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Absentee Voting Data From the Primary

by: Grebner

Mon Aug 11, 2014 at 22:18:34 PM EDT


I've put together a set of charts showing how quickly absentee ballots were returned, along with an examination of the characteristics of people who failed to return their ballot at all.

My goals:

1) Convincing everybody that people do not generally return their absentee ballots right away - the supposed rule of thumb that half the ballots are returned in the first week is completely bogus.  And

2) A very important and overlooked GOTV target should be voters who request a ballot but never actually return it.  Among some groups of voters, 15% or even 25% of their votes are lost, because campaigns fail to understand that the battle for votes isn't over when the ballot is requested, but only when it's filled out and returned.

Updated August 12, showing when ballots were returned according to when they were sent. 

Grebner :: Absentee Voting Data From the Primary

Chart #1 shows that people who fail to return their ballots tend to be political independents / ticket-splitters. The strong partisans are driven by their clear opinions to make sure their voices are heard.  The conflicted middle of the spectrum includes a larger number of ditherers. 

 

Percentage of AV ballots not returned by August 5, 2014

By partisan orientation of voter

 DEM%    BALLOTS  NOT RETURNED

 0-4     156075      10%    

 5-14     42468      14%    

 15-24    20805      16%    

 25-34    15819      16%    

 35-44    14422      17%    

 45-54    15183      18%    

 55-65    15871      19%    

 65-74    17731      18%    

 75-84    19223      16%    

 85-94    30473      17%    

 95-100  143048      11%    

 

Chart #2 shows that failing to return their ballot is mainly a problem among people who don't have much experience with absentee voting, especially people who have NEVER previously voted absentee. This ought to be especially noted by the MDP which is constantly trying to convert Michigan's "absentee voting" laws into "early voting", by soliciting people who aren't traditional absentee voters to apply. Even if they succeed, they ought to keep the pressure on, or else much of their effort will prove to be in vain.

  

Percentage of ballots not returned by August 5, 2014

By number of previous absentee ballots cast

       COUNT  NOT RETURNED

    0  18043   29%    

    1  27734   21%    

    2  27701   19%    

    3  24465   17%    

    4  22734   17%    

    5  21478   16%    

    6  20471   15%    

    7  19581   14%    

    8  19540   13%    

    9  18738   12%    

   10  17822   12%    

   11  16559   11%    

   12  15819   10%    

   13  14964   10%    

   14  14480   10%    

   15  13812   10%    

   16  12946    9%    

   17  12628    9%    

   18  12342    9%    

   19  12091    9%    

   20  11888    8%    

   21  11867    8%    

   22  11804    8%    

   23  11689    8%    

   24  12162    7%    

   25  12012    6%    

   >25 55748    6%    

 

Chart #3 shows that returning the absentee ballot to be counted is an inverse U-shaped curve, with both younger and very old voters failing to return their ballots.  Among the very elderly, of course, the issue is likely to be declining health among people who were previously completely dependable.  Among the youngsters, the problem is more likely to be lack of experience with AV ballots, and lack of interest and/or knowledge about the election.

Both of those problems can be substantially reduced by applying money and volunteers to the problem.  And knowing the shape of the curve can help free up the needed resources, since they aren't much needed among voters aged 62-80, who make up the bulk of absentee voters. 

Percentage of ballots not returned by August 5, 2014

By number decade of birth.


BORN     COUNT NOT RETURNED

1900's      14    21%    

1910's    4242    18%    

1920's   62904    13%    

1930's  147536    10%    

1940's  182319    11%    

1950's   61674    16%    

1960's   17525    23%    

1970's    7179    27%    

1980's    4554    28%    

1990's    3169    27%    


 

Finally, chart #4 shows that relatively few ballots were returned promptly; in reality the returns started slow, and picked up week-by-week as the election approached.

Part of this pattern might be explained by Prop 1, whose language was a model of murkiness.  But the same pattern appears in almost every even-year August and November election, because there are generally enough complexities to force the conscientious to phone around and ask for advice.  If it isn't a tangled tax proposal, it's a primary for Probate Judge, or a Library District renewal. 

 

Date Ballots were returned

DATE     COUNT  

06/18     109   

06/19     257   

06/20     285   

06/23    1053   

06/24     997   

06/25    1190   

06/26    1309   

06/27    2078   

06/28     110   

06/30    5519   

07/01    5416   

07/02    6329   

07/03    5316   

07/05     125   

07/06     114   

07/07   13457   

07/08   11971   

07/09   11467   

07/10   12397   

07/11   11623   

07/12     398   

07/14   22388   

07/15   18606   

07/16   18140   

07/17   15380   

07/18   11275   

07/19     454   

07/20     230   

07/21   19572   

07/22   15981   

07/23   15824   

07/24   14438   

07/25   12521   

07/26     701   

07/27     194   

07/28   21342   

07/29   23206   

07/30   21490   

07/31   21470   

08/01   22831   

08/02   16019   

08/03     638   

08/04   44622   

08/05   22655   

 

Chart #5 (added 8/12/2014) shows when ballots were returned, according to when they were mailed out.  Note that many of the ballots requested during the final three weeks were actually picked up at the Clerks's offices by voters, rather than being requested by mail.  A substantial portion of those ballots were marked by the voter and returned to the Clerk without ever leaving the office.  Obviously, such ballots shouldn't be taken into account when designing a campaign's contact program.

Date       Date

Ballot     Ballot      

Sent to    Returned  

Voter      by Voter   Count

6/1-6/28   6/1-6/28     7465

6/1-6/28   6/29-7/5    20873

6/1-6/28   7/ 6-7/12   29827

6/1-6/28   7/13-7/19   34959

6/1-6/28   7/20-7/26   27498

6/1-6/28   7/27-8/2    36260

6/1-6/28   8/3-8/5     17942

6/1-6/28   not retrnd  14097


6/29-7/5   6/29-7/5     1882

6/29-7/5   7/ 6-7/12   23274

6/29-7/5   7/13-7/19   25282

6/29-7/5   7/20-7/26   19119

6/29-7/5   7/27-8/2    22690

6/29-7/5   8/3-8/5     11431

6/29-7/5   not retrnd   8723


7/ 6-7/12  7/ 6-7/12    8227

7/ 6-7/12  7/13-7/19   23034

7/ 6-7/12  7/20-7/26   19293

7/ 6-7/12  7/27-8/2    21706

7/ 6-7/12  8/3-8/5     10032

7/ 6-7/12  not retrnd   8613


7/13-7/19  7/13-7/19    2875

7/13-7/19  7/20-7/26    9535

7/13-7/19  7/27-8/2    11248

7/13-7/19  8/3-8/5      4956

7/13-7/19  not retrnd   3349


7/20-7/26  7/20-7/26    5151

7/20-7/26  7/27-8/2    16070

7/20-7/26  8/3-8/5      5969

7/20-7/26  not retrnd   3382


7/27-8/2   7/27-8/2    19120

7/27-8/2   8/3-8/5     13664

7/27-8/2   not retrnd   4696


8/3-8/5    8/3-8/5      4268

8/3-8/5    not retrnd    223


 

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Excellent! Good stuff. N/t (0.00 / 0)


Nothing is easier than solving a problem on the back of the poor. People who don't have lobbyists or clout.

Very interesting (0.00 / 0)
About this:
Finally, chart #4 shows that relatively few ballots were returned promptly; in reality the returns started slow, and picked up week-by-week as the election approached.
Do you have any data on when ballots were requested-- or, better yet, is it possible to come up with some number for the time each ballot was in the hands of each voter?

From the data you posted above, we see that most people don't return their ballots until right before the election. But I'd be interested in seeing if a lot of them just requested their absentee ballot late in the campaign (an average turn-around time of, say, a week), versus sitting on a ballot through the whole month of July before voting.


Most people apply at least a month before the election (4.00 / 1)
The data is easy to get, but hard to put into a useable form.  I've made a huge, 40 x 40 chart, showing for each day's received applications, when or if the ballot was returned.  That chart makes the same point I've made here in a simplified form.

The great majority of applications are received in June, more than a month before the election.  The reason is that the local Clerks mail out blank applications in bulk, which triggers typical voters to fill them out and return them, since there's no thinking involved.  Then, a few days after that flood, the ballots become available almost simultaneously around the state, and are all mailed out in a period of just a few days.

Maybe 20% of the ballot requests dribble in, whether on forms mailed by the Clerks or obtained in other ways, through July.  Many of those ballots are cast immediately, because they're requested in person at the Clerks' offices by people who are leaving on vacation and swing by City Hall to take care of their political obligations, just before dropping the dog at the kennel.

I'll pin down some of these numbers more precisely later today and post an update.


[ Parent ]
All interesting.... (0.00 / 0)
Chart 4 is the most immediately applicable to the way we campaign to absentees. Will be sharing/referencing this.

Mark, do you have a rough idea -- (0.00 / 0)
for the time-related data,#4 and #5 ---

if there are any differences in the general vs primary?

We know that the primary electorate is a self-selected subset of the general electorate, and hence generally more politically aware then the general electorate. Does that mean that the general absentees take longer, and perhaps have a higher non-return rate, than primary absentees? Or does the positive step of having requested a ballot cancel out any difference?


Grebner tracked absentees in 2008 (0.00 / 0)
in the weeks and days leading up to the election, and after the election. He also covered that year's August primary.

Great Lakes, Great Times, Great Scott

[ Parent ]
It's good to have people who remember stuff. (4.00 / 1)
Thanks for posting the previous writings.  I've never attempted a comprehensive comparison of all the various types of elections to tease out subtle themes, but I can summarize my impression.

First, no matter what is on the ballot, people don't rush their ballots back to the Clerk.  Absentee voters are generally retirees, and they seem to relish the process of voting, rather than thinking of it as a burdensome task.

Second, the more stuff is on the ballot, especially baffling stuff like Prop 1, or a slate of candidates for the local Library Board, the slower the vote comes in.  That is, if the choice presented by the ballot is very simple and one that's easy to form an opinion, the returns are somewhat faster.

Applying these guesses to the coming election - with its clutch of wolf hunting proposals, candidates for various judgeships, school boards, Wayne State Governors, and such - I think you'll see ballots come back slight more slowly than they did in August.


[ Parent ]

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