Between the numbers

Yesterday PEW released a report on the state of California’s elections.  It ranked California 49th of 50 states.  The problem with the analysis is that it criticizes California for not making it easier for people to vote while dinging the state in its ranking for the things California has done to make it easier for people to vote.

For example it hits California for having a relatively high number of mail ballots go unreturned.  California used to have a much higher return rate.  What happened?  Government incompetence or corruption?  Nope, the state passed and adopted permanent mail voting.  Before you had to apply for a mail ballot each time.  Shockingly the people who bothered to apply every single election tended to be more likely to return their ballots than people who applied once years ago and keep getting a ballot automatically.  Does PEW really think California should go the way other states have and make mail voting harder just to improve an artificial ranking?

As another example, PEW dings the state for its high rate of provisional ballots cast.  Again, California used to have a much higher provisional rate. What happened?  California doesn’t know how to count votes?  Nope.  California has systematically changed its laws and practices to make it easier for voters to cast a provisional ballot.  For example, it used to be that if you went to the wrong precinct and cast a provisional ballot your vote wouldn’t be counted.  So poll workers told voters they had to drive to a different location to cast a regular ballot.  Now, if you show up at the wrong precinct in your county your ballot will still be counted.  So more provisional ballots are cast.  But the voter experience is improved.

Finally, any ranking that puts Florida with an average wait time of 45 minutes 21 spots ahead of California with an average under 6 has something wrong with it.