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.

1 comment:

Sick of Spin said...

The current so-called *leadership* of the Johnson County Republican party just flat out sucks at growing the party. Their monthly meetings amount to social gatherings, not real mission-oriented, let's grow the party get-togethers. They're either clueless, or just don't give a damn to do what it takes. Hell, they don't even state goals anymore.