Sunday, April 09, 2017

Paul Pate Has No Elvis In Him: Why Election Day Registrations REALLY Get Returned

Once again, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate is politicizing the routine business of election management to push his agenda. The Huffington Post reports:
In an effort to highlight voter irregularities and push for stricter voting laws, Iowa’s top election official pushed statistics on alleged voter fraud that even a member of his own staff privately suggested were misleading, emails obtained by the Huffington Post reveal...

To substantiate his argument, Pate’s office drafted a statement for a reporter from the Iowa Gazette, noting that in Iowa it appeared 41 felons had cast ballots and that more than 200 election day voter registrations, or EDRs, had bounced back.
I'm assuming here that we mean the Cedar Rapids Gazette. I can't find the article that came out of this (I'll keep looking) but the timing in early January is right around the roll out of Pate's "Election Integrity" (sic) voter ID bill. The bill has passed both the House and Senate in different language; the House is expected to consider the Senate's amendments this week.

HuffPo continues, quoting Pate:
We need to release info and these stats are public already. When an auditor turns them over to the county attorney or sheriff for action that pretty much makes it public. Am I missing something?,” he wrote in an email.
But releasing the statistics drew an objection from Carol Olson, Pate’s deputy secretary of state for elections, who suggested they were misleading...

“I’m also really reluctant to say that 207 EDR’s from 15 counties bounced back. In the context of a discussion on election fraud, it sounds like we are suggesting that “bounce backs” are fraud or likely to be fraud,” she wrote... “The vast majority of these ‘bounce-backs’ are sloppy addresses from voters in too much of a hurry when they register at the polls. That’s a real reason to discourage EDR and a real reason to have pollbooks, but it’s not an indicator of illegal activity.
Along with the timing, the number and the emphasis are interesting here, because the biggest totals of these "bounce-backs" came in Johnson County. (Full disclosure: This was all long before my boss, Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert, started looking at challenging Pate next year. In fact, if I can presume to speak on his behalf, crap like this is WHY Travis is looking at it.)

I may be a partisan blogger - thanks for reading, Paul! - but I'm also pretty good at my job, so it's time for another post about the micro-details of my work.

You know of course that everyone who registers or makes a change gets a new voter card. Johnson County mailed over 8000 cards on November 17 reflecting changes made on or just before election day.

If you're a regular reader you know that when those are returned as undeliverable by the post office, the voter gets put on "Inactive" status. These are what Pate and Olson are calling "bounce-backs."

In Johnson County we call them something else.

There's an added step with EDR voters. Rather than immediately inactivating these voters, we first send them a Mildly Scary Letter with a form. It's not till the letter also gets Elvised back to us that we make them inactive, and then we pass the list along to the county attorney.

I sent 97 of those letters out on December 15. That sounds like a lot compared to the 15-county total of 207 cited by Pate. But it's just 1.86% of the 5212 EDRs we processed in Johnson County. That's a share comparable to, or even better, than the routine registrations we get during the peak of election season - because EDR voters are already required to show proof of address.

The fact that the biggest numbers came from the most Democratic county in the state is a big part of why Pate wants to play this up. It might sound fishy to people who don't live in a college town.

Homeowners who've had the same address 20 years don't have as much trouble getting their mail - remember, the whole subtext of the voter ID debate is about calling universal suffrage itself into question. More than a few locals think the students shouldn't be allowed to vote here anyway, even though the Supreme Court settled that in the `70s. There's also a lot of belief in the myth of "busloads of voters from Chicago," with all the associated ugly racial implications and the association of that city's name with "fraud."

Four months later here's where we stand with those 97 voters:

34 are on Active status. This means the Mildly Scary Letter got through. Either they responded to the letter and made any needed corrections, or they simply were having mail delivery problems when the cards went out. We routinely see people who can't get a card delivered to save their lives, but letters get through. Go figure.

Five are no longer registered in the county. This could mean they moved or re-registered immediately post-election. Students often, intentionally or not, re-register immediately back in their parents' counties. "Where do I live" is a permanent issue of confusion for students. They're used to putting both addresses on everything, but election law generally assumes you live in one place.

58, just 1.1% of the 5212 Johnson County EDRs, are on Inactive status. This likely means the letter also got Elvised at which point I inactivated them.

So these are the fraudsters, right? Not exactly. These problems came almost entirely from two kinds of places.

Most were from the large downtown student apartment complexes, and they came back for one overwhelming reason: Missing apartment numbers.

If you're a letter carrier with a giant complex like the Cornerstone Apartments or Hawks Ridge on your route, where almost every tenant moves every August, where names on mailboxes are iffy at best, you're not going to spend way more time than you have trying to figure out which apartment this card goes to. You're gonna Elvis it back. (The post office calls them "Nixies.") And then all we can do is send another piece of mail to the same bad address. (EDR voters tend to be in a hurry, so we don't get a lot of phone numbers or email addresses from them for follow-up.)

The next biggest chunk comes from the complete opposite kind of place: the small towns of Johnson County. They come back because people leave off their post office boxes.

Some towns are very friendly about delivering mail. I used to get mail addressed just to "John Deeth, Lone Tree IA." Lone Tree has since changes postmasters, and they are now picky about PO boxes.

The worst by far is Tiffin. There seems to be no clear pattern to which parts of the fast growing town have street delivery and which have boxes. and the post office is absolutely uncooperative.

I'm not saying this isn't a problem. We can always do a better job. But the solutions to that problem don't require changes in the law. In the post-Florida era, legal changes have dramatically increased the workload on poll workers. Tasks are more numerous and more complicated, and all important. These issues with apartments and mailing addresses are just one more detail in an incredibly busy day.

But that's a training issue. it's not a problem best solved by implying that postal problems are fraud, and using that as an excuse to make voting more difficult.

When Paul Pate returned to office, with less than 50% of the vote in a three way race, I was disappointed because I had supported Brad Anderson. But I was relieved that with his past experience he would at least be better than Matt Schultz, who spent his whole term looking for nonexistent fraud and running a failed campaign for Congress.

At least with Schultz you knew what you were getting. But Pate has been a different story the second time around, pretending to be "responsive" to the needs of auditors, but toeing the party line in the end and twisting the job to a partisan agenda. Here, Pate has taken a very minor technical detail and over his staff's objection used it as "evidence" of "fraud,"

All this after bragging in October that Iowa had the best run elections anywhere. If there was any doubt before, this proves that Paul Pate has no Elvis in him.

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