Monthly Archives: April 2020

New Studies on Voter Attitudes About Vote-by-Mail in Light of COVID-19

Thad Kousser, Seth Hill, Mackenzie Lockhart (UC San Diego), Jennifer Merolla (UC Riverside), and Mindy Romero (USC) have now posted at the links below two working papers analyzing a survey of eligible American voters about their preferences for how they’d like to cast their own ballots and see elections run during the COVID-19 crisis.  These are drafts now under submission to journals, and they welcome any comments or questions at tkousser@ucsd.edu.  

How do Americans Want Elections to be Run During the COVID-19 Crisis? 

Abstract. To inform the vital conversation among the nation’s political leaders, elections administrators, and scholars about how to hold a safe, accessible, and fair election in November, this paper reports how a sample of 5,612 eligible American voters, surveyed April 8-10, want to see the election run during the COVID-19 crisis.  We embed a randomized experiment presenting respondents with truthful summaries of the projections of two teams of scientists about the pandemic.  Our descriptive findings show that four in ten eligible voters would prefer to cast their ballot by mail rather than in person this November and that a majority of respondents favor policies expanding mail voting.  Our experimental findings show that respondents who read the scientific projections were more likely to prefer voting by mail, were more likely to trust that a mail ballot would be counted accurately, and were more likely to favor holding the election entirely by mail.  

Research Brief: Are Voters Polarized Along Party Lines About How to Run Elections During the COVID-19 Crisis?

Abstract. Are voters as polarized as political leaders when it comes to their preferences about how to cast their ballots in November 2020 and their policy positions on how elections should be run in light of the COVID-19 outbreak?  Prior research has shown little party divide on voting by mail, with nearly equal percentages of voters in both parties choosing to vote this way where it is an option.  Has a divide opened up this year in how voters aligned with the Democratic and Republican parties prefer to cast a ballot?  We address these questions by presenting the findings of an online survey of a nationally diverse sample of 5,612 eligible voters, fielded from April 8-10, with an embedded experiment providing treated respondents with scientific projections about the COVID-19 outbreak.  We find an eight-percentage point difference between Democrats and Republicans in their preference for voting by mail in the control group, but this party divide doubles in the treatment group.  We also find that exposure to scientific projections about the outbreak increases support for vote-by-mail legislation and confidence in vote-by-mail election integrity for both Democrats and Republicans. 

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“When Overlapping Directors Sit on Boards With Opposing Governance Policies”

Law.com:

A new study on corporate political transparency shows that at least 85 directors hold overlapping positions on two or more boards of companies that have different policies on the issue.

The Center for Political Accountability shared its study with Corporate Counsel, which tried to explore the dilemma facing directors. The center helps produce the CPA-Zicklin Index, which scores Standard & Poor’s 500 companies on their political transparency and accountability.

The 2019 index ranked companies in five tiers, with 20% of the highest scores in the top tier, and 20% of the lowest scores in the bottom tier. The score is primarily based on whether the company has a publicly stated policy on disclosing political spending, and how broad that policy is.

The new study looks at directors of the top-tier companies and identifies when they also sit on boards of bottom-tier companies.

For example, David Taylor is chairman of the board, president and CEO of Procter & Gamble Co. based in Cincinnati. P&G is a top-tier company on the index.

But Taylor also sits on the board of Delta Airlines Inc., which is a bottom-tier company, where he is joined by P&G director Francis “Frank” Blake, who is the nonexecutive chairman of Delta’s board. Neither Taylor nor Blake returned messages seeking comment.

Bruce Freed, president and co-founder of the center, said overlapping directors such as these may be “exposing their companies to serious risk.”

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“Looking for ‘A Few Good Clerks’”

New memo from the Justice Foundation for Civil and Environmental Rights:

During the coronavirus pandemic, defending the fundamental right to vote may require the brave actions of “A Few Good Clerks.”

The push toward mail balloting for the November election has focused on the potential power of governors to issue emergency orders. But a review of every state election law finds that county clerks in half of the states are not expressly prohibited from themselves deciding to issue mail ballots to every registered voter. If a few brave county clerks in critical states announce plans to issue mail ballots to every registered voter, other clerks and states will follow, potentially creating a wave. The actions of those county clerks likely will be reviewed in court prior to the election. This memo outlines the legal arguments they and voting rights advocates may present.

Sending mail ballots to registered voters by default is not politically viable in many states. Therefore, the second half of this memo outlines the emergency powers of governors to open polling places earlier than their state law allows. While all but seven states have some form of early voting, many of those statutory time periods are 10 to 15 days — and for one state as short as three days. To create the social and physical distancing required to limit spread of the coronavirus, states must open polling places at least one month before Election Day. Dispersing in-person voters across 30 days would relieve crowding at polling venues, offering voters a safe environment in which to cast their ballot. Voting advocates should push their governors to invoke their emergency powers to open polling locations by the first week of October. This memo outlines the governors’ potential powers — and limitations on those powers.

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“Protecting Elections from Disinformation: A Multifaceted Public-Private Approach to Social Media and Democratic Speech”

Yasmin Dawood has posted this draft on SSRN (forthcoming, Ohio State Technology Law Journal). Here is the abstract:

This Article argues for a multifaceted public-private approach to the challenge of protecting the electoral process from the harms of disinformation. Such an approach employs a suite of complementary strategies—including disclosure rules, political ad registries, narrow content-based regulations against false election speech, self-regulation by online platforms, norm-based initiatives, civic education, and media literacy. It also deploys a mix of regulatory styles, namely, legal regulation (regulation imposed by the state), self-regulation (regulation by private actors), and co-regulation (regulation through cooperation between private actors and public actors). This Article has shown how the approach in Canada is multifaceted in both of these respects. In addition to incorporating a wide range of tactics by both public and private actors, the Canadian approach has adopted a mix of regulatory styles. The Article also canvasses the advantages and drawbacks of each individual tactic.

In addition, this Article focuses on the dilemma posed by protecting the electoral process from disinformation while also protecting the freedom of speech. It argues that a multifaceted public-private approach allows for the trade-off between disinformation and free speech to be optimized. The combined and interactive effects of a multifaceted approach provide helpful protections against some of the harms of disinformation. More importantly, the adoption of these multifaceted public-private strategies signals the importance of electoral integrity to citizens thereby bolstering public trust in elections, a key ingredient of long-term democratic stability.

Looking forward to reading this!

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“Ohio Primary Raises New Election Worry: Rejected Provisional Ballots”

Steven Rosenfeld:

In addition to untold tens of thousands of mail-in ballots being delayed by postal delivery and possibly disqualified, thousands of provisional ballots may also be in play as Ohio’s verification process unfolds after Election Day—where they are the last votes to be counted. (In 2018, nearly 101,000 Ohioans cast provisional ballots, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission reported. Only California and New York cast more.)

For Ohio’s April 28 primary, mail-in ballots postmarked up to one day (April 27) before the election can arrive up to 10 days later (May 8) and still count. County election boards have one additional day (May 9) to validate provisional ballots before counting them.

Disqualifications and delays of hundreds of thousands of ballots could undermine the public’s acceptance of the outcome of the fall’s general election, the nation’s leading scholars in election law, politics and media said in a just-issued report coordinated and produced by Richard Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, law and political science professor.

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“Whether the Ballot You Mail Is Counted May Depend on Where You Vote”

ProPublica:

Voting by mail has become a partisan flashpoint during the coronavirus outbreak, with Democrats pushing to expand it and President Donald Trump claiming, without evidence, that mail-in voting is “corrupt.” But, as Wisconsin illustrates, the impact of vote by mail depends in part on how it is implemented.

Policies regarding postmark requirements, verifications of signatures and other ballot rules vary from one state or county to the next. In some states, a mailed ballot that would be accepted in one county or town may be discarded in another, potentially disenfranchising individuals or groups and undermining the constitutional principle of equal voting rights. If the pandemic persists, and November’s presidential election is conducted largely by mail, such inconsistencies could tip the outcome in swing states like Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission “tried to give clear guidance,” spokesperson Reid Magney said. “The decisions came down to individual boards of canvassers in 1,850 municipal offices looking at these things and making determinations.”

Magney said the state did not track how many ballots missing postmarks were accepted or rejected. “We know people are hungry for this data,” Magney said.

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“New Report: Election Officials’ Needs and Costs for Protecting 2020 Elections from Covid-19”

Release:

A new report released today by election security experts provides an in-depth look at the equipment, staffing, supplies, and other costs of administering elections this year that keep voters and election workers safe from the coronavirus while remaining open, accessible, secure, and fair. The authors of Ensuring Safe Elections: Federal Funding Needs for State and Local Governments During the Pandemic worked closely with election officials in five states with varied election systems to develop state-specific profiles of their expenses.

The CARES Act included $400 million in federal funding for state and local governments’ election needs. The total need of the five states featured in Ensuring Safe Elections is at least $414 million.

Experts at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, the R Street Institute, and the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security authored Ensuring Safe Elections. They profiled Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

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“California Republican Party suing state’s governor over ‘ballot harvesting’ ahead of special elections”

CBS:

The California Republican Party is suing Governor Gavin Newsom to prohibit the practice of ballot collecting or “ballot harvesting” during two upcoming special elections in the state, arguing it stands “in direct conflict” with social distancing guidelines and Newsom’s shelter-in-place mandate to slow the spread of the coronavirus

Two weeks ago California Republican Party chairwoman Jessica Patterson sent Newsom a letter asking him to halt the practice and clarify that his order “prohibits collection of ballots,” but she said Newsom did not respond.

“The governor has dodged his responsibility,” Patterson told CBS News. “We’re hoping the courts will compel him to clarify,” she added.

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Federal Court Slams Jill Stein’s Attempt to Decertify Certain Electronic Voting Machines for Use in Philadelphia in 2020 Elections

You can read the opinion here. It begins:

In moving to enforce the Agreement settling her 2016 lawsuit, failed presidential candidate Jill Stein asks me to bar the use of almost 4,000 voting machines, thus making it impossible for Philadelphia to participate in the 2020 presidential election. This is of a piece with the 2016 action itself: Stein’s eleventh-hour voting machine “hacking” allegations and request for a recount that would have disenfranchised some six million Pennsylvania voters. In both instances, Dr. Stein publicly announced that she seeks to promote election integrity. Yet, the Commonwealth suggest that she seeks to promote only herself. Pennsylvania’s computer expert testified credibly in 2016 that Stein’s allegations “are approximately as likely as the fact that androids from outer space are living amongst us and passing as humans.” (12/6/16 Hr’g Tr. 63:23-64:9.) Her allegations now— that the challenged voting machines are unreliable and thus violate the Settlement Agreement— are as baseless and irrational. I will deny her Motion.

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