Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Voter Statistics vs. Irrational numbers

You know, I have had a bad enough week of people with an agenda,  who don't understand my job, telling me how to do my job and accusing me of doing a bad job. Especially when it's a part of my job I'm especially proud of and good at.

And this time, it's not even the Iowa Legislature or Paul Pate that's on my case.

Right wing think tank Judicial Watch drops some version of this stink bomb every couple of years:
Judicial Watch today announced it has sent notice-of-violation letters threatening to sue 11 states having counties in which the number of registered voters exceeds the number of voting-age citizens, as calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011-2015 American Community Survey. According to the letters, this is “strong circumstantial evidence that these … counties are not conducting reasonable voter registration record maintenance as mandated under the [National Voter Registration Act] NVRA.”  Both the NVRA and the federal Help America Vote Act require states to take reasonable steps to maintain accurate voting rolls...

Based on its review of Election Assistance Commission (EAC) data, and more recent U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey and the states’ voter registration records, Judicial Watch found the following counties have more total registered voters than the citizen voting age (18) population...
Iowa: Scott, Johnson
In its notice-of-violation letters, Judicial Watch warns that the failure to maintain accurate, up-to-date voter registration lists “required by federal law and by the expectations of [state] citizens” will “undermine public confidence in the electoral process.”
Umm... as I'll demonstrate, the people undermining public confidence in elections would be Judicial Watch, not the Scott and Johnson County auditors.

Funny how the two counties they target Just So Happen to have two Democratic auditors, Scott's Roxana Moritz and my own boss Travis Weipert, who are looking at challenging Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate.

UPDATE: As much as I hate to give Pate credit for anything, especially this week, his office called Travis this afternoon and offered their support. A press release was reportedly in the works. THAT'S how wrong these Judicial Watch clowns are.
“Dirty election rolls can mean dirty elections,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.  “These 11 states face possible Judicial Watch lawsuits unless they follow the law and take reasonable steps to clean up their voting rolls of dead, moved, and non-citizen voters.”
Judicial Watch asked the states to “conduct or implement a systematic, uniform, nondiscriminatory program to remove from the list of eligible voters the names of persons who have become ineligible to vote by reason of a change of residence, death or a disqualifying criminal conviction.”  The states are also asked to remove from voter registration lists “noncitizens who have registered to vote unlawfully.”
Once again, I'm going to have to re-write the post that patiently explains just exactly how I do that.

The way Judicial Watch is coming up with their dodgy numbers is by counting total registration, a mistake often repeated by campaign staffers and the press. A more accurate total is the number of Active status voters. And to understand Active status I need to explain Inactive status.

Everybody, everybody, everybody misunderstands what an Inactive status voter is. Campaign staffers and press assume that it's what's called in staffer speak a "weak voting D" or a presidential election only voter.

Inactive status really means "preliminary step to cancellation." It means that we've had mail returned to our office as undeliverable. Hit it, Elvis:

Voter registration is not like a driver's license that you have to renew or else it expires. It's considered permanent, until and unless you move.

Since Motor Voter took effect in 1995, no one gets canceled just for not voting. It all depends on the mail. The intent is to make it really, really, REALLY hard to cancel your registration without you knowing about it - an intent Judicial Watch does not seem to support.

I have spent most of this week processing one of our most valuable mailings, the Four Year No Activity mailing. Before Motor Voter we flat out canceled you after four years. Now we can just send you a friendly reminder card.

If the card from this mailing, or several other mailings that are strictly limited and spelled out by law, comes back as undeliverable, we can inactivate the voter. But we still have to wait through two more general elections before we can completely cancel them. That means the bins of mail I got back this week don't get totally cancelled until 2021.

I'm the person who does most of the dealing with this. As anyone who knows me politically or professionally knows, I'm obsessive about having the best and cleanest lists possible - a real challenge in a college town, and one of the few ways that my being Aspergery (that's not a flip anti-autistic remark, it's an actual diagnosis) about lists is a marketable job skill.

Judicial Watch's accusations don't even make political sense. An inaccurate ("dirty," they called it) voter file is actually a political negative, not a positive, because every bad name and number is a wasted door knocked or disconnected call made. And every address not updated in advance is a person who has to wait longer in line - and so do all the people behind them in line. If you want to help people vote, you want an accurate list.

Before the 4 Year No Activity mailing went out I contact all the major players - the dorms, the interfraternity council, and the post office - to let them all know These Cards Are Really Important and that we needed to get as many as possible Elvised back to us. They're used to me by now and their cooperation was wonderful again this year.

Last year I finally caught the 46 year old woman who was still registered in her college sorority house and last voted in 1992. (Someone always asks; it's not the house mom.) She's Inactive, but I have to wait till 2019 to completely cancel her.

So technically, she is a registered voter here. That means Judicial Watch is counting 46 Year Old Delta Delta Delta against our census totals and accusing my boss, my co-workers, and me of Fraud!, even though I spent close to a decade chasing this particular person down.

Forgive me if I take that a little personally.

I had one voter this morning who registered when she turned 18 in 1999 and NEVER voted here. The post office kept delivering her mail to her parents' home until this year - usually when it's been that long, it  means the parents have moved to a new home too. I was finally able to inactivate her - but I can't cancel her till 2021 - 22 years after she registered.

Again - Judicial Watch calls that "fraud."

Since people think I only work one day every four years, here's what we've been doing since the presidential election, and how our statistics compare to Judicial Watch's irrational numbers:

As of the time I went to lunch Wednesday Johnson County had 92,284 active status voters. That’s well below the 2015 estimated 115,112 census population aged 18 and older.

We also have 13,703 voters on Inactive status, waiting another two or four years to get cancelled. We KNOW most of these voters have moved away but it is literally against the law for us to fully cancel them yet.

Perhaps Judicial Watch thinks we should break the law.

We can only completely cancel voters sooner if we get direct notice from another jurisdiction, documentation signed by the voter themselves (NOT by Mom And Dad, who always seem more concerned that the voter themselves), or notice of a voter’s death. And as I so often note, literally the first thing I do at work every day is check the obituaries.

Another 474 voters are on Pending or Incomplete status, meaning they left required information off their forms or their ID numbers did not verify. That’s a grand total of 106,461 – still well below the Census estimate.

We've canceled 8082 voters since the first of the year. Only by adding that into the 106,461 do we get close to the 115,112 voting age census population - and only if you grab the numbers deliberately at the absolute peak to push your agenda.

Most of those cancellations - 7075 - were in January when we cancelled people who were inactivated in 2013 and 2014. We sent final letters to every one, and every single one came back undeliverable.

We also more moved more than 2700 voters from Active to Inactive status in January based on the annual National Change Of Address (NCOA) update from the post office. These voters cannot be canceled until after the 2020 election. And every person we inactivate gets send Yet Another Card Just To Be Sure; occasionally we hear back from someone who has moved or has postal problems.

I get voters who send back the NCOA card, check the box saying they moved away, and send it back... but forget to sign. I can't cancel them. Fortunately I have drafted a letter they they can just sign and send back in a postage paid envelope. This gets almost a 100% response rate.

Between all our list maintenance activity, our active registration, the number that really matters, is down by 4038 since January. That's almost exactly the number of election day registrations we got on November 8. (We got another 1000 from early voters in the week before election day ,after the pre-registration deadline.)

Only by grabbing our numbers at their absolute peak, and presenting them in a deliberately misleading way, is Judicial Watch able to argue that we have "too many" voters and try to make us look "dirty" and push their agenda of making it harder to vote.

Yeah. I take that personally.

At the Johnson County Auditor's Office, we think our job is to HELP people vote. That's why I've devoted a 20 year career to this. And it's only because we are so good at helping people vote that we're able to have such high active registration numbers that, though misleading counting of our inactive voters, we approach the census estimates.

It's a remarkable achievement in a town full of the youngest and least likely voters. And it's a record Travis and I and my co-workers want to extend into the ugly new voter ID era.  So it's going to be harder to vote? OK, well we'll just work harder then.

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