On voter confidence

There was one more interesting aspect to that poll of Harris County from last week, and it had to do with how confident voters were that the vote they cast would be counted. This KUHF story goes into that result.

A new KUHF/KHOU poll shows that black voters aren’t as confident as other voters that their vote will be counted accurately.


Rice University Political Science Professor Bob Stein, who conducted the poll, says confusion and possible anger over voter ID could be fueling the lower level of assurance.

“African-Americans here are actually considerably less confident that their vote will be counted accurately than other African-Americans throughout the country, with the exception of states who’ve had this controversy over photo IDs.”

Stein says the difference between the KUHF/KHOU poll and national polls is the level of confidence African-American voters expressed. While nationally 40-45 percent of black voters are very confident that their vote will be counted accurately. Stein says the numbers are different for those voters polled in Harris County.

“Among African-Americans only about 36% are very confident, compared to 50% white and 44% Hispanic.”

Here are the relevant tables from the topline data:

Dr. Stein asked me for my feedback on this, and I replied as follows:

Interesting stuff. From a Dem perspective, I would add two things that likely add to the perception of one’s vote not being counted:

1. In my experience, Dems have a much higher level of distrust of electronic voting machines. Some of that is lingering paranoia and conspiracy-mongering from Ohio 2004, and some of it is the very legitimate concern that these machines aren’t terribly secure and could well be compromised without anyone knowing it. The fact that every cycle there seems to be a story about some well-connected Republican having an ownership stake in a company that produces these machines, as is the case this year with Tagg Romney, adds to this level of distrust.

2. Every time something happens that causes a problem with voting, or that results in misinformation about voting, it seems to affect people of color in a vastly disproportionate amount. See the recent debacle with the “dead voter” purge here, and the recent story in Arizona about the wrong date for Election Day being provided in Spanish-language materials. Add in the various official and unofficial efforts to suppress minority voting – voter ID, the King Street Patriots’ “poll watchers”, efforts to curb early voting in Ohio, etc etc etc – and it’s easy to see why some folks feel like their vote is discounted.

Almost as if on cue, we had this story in Friday’s Chron:

State election officials repeatedly and mistakenly matched active longtime Texas voters to deceased strangers across the country – some of whom perished more than a decade ago – in an error-ridden effort to purge dead voters just weeks before the presidential election, according to a Houston Chronicle review of records.

Voters in legislative districts across Texas with heavy concentrations of Hispanics or African-Americans were more often targeted in that flawed purge effort, according the Chronicle’s analysis of more than 68,000 voters identified as possibly dead.

It’s unclear why so many more matches were generated in some minority legislative districts. One factor may be the popularity of certain surnames in Hispanic and historically black neighborhoods.

That’s as may be, and as noted before there were Anglo voters and known Republicans affected by this as well. But still, there are only so many times that this sort of thing can happen before people stop believing it to be a coincidence or an innocent mistake. Texans for Public Justice argued last week that this was anything but an innocent mistake, as they accused Andrade of deliberately trying to suppress the vote. You can read the report and come to your own conclusions, but again I’m not surprised by the poll numbers. I’m sure there are other reasons I didn’t come up with. Maybe this is an anomaly, maybe it’s a small sample size problem, but it’s worth keeping an eye on, because people who don’t think their vote counts are less likely to vote. What do you think about this?

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3 Responses to On voter confidence

  1. Brent says:

    I’m glad you mentioned the electronic voting machines. I always feel a little unnerved when the final screen comes up on our Harris County machines saying Votes Submitted (or whatever it says). I have to trust the machine and the software that this is true, and I know how machines and software can have glitches. I’m not talking conspiracies, just random machine errors. When I hit ‘enter’, I want to receive a paper receipt with my votes on it. Let me look it over and drop it in a strongbox for use in a recount, and I will feel much better about my vote being counted.

  2. Mainstream says:

    There is plenty of paranoia to go around. I have encountered white voters who are thinking of voting to re-elect President Obama because they are worried that if President Obama loses there will be race riots. After 2008, I ran into a group praying that Obama would not declare martial law and become a dictator, cancelling all future elections. But then, I view your drumbeat about pollwatchers as bordering on the paranoid, too.

    I have seen enough cheating and just incomptence at the polls over the years that I think every precinct should have a couple of pollwatchers, and that groups like the League of Women Voters should recruit them.

  3. I have not been confident that my vote is correctly taken since Harris County went to electronic voting.

    An un-audit-able system is not a trustworthy one. There should be a paper receipt that the voter receives and places in a lock box. It need not be used to tally the election, only to provide auditing capabilities if they are needed.

    You don’t need to be an untrusting Ludite or a conspiracist to want to have easily audit-able, verifiable election.

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