa, from 200 to 60, were only possible because the Supreme Court overturned the pre-clearance section of the Voting Rights Act. Last presidential cycle, the county recorder would have needed Justice Department permission to make the cuts. That's not saying the intent in cutting polling sites was racially motivated. The impact certainly was, as the cuts were heavier in Hispanic areas. Given the polling and results in other states, that may have hurt Hillary more than Bernie, but I'm not here to argue that one.

As bad as it is that people didn't get to vote - that's ALWAYS bad - the uncast votes are almost certainly not enough to affect the 18 point margin Clinton had over Sanders, because most of the votes were cast early. Like many Western states (and like Johnson County) Arizona is a heavy early voting state. In most elections they see more votes early than on election day. They also have permanent absentee status. Check a box when you register, they mail you a ballot each election.

Early vote tends to be a leading indicator of election day votes. Officials know, or SHOULD know, the patterns of their communities. If I get X number of early votes, that probably means Y voters on Election Day.

But what happens when those ratios change?

That, I think, is what happened in Maricopa County. They closed early voting, saw X number of voters, and figured that was 90% of the total vote. (I'm just making up numbers; can't find the exact breakdown on the real ones.) Then it turned out to only be 70% of the vote because interest peaked late. So they got three times what they expected on election day - with three times FEWER voting sites.

Across the country, as the Democratic nomination race has progressed from state to state, we've seen similar patterns. Hillary starts off in a state with a big polling lead; as the campaign progresses to the state, Bernie closes the gap. State after state, we have also seen Sanders performing best with registered independents and with new voters.

So if the Bernie folks are madder, odds are more of them were affected. Not enough to close an 18 point gap, but enough to notice, especially if they think The Establishment is against them.

Arizona's voter registration deadline is 29 days before an election - one of the earlier deadlines in the country. I haven't been able to figure out if that is also the deadline for party affiliation changes; I think it is.

Experience has taught me that people are not always right about their own party affiliation. People who make a special trip into the election office are usually pretty confident. But then a few months later they go into the driver's license bureau, aren't in Political Mode, get asked to update their registration, and are feeling Independent that day.

Or they forget that they crossed over for a primary a few years back, and didn't realize that "asking for a Republican ballot" changed their affiliation. I've had people swear "I've been a Republican my whole life" even as I'm showing them the scanned record with their signature next to Democrat and their voting history with the last four Democratic primaries.

So forgive me if I take some of the claims I've heard from Arizona voters with a grain of salt - because I've heard them before and I know enough to not want to definitely judge unless I'm looking at the records.

Sure, clerical errors are possible; I've seen and made a few in my life. (I am good at my job. I am not perfect at my job.) What's NOT likely is massive and deliberate mis-entry. We don't have numbers on the party affiliation problems; we have anecdotal evidence from people who are - quite reasonably - upset. To me, random human error on the part of voters and workers is a more reasonable explanation than malpractice.

Another point of confusion here is the NAME of the election. Everyone in the national press calls this "the Arizona primary." Arizona does NOT call it the primary. It calls it the "presidential preference election." The "primary" is in August for state federal and courthouse stuff. Kind of like how we have a caucus for the presidential stuff and a June primary for the other stuff.

Actually, the better analogy may be between Iowa's partisan primary in June of even years, and a city primary which Iowa City sometimes has in October of odd years. You have to declare party for one but not the other, the voting hours are different, and some precincts don't participate in one of the two.

The Arizona PRIMARY is open to independents. The Arizona Presidential Preference Election is closed. You can't change on Election Day. You have to be registered with your party in advance, presumably by the 29 day voter registration deadline.

But I KNOW that people in Arizona asked about the "primary" when they meant the
"presidential preference election," because of the hundreds of people I talked to at my work who said "primary" when they clearly meant "caucus." From the Arizona Secretary of State site:
    I am not registered with a recognized party, can I still vote in the Primary Election?

        Yes. Arizona has an open primary law that allows any voter who is registered as independent to cast a ballot for one of the officially recognized political parties. The Primary Election is not the same as a Presidential Preference Election, while an independent voter may cast a ballot in a Primary Election, only voters who are registered with a recognized party may cast a ballot at the Presidential Preference Election.
18 1/2 years of experience tells me: If it can be misunderstood, it will be.

Arizona's early voting period runs three weeks, from 27 days to 11 days before the election. So there's a ten day window when voting is closed. Again, data from other states shows that Bernie peaks late and Bernie attracts independents.

So I can see a lot of people Feeling The Bern (for the record I HATE that that phrase has become a thing; candidate preferences aside it just is nails on chalkboard to my sense of language) in the last week, getting misinformed "oh, yeah, independents can vote in the primary," standing in a line that's too long because the local elected official thought most of the vote was already in and she's kind of pissed to begin with because she doesn't think she should be paying for this.

So you've been in line for forever, you finally get to the front, and you get a provisional ballot.

A provisional ballot is not a bad thing. It's a good thing. Iowa has had them for a very long time. Many states did not. Florida did not in 2000, so everyone who got canceled because some OTHER dude named Juan Corona was a serial killer just got a letter after the election saying "sorry, our bad" without even getting a CHANCE to vote. Provisional ballots are now required in all states under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, and they're one of the better things in that law.

With a provisional ballot, the office can go back after the fact, check out the story, and try to count your vote. Since Iowa passed election day voter registration in 2008, most Iowa provisional voters are people who lost or never got their mailed ballot, and the process consists of checking and making sure we didn't get and count the mailed ballot.

The specific Arizona problem, provisional ballots for party affiliation questions, would not be applicable in Iowa. I'm not sure the timeline or the details in that state, but the way it's supposed to work is they review the ballot, see if the person was properly registered with the party, and count the ones they can.

Of course, a lot of things didn't go the way they were supposed to.

People who insist on voting provisional ballots at the wrong polling place don't get counted. That wasn't an issue in Arizona because they were using "vote centers," a trend in elections where multiple precincts vote at one site and you can choose which site to vote at. Iowa allows vote centers for local elections, but not primary or general elections.

One of the problems with vote centers, ESPECIALLY if you're doing it for the first time as Maricopa was Tuesday, is trying to predict how many people will chose which location. And for voters, there are anecdotal stories of the checkout line problem: bouncing from one site to the other looking for the shorter line.

None of these explanations, none of this speculation, is in ANY way meant to excuse what happened in metro Phoenix this week. It's just one professional's understanding of how this stuff works and how it could have gone so wrong.

How do we fix it? A really good question, and I have a strong bias but I think we start by talking to people who do it WELL.

HAVA passed in late 2002 simply because it was the one bill available on the shelf to Fix What Went Wrong In Florida. The people who drafted it were congressional staffers, not election administrators. The same is true of the other major recent federal law affecting election administration, the Motor Voter act of 1993.

A former co-worker attended a conference on HAVA soon after it passed and was talking with the legislative staffer who worked on it. The man could not conceive that a person would have a driver's license in one state yet want to register to vote in another - because he didn't stop to think about a college town with 10,000 plus out of state students.

And because Motor Voter makes it next to impossible to cancel a registration, we have a 46 year old graduate who last voted in 1992 still registered at a sorority house. (No, it's not the house mom.) And we have tearful adult children begging us to take Mom who has Alzheimers and has not voted in ten years off the rolls, and we can't without Mom's own signature, and she can't sign her name anymore.

The point is, there are always unintended consequences. So if the Feds are going to draft a law that tells local election administrators how many ballots to order and how many workers to hire, they need to use the right metrics and they need to get input from actual election administrators. Otherwise my county will have two dozen workers sitting on a campus precinct for a June primary to wait on five voters all day.

So fine, you say, let's do that? Democracy is worth it? OK, but then you also get into the issue of worker retention. Election workers have the downside of both paid staff (cost) and volunteers (people can quit when they want.) How many of those two dozen workers who waited on five voters all day will quit before November when you really need them?

So think this stuff thorough everyone, and ask people like me some questions. And thanks for reading this far.