Friday, November 07, 2014


Measuring voter turnout, effect of Real ID on registration, and more…

by Larry Geller

As I research “non-voting,” I’m aware that I’m coming at it cold. It’s not an area of my expertise or experience. So I’m grateful for the comments of those who are working in this area.

Since many people don’t read comments, I’ve reproduced Bart Dame’s comment attached to yesterday’s Are the voters or the political pundits the more apathetic? (11/6/2014). He clarifies how the voter turnout numbers should be interpreted. And it seems, the devil is very much in the details.

Check out Carmille Lim’s comment attached to the above article also.

If we are to rely on numbers to measure our rate of voter participation, especially if we want to compare our turnout to other state,s or if we want to monitor or turnout here compared to previous years, we need to make sure we are comparing apples with apples.

There are two main approaches to measure voter turnout. Both have serious defects. The most common way is to calculate the number of ballots cast as a percentage of registered voters. This approach has serious problems. Some states keep names on their voter rolls even if they have not voted in several years. This "dead wood" on the voter rolls makes turnout look bad. Some states actively encourage voter registration. Hawaii has made it very easy to register to vote via self-affirming Wikiwiki voter registration forms, motor voter registration, etc. Some states recruit voters in the high schools. Reliance on the traditional measure of voter turnout penalizes states who make voter registration easy.

The second approach, adopted as a way to (try to) overcome these problems, is to calculate turnout as a percentage of the "voter eligible population" (VEP). They use US Census data to determine the number of residents over the age of 18, minus the number of incarcerated felons. This overcomes problems caused by voter suppression, or voter registration suppression, which varies from state to state. This is the approach used by a George Mason University study which has appeared in news accounts. This methodology grossly under-reports Hawaii's turnout, because we have the highest percentage of non-resident military in the whole country. Our "VEP” is over-inflated by about 100,000 people, well over ten percent! No other state comes even close. Any news account which say Hawaii has the lowest turnout in the country relies upon this study and reflects lazy reporting.

There have been "solutions" proposed in the past for increasing turnout in. In 1978, the Hawaii constitution was amended to eliminate the partisan closed primary election. Advocates promised this would encourage turnout. The first election conducted on this basis was in 1980. Turnout had been declining prior to and after that "solution" was adopted. A second "solution" was to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. While this did increase the number of voters, it lowered voter turnout as a percentage of registered voters, as young people vote in much lower numbers than middle-aged and seniors.

Same day voter registration would appear to less likely to screw up the voter turnout percentage, since people would become registered voters and actually VOTE rather than just inflate the registered voter rolls. But I remain skeptical that it will actually do much to change who votes or boost the actual turnout over time. Younger voters and tenants are more likely to benefit from it. But even once they get registered, younger voters and tenants rarely vote. SO it appears their low rates of participation are not likely to change much with SDR. Also SDR will increase the workload at polling places, as well as the work of collecting and processing those forms. This, at a time when the Office of Elections in Hawaii, but also in virtually every locale across the country, is already overburdened on Election Day. Saying we will support more funds to pay for these extra costs is a nice, but empty gesture.

A much bigger obstacle to voting are the Real ID standards for drivers licenses and state IDs. Hawaii law does not require a picture ID to vote. We are better than those states where the GOP has passed Voter ID laws. But a picture ID meeting Real ID standards is still required to register to vote. And low-income people are much less likely to satisfy the Real ID standards. So the effect of the Republican voter suppression laws will gradually have its impact here, even if we have tried to avoid that impact at the polling place.

Common Cause, the LWV and other voter advocacy groups would be wise to pay attention to that problem now.

posted by Anonymous Bart Dame : November 7, 2014 at 8:59:00 AM HST


Hi Larry,

I'd like to make a small qualifier. "Voting Eligible Population" (VEP) as defined by the study, is Census Population above 18, minus incarcerated people and felons, also minus non-US citizens. I had omitted to deduction of non-citizens in my explanation.

An accurate VEP for Hawaii would have to also deduct about 98% of military personnel, as they have declared their legal residence elsewhere and are NOT legally "eligible" to vote in Hawaii unless they decide to declare their residence here.

The Federal courts have noted it is permissible for a state to base its reapportionment on a count of citizens of the state and that the Hawaii constitution's term "permanent resident" is equivalent to saying a "citizen of the state of Hawaii." The author of the study could have followed the approach of the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission and reduced the VEP accordingly. I contacted him a while ago and he admitted he was aware of the large military population in Hawaii produced distorted results. But he said all states have some distorting factor in how the VEP is calculated and he was not able to factor all those in. But he acknowledged Hawaii's distortion may be the greatest in the country.

I appreciate the desire of Hawaii-based media sources and advocates to try to find an objective means of comparing Hawaii's performance with that of other states. So rather than relying upon local statistics, it is understandable to seek out an authoritative, neutral national expert to provide a definitive answer.

But I would hope groups like the LWV, Common Cause, because of their interest in election-related matters, would serve as a corrective to some of the mistaken information. The Office of Elections, an agency which is often the target of attacks and complaints, has very knowledgable people on their staff, who can provide good information, if they are approached the way a journalist would seek to cultivate a source.

I repeat what I wrote above. Anytime you see a news source (or editorial) claiming Hawaii has the lowest voter turnout, they are relying upon faulty information.

The more serious problem, and it is only going to become a bigger problem as people's current driver licenses expire, is the difficulty in getting a picture ID which satisfies the "Read ID" standards. This problem will significantly suppress low-income voting. This problem also plays a role in helping people get out of homelessness. A survey of Honolulu's homeless has found a lot of them do not have proper identification, which makes it difficult for them to qualify for government programs to lift them out of their extreme poverty. The City of Honolulu--thank you, Kirk Caldwell and the City Council majority--has a deliberate policy of actively seeking to destroy what few possessions the homeless still have. This is the policy which goes by the Orwellian phrase, "compassionate disruption," a term which must have been developed by Republican strategist and spinmeister Frank Luntz.

Why do politicians feel clever when they embrace a perverse phrase like that? Do they really think it disguises what blooming a$$wipes they are? "Compassionate disruption" is an "ends justifies the means" or a "tough love" approach. They aim to cause enough pain to the homeless through persecution and harassment that they can drive them out of areas they naturally want to congregate. You know, places where there are other people, where they can watch interesting things, enjoy natural beauty and, hopefully, have some human contact with their fellow citizens as if they are "normal" human beings instead of outcast untouchables.

But I digress.

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