Champaign County Facility Costs

Looking at the facility costs related to voter registration for election authorities in Oregon and comparing it to Champaign County leaves one wondering.

Here is how I roughly calculated our facility costs for voter registration.

First, I used a cost of $14,76 per square foot which is the rent paid by the Illinois Attorney General for space in the Brookens Administrative Center where our office is.

Second, I measured and determined that there was 1,312 square feet used in some way or another in the voter registration process.  Without any proration of the space based on time spent on voter registration I calculated a cost of 16 cents per voter, which would make our county the fifth cheapest in Oregon.

However, if you prorate the space based on time allocated to voter registration activities, the cost drops to 5 cents a voter.  That would be the cheapest of any Oregon county except Crook County which reported $173.82 in facility costs amounting to 1 cent per voter.

In my mind, there are two ways to look at this, neither of which Pew adopted.

The first way to examine this it is to question your methods and procedures.  Is the methodology really returning accurate data?  I’d suggest that it almost certainly is not and that Pew needs to go back to the drawing board on facility costs and probably almost everything else in their survey.

The second way to examine this is to wonder why it costs so much for facilities in these counties.  If Champaign County can operate with a facility cost of 5 cents, shouldn’t a county like Marion County be able to lower their 61 cent cost to something more reasonable?  Why are the facility costs for voter registration in Washington County 6 times the cost of Champaign County?

With the quality of the Pew report as I’ve seen it so far, I have a lot more faith that the Oregon counties are running with more reasonable costs than reported by Pew.  But either way, Pew owes the public and policy makers a closer examination of the data they are reporting.

Pew Report Loaded with Inconsistencies

As I’ve chatted with Oregon election officials about the Pew report on voter registration costs, one thing is clear.  The numbers in the  Pew for their report were solicited with little guidance and compiled in many instances as estimates.

If you look at the spreadsheet which Pew provided you’ll get an indication of this.  First, there are glaring gaps in the submitted data.

For example, 16 of the 36 counties submitted no facility costs.  19 counties submitted no computer costs.  23 counties submitted no County IT costs.

These gaps demonstrate that there were few guidelines for counties to follow.  Like many of these counties, I hesitate to answer questions for which I don’t have solid data.  It’s always safer to not answer than to provide data that is wrong, especially when I don’t know how the data is going to be used.

Beyond those gaps, it is easy to see that many of the numbers are purely estimates.  For example, Marion County’s computer costs turned out to be $30,000 and their County IT costs turned out to be $45,000.  A number of other rounded numbers in the report suggest estimating as well.

Then there is the great disparity in costs from one county to another.  So for example, on the facility costs we see a high of $2.37 per voter for Clatsop County and a low of $.01 for Crook County.  Rather than digging in deeper to these numbers to determine why such a discrepancy would exist, Pew just reported it as is.

Just looking at the County IT costs per voter for the two largest counties reveals shocking discrepancies.  Multnomah County’s IT costs per voter is 11 cents.  Washington County’s is 58 cents.

Don’t differences of that nature cry out for clarification and review?  This isn’t the first time that I’ve found inaccurate data that seems to be accepted only because it supports someone’s agenda.

And my opinion about the accuracy of the data is supported by some of the Oregon officials.  Here are a few quotes:

the Pew Center did not provide any guidance or even require any degree of accuracy in their request.

My numbers were all rough estimates.

I was under the impression when I spoke with him by phone regarding this subject, that we did not have to spend a lot of time on this request, that indeed it was just an estimate.

Take the Pew report with a grain of salt.  It fails by the most basic of research standards.

Claims with No Data

As I’ve said, the call in Heather Gerken’s book for more data was a good idea. So good in fact that I’ve really been working to gather data myself and present it to the public.  Roadblocks abound.

Not so the voter registration reform folks.  There are two problems, both of which point to a serious disinterest in data.

First is inaccurate data as I pointed out in the Pew report, which I intend to delve into even deeper.

Second is the making of unsubstantiated claims with no basis in fact.  I pointed to this problem  in Gerken’s book.   For example, Gerken claimed that election officials were reducing the number of voting machines in precincts that were not supportive of the election officials’ preferred candidates.

The Committee to Modernize Voter Registration is another one with a great interest in making broad sweeping claims but with little interest in data to support it.

Here are some of the claims from their website regarding how citizens will be kept from automatically being added to the voter rolls.

A modern voter registration system will enable election officials to use secure government databases to automatically update voter registration rolls for eligible – and only for eligible – Americans.

Automatic and permanent voter registration offers even more protections against non-citizens being added to the rolls than our current, paper based registration system.

Most of the voters who will be automatically added to the voter registration list come from other databases that contain information about citizenship status based on documentation provided by the voter.

Many Motor Vehicles agencies collect citizenship information and all agencies that administer federal social service programs collect citizenship information.

With such claims one would assume that some work or research was done on this issue.  As I’ve noted, two emails and a letter over the course of 6 months went to the Committee seeking the research or data.  One of my questions:

Do you have a list available of the states that do not ask about or record citizenship at the time a person receives services at the Driver’s License facility?

I finally received a reply last week.

What their letter suggests is that they have no intention of answering my questions regarding the automatic registration of noncitizens with their proposal and that they can not provide one single piece of evidence to back up the claims they make on their website that are recapped above.

Do I want modernization?  Of course, I work at it every week in this office.  But I refuse to let so called proponents of modernization to make spurious claims about their own proposals.  If the Committee to Modernize wants to be a serious player in the efforts to modernize voter registration, they ought to excise from their website the host of unsupported claims they make.  Let’s bring the facts to the table in this important effort.

Pew Data Fixed

Pew responded to my email regarding some problems in their spreadsheet by sending a corrected spreadsheet which does not change the overall numbers as reported.  It’s a bit easier to read so I suggest anyone interested in the data ought to look this iteration.

Of course, we still don’t have the source of any of the data in the report from Pew, although I have bits and pieces that I’ve acquired on my own.

More NVRA Nonsense

There is a concerted effort to undo one of the key reforms of the Help America Vote Act.   I’ve written about it a couple times.

First, there is the proposal of Zoe Loefgren which, unwittingly or not, put’s barriers in the way of removing voters from the voter registration rolls.

Second, the American Constitution Society published a paper from Estelle Rogers that claims that any removal of voters from the voter file based on a statewide match as laid out in HAVA was illegal.

Now comes Project Vote, who echoes the legal sentiments of Rogers.

When states remove voters merely on the basis of an interstate database match, they not only risk disenfranchising eligible citizens, they violate the NVRA.

Once again, I see a two pronged approach from the so called reformers.  Add more people to the rolls, with little regard to their eligiblity and make it increasingly difficult to remove voters.

The result will be reduced confidence that only eligible people are registered and voting and increased costs as election officials are compelled to carry voters on their rolls who are known to have moved.

November Ballot Order

We just did the drawing for ballot position among the three established political parties in the November election.  Marcia Morrison, an Urbana High School student who was the youngest person to cast a vote in the Primary election pulled the parties out of a hat.  The order of parties will be:

Republican

Green

Democratic

New political parties and independents will appear after the established political parties.

Pew Data

Yesterday afternoon, after posting the latest Pew Center report on the costs of voter registration I received the Pew spreadsheet of the costs. Since I mentioned yesterday that they hadn’t been forthcoming in providing the information, I though I ought to get it posted right away.

For the record, I first requested this data on December 28, 2009.  I received a “We’re in the process” response on January 8, 2010.  I followed up on February 18, 2010.  On February 24, 2010 I received another “We’re in the process” response.  I don’t know if yesterday’s posting was the prompt for Pew turning over the spreadsheet or if it was mere coincidence.

Of course, like the mistake made on the OCVR we don’t have independent proof of the reliability of what is being presented.

Plenty more on this topic in future days.

Pew Center Issues Updated Cost Report

I’ve written much about the battle by some to radicalize the voter registration process.  Part of the battle has been to decry the high cost of maintaining the current voter registration system.

To that end, the Pew Center issued a report in December detailing the costs of voter registration.  I’ve linked to it below.   I had serious doubts about some of the figures in the report and started to do some research.  I’m in the middle of it now, but in at least one instance Pew has now modified their report and revealed that their “real” cost estimate was inflated by 10%.  Here is the note sent to Oregon election officials.

Date: Thu, 18 Mar 2010 10:11:40 -0400
Subject: Pew updates Oregon voter registration cost study numbers

Good morning everyone:

Originally released by the Pew Center on the States in December 2009, “The Real Cost of Voter Registration: An Oregon Case Study,” noted the difficulty in determining voter registration costs and created a model—based on Oregon’s experience—for states to estimate their registration expenses. We recently received updated information from the Oregon Secretary of State’s office regarding the allocation of voter registration costs between the counties and the state. As a result of this new information and to address a miscalculation of the state’s costs, we are reducing the total amount spent on voter registration in 2008 from $9.7 million to $8.8 million in the report. These updates will result in additional adjustments including the average cost per registered voter moving to $4.11 from $4.51, and the average cost per voter registration transaction moving to $7.67 from $8.43.

Sincerely,

John Lindback

The problem that Pew is correcting is laid out in this email exchange I had with Dave Franks from the Oregon Secretary of States’ office.  It appeared, and now Pew is admitting, that some of the costs of the Oregon voter registration system were being double counted.  I caught it relatively quickly after I saw the first cost submission from an Oregon County.  The suggestion in the Lindback email is that the SOS was inaccurate, but my emails with Franks suggest a different story.

Perhaps Pew would have caught this mistake on their own, although it’s hard to believe that any organization would release a report if they still had more fact checking that they wanted to do.  That a County Clerk from Illinois could find this flaw tells me that attention to accuracy wasn’t as high on the Pew priority list as continuing to beat the drums for radical changes to our voting system.

Unfortunately, even with this correction, the information from Pew is sporadic.  I have requested, and been repeatedly denied, access to the raw data that Pew received from the Oregon counties and from the State of Oregon.  It is very simple.  Pew is in possession of 36 different submissions from the 36 Oregon counties.  Posting them to their website should be very simple.  Putting them in an e-mail to me would also seem to be simple.

I’ll address more about this report in the coming days and weeks.  Even if the data was accurate, which we now know to be untrue, the report was highly flawed.

The First Pew Report

The Second Pew Report

Citizenship Checks Denied

Yesterday, I pointed out that part of the agenda of the Committee to Modernize Registration was to automatically add people to the voter registration rolls, regardless of whether their citizenship could be demonstrated.  These voters would then remain on the rolls forever.  The only way of preventing them from voting would be to have them sign something on election day.  As I noted, I have emailed and written the Committee to ask for an analysis of all the states and whether citizenship status is tracked at their motor vehicle facilities.  I still haven’t received a response.

In this modern age, the Committee to Modernize apparently isn’t too interested in using technology to verify citizenship, instead choosing to have these noncitizens deselect themselves from the process by not showing up to vote.

The Committee certainly has supporters at the United States Department of Justice. The DOJ has been in an ongoing battle with the State of Georgia. Georgia is attempting to use  the Georgia driver’s database as well as the Social Security database to verify citizenship.  DOJ says that because of its disproportionate impact on minorities, the Georgia plan is illegal.

We  have actual evidence of the Department of Justice stepping in and denying the State of Georgia a very reasonable modernization of their own system.  I wonder if those advocates of modernization will come to the defense of the State of Georgia and whether they’ll modify their own proposal to add a citizenship check?

The Georgia case is now going to the court system.  How they fare will certainly be of interest to anyone who is looking for accuracy and integrity in our voter rolls.

It also begs the question as to what other states are doing to take advantage of databases that track citizenship.  What we know is that the advocates of “modernization” have little interest in this aspect of modernization.

Here are a variety of the documents laying out the Georgia citizenship  verification battle.

April 23, 2007 DOJ Letter

October 8, 2008 DOJ Letter

October 14, 2008 Georgia SOS Letter

December 10, 2008 Georgia SOS Letter

December 15, 2008 DOJ Letter

February 2, 2009 Georgia SOS Letter

March 24, 2009 Georgia SOS Letter

May 29, 2009 DOJ Letter

June 16, 2009 DOJ Letter

Getting Stonewalled on Citizenship Questions

I wrote last September about the issue of citizenship as it relates to the radical proposal to automatically add people to voter rolls.  At the time I mentioned that I had written an e-mail to the Committee to Modernize Registration asking what databases that would be used for this automatic registration process included information about citizenship.   My email of September 1, 2009 was not responded to.  I wrote again on November 20,2009.  Still no response.  I then followed up with a letter on February 12,  2010 to various members of the Committee to Modernize.

No one has responded.

It’s very simple.  If you’re going to suggest that we automatically add people to the voter rolls from government databases, shouldn’t you at least be able to tell the public and policy makers about the ability of those databases to tell  us who is a citizen or not?

There’s a lack of seriousness on the part of these reformers.  Lots of noise.  Lots of anecdotes about what they perceive to be wrong.  But little in the way of facts.  Heather Gerken’s Democracy Index used a couple hundred pages telling us how important data is.  But in reality, there is little evidence that reformers are interested in data.  And if they are interested, they’re not sharing any information they’ve found.

They’re aren’t too many good spins that can be put on the silence of the proponents of modernization regarding the issue of citizenship.  Perhaps the most charitable reason is that they just don’t know the answers to these questions and don’t want to admit it.  Less charitably, maybe they’re willing to put millions of noncitizens on the rolls if it means more eligible voters are added as well.  Most cynically, any number of the “reformers” might be hoping that noncitizens are put on the rolls and end up voting.

You’d think that the one thing we could agree upon is that noncitizens should not be added to the voter registration rolls.  But it appears that isn’t the case and it’s hard to imagine a consensus on reform that wouldn’t include that important element.