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 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, before the commercial breakthrough. 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 by some dorm Neanderthals, I chose the friends who got it over the ones who didn't, 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 of many of the parties I DJd there was the climax of "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"... 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 knows.

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.