How America Ruined Its Own Election System, and How to Fix It

This is a topic I’ve been hoping to someday write extensively on, and the truth is I’m not quite ready to do so. But I have an observation that is so startling and so much in line with my thinking on this issue that I thought I’d share it as a way of introducing the topic, as I continue to think about it and collect data.

There are a lot of things right and wrong with our election system, but I’m going to propose that a particular problem, if solved, would make many of the other problems go away.

People are not in the habit of voting, and therefore, don’t get into the habit of voting. Many think (correctly, actually) that some elections matter more than others, and they use that as a handy excuse to not bother to vote. We see this clearly in the off and on pattern of voting during presidential vs. “off” years. See? We even call them “off years.” Take a year off! Don’t bother to vote!

If there was more equivalence between election years — if most of them were considered important for some reason — then more of the years would be higher turnout years, and those years would be feeders, potentially, for later years, so over time the overall turnout would go up and up, rather than up-down-up-down. In other words, our current system involves alternating between taking steps forward and taking steps backwards, rather than forward progression.

But this was not always true. This is a bit complex, but I’ll give you a provisional explanation. In the old days, such as the 19th century, state elections were much more important than they are today, to national politics. If you were running for President, it mattered a lot which party was in control in each state, and the composition of the senate was controlled by state politics, not voting (legislatures sent US Senators to Washington, not voters). That meant that state elections were very much part of the national election process. This was even more important, and complex, when two other thing were true. First, there were more than two parties, even if most states really had only two going at once. Second, the parties were not perfectly aligned with platform. So, for instance, prior to the Civil War, southern Democrats were mainly pro-slavery, while northern Democrats were split on slavery and their main interest was something else. For several decades a century, also, we tend to have a party turnover, where one party eats itself (and is ultimately finished off by other forces) while a different party takes over. (This may be happening now.) During those periods, the two party system is obviously a three party system for a while.

Between the greater heterogeneity in political orientation of parties, with that variance structured by state and region, and the importance of state elections to the presidential election process and the Senate, people watched the state elections outside of their own states, and within the states, much more closely.

This all probably made each election year more interesting to everybody than it is now, but a second factor, much more important but potentiated by the aforementioned factors, also pertained. Today, most Governor’s races are done in a four year cycle, with over half (36) being during the so-called “midterm” year (two years offset from the POTUS election) and most (but not all) of the rest being during the POTUS cycle.

This guarantees that almost all governor-level election activity is done on a two year cycle nationally. The POTUS election and the governor’s elections are therefore in sync with each other, as well as with Congress. This is because the US Senate elections are, effectively, every two years as they are never held on “off years” and the US House is voted on every two years, again, in sync with POTUS.

For this reason, every two years there is something to do, every two years there is almost nothing to do. And, those two year periods, synced as they are with POTUS, are divided into two parts, POTUS years and midterm years.

For this reason, a double-digit percentage of the voters get three years off and a similar number get two years off, by their own way of thinking about what is important. So hardly anybody goes and votes one, two, or three out of four years.

This pattern of being almost perfectly in sync with POTUS and Congress is new. Many states, in the 19th century, had three year governor terms, or two. There have been states with four year terms but on odd years (at present I think there is only one of these).

Given a) the greater importance, as a national story, of state elections, and b) the nearly chaotic pattern of elections, where there was alway something going on, meant that the difference between one year and another was not so great and this, because of the effect I propose above, meant an overall higher turnout.

Starting some time after 1900, state by state (and probably in cities as well, for mayor, etc.) elections lined up in the two year pattern, and terms for governor changed to four years across the board. As this happened, US citizen participation in elections fell.

Consider this graph, from PEW:

The overall pattern shows a huge increase in voter turnout from the early days to the Federal era. That is not the subject of discussion here. Subsequently we experience a high rate during presidential election and a lower but still high rate during midterm years. The midterm years during this period are higher than some presidential years now, and represent an 85% or so fraction of the presidential years. Then we see a drop, from around 1890 to the 1930s, followed by a new pattern with two features. First, the overall participation is way down, with midterm elections being well below 50%, and second, the drop during midterms is greater, with midterms being about 66% of presidential years.

I think both of these patterns can be explained, at least in part, by the normalization of elections to be on a 4-year/2-year cycle synced nationally.

There, I connect details of timing of election with a major overarching pattern, using a beautiful hypothesis. What remains is testing the hypothesis in several cases where we can see the details, to see if it works out as expected. I have one case for you. The following graph shows Minnesota primary turnout over time for presidential and midterm years.

This is the observation I stumbled on last night that prompted me to write this post. Here we see the large binary oscillation between POTUS and midterm years, as expected, from the early 1960s to the present. We aslso see that over this time there is a steady decrease in participation. The break point, 1960, when the pattern changes, is the year Minnesota went form a two year to a four year governor term. Boom.

We also see a diminishing in the up and down cycle since 1994, and some interesting anomalies. That is for discussion another time. At this point, we can say that with respect to this hypothesis — syncing elections ruined turnout — that the center holds.

One solution to this problem would be to unsync the elections. I can think of several ways to do this.

1) Keep the two year term for the US House, but give half of them one three year term once, so about half the house races are happening every year.

2) Move around the Senators so there are senatorial races every year.

3) Move all gubernatorial races to one of the other odd year that is not a POTUS or Midterm year.

I predict that if we did all of that, participation in our elections would spring to 80%. Well, not spring. Move. It would take a decade, but it would get there.

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42 thoughts on “How America Ruined Its Own Election System, and How to Fix It

  1. Say what? None of your solutions deal with the problem. All you are doing is moving the low vote from one off-year to three off-years. You’re better off suggesting two year governor terms. What is the result in Vermont, which I think has this?
    Also, the 26th Amendment added a large cohort that didn’t vote as much. Looking state by state to see if giving women the vote lowered things would be interesting too.

    1. The suggested solutions add elections of interest to both midterm and off years, as they used to be. I’m not suggesting two year governor terms because that is a bad idea for other reasons, but that would certainly do it.

      Regarding the 26th amendment, that is true and, as I noted, outside the scope of this discussion. However, it has nothing to do with the binary pattern. Yet, it is an issue, and there is a way to address that: Lower the voting age even more and have voting and civics classes tied together in high schools. By the time someone leaves high school they should have seen a voting both four times, two times as an election helper, two times as a voter.

      I have also looked at women. It is hard to see or document an early pattern. Since 1980, women have been responsible for having voter turnout be less embarrassingly low; more women vote than men.

      But again, the oscillation is the signal of synced elections. See the graphs.

    2. You haven’t added anything to the midterm years. Indeed my solution doesn’t add anything to the midterm years, except for about a dozen states that have governor’s races synced with presidential years.
      In every 12 year cycle right now, there will be House races in 3 of 3 midterm years, and Senate races in 2 of 3.
      You are reducing this, and somehow this will increase voting?

  2. Three states, VA and NJ have gubernatorial elections in the year following a presidential election (last election 2017), and three states, KY, MS, and LA, have gubanatorial elections in the year preceding a presidential election (last election in 2015).

    In VA, the House of Delegates have 2-year terms, with elections in odd years, and the state senate serves 4 years terms and are elected in the years preceding a presidential election. So in VA there are national or state-level elections every November, in the cycle:

    0: President, House, Senate*;
    1: Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, State House of Delegates;
    2: House, Senate*;
    3: State Senate, State House of Delegates.

    I don’t know whether this translates into higher voter turnout or not.

    I used to know a Democratic Party activist in VA who complained about this cycle, claiming it burned out activists because as soon as one election was over, they had to begin working towards the next, while in states where state offices were elected on even years, in sync with the national elections, the activists had every other year off from working on an upcoming election.

    * Of course, there are not Senatorial elections every even year, but when they do occur, this is the pattern.

  3. After implementing a secure national ID protected by a blockchain-type scheme, voting should be by internet, mobile device included. In-person voting with secure national ID card would still be allowed.

    Regarding security, financial institutions, corporations and the government (including FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.) don’t seem to have sufficient incentive to prevent hacking and other security breaches. Perhaps there would be more incentive to implement true high security systems if US voting was done on the international public internet.

    A payment for voting could be included for incentive. The payment could be made via a tax credit or addition to any government payment in effect for the individual (Social Security, Welfare, food stamps, government wages,etc.)

    1. I completely agree with the payment. It should be an expectation of citizens that they vote, and when they meet this expectation, they can have their code number to enter into their tax form for a $150 tax credit, or simply have it applied automatically if the voting records are hooked up.

      I don’t like internet voting or electronic voting at this time. A major corporation or government agency never had this happen:

      “Well, we’ve finished installing your security system, and it is the best in the world. Some time between a few weeks from now and a few years from now, you can expect hackers funded by Russian oligarchs to break into your system and steal all of the data, and you won’t find out the data have been stolen for anywhere from days to years later, and will never be quite sure how they did it. Have a nice day, we’ll send the bill!”

      Stealing data is a a crime that seems to have a great payoff and zero chance of punishment (has anyone ever been caught for this?)

      Election hacking is different, and probably harder in some ways and easier in other ways, but the potential incentives are huge. Like, you get to take over the entire world.

      On the other hand, voting should be pretty easy to do. People who claim to love democracy also insist that early voting is great, but really, it is not. There are many cases where a vote cast 30 days prior to an election would be changed by the voter. But some reasonable number of days prior is fine, and having the actual in person voting done over three days or so, and having actual voting day be a holiday, all that, is good.

      It should be possible to vote by machine using carefully designed paper ballot based machines at convenient locations during voting days and the week or two before.

      Until I’m convinced that on line voting is truly safe, it should be like absentee voting was in the old days: Only allowed for selected individuals where it is really the only way they can vote.

      I agree on the incentives of the agencies. I think part of that is also the difficulty. You would think there would be incentives to catch illegal hackers in general, but they don’t. Is this because it is too hard, and you don’t want to be the agency that implements a program promising to do something that can’t happen?

  4. Agree that all financial institutions and government agencies should be total secure for several years before online voting is implemented.

    When implemented, online voting could show the instantaneous results. It would be interesting to allow one to change one’s vote right up to the deadline that would be the same for all in a national election.

    If totally secure, why not allow real-time betting on the side with a national lottery pick only for voters?

    1. That would probably be a far shot better than ranked choice voting, which makes the process incomprehensible and very difficult!

  5. The best thing is to make election days on a friday-Saturday with both dazes a national paid day off work!! If I;m worried about the food in the house and the rent, voting means nothing as neither party is going to do much for me!
    Oh! I personally don’t have this problem!

  6. I have a question about your second graph, about MN voter turnout.

    The Minnesota Secretary of State website (here), under the “general elections” tab, says that the turnout as a proportion of estimated eligible voters varies from a high of around 77% to a low of around 48%. Your chars seems to have the voter turnout ranging from a high of about 40% to a low of less than 10%.

    Thus, for 2016, the MNSoS website says the turnout as a percentage of eligible voters is 74.72%, while your chart seems to say it was somewhere around 7.5%. Even under the assumption that your figures are in turnout based on total population rather than estimated eligible voters, as the 2016 population was about 5.52 million, as there were 2,968,281 voters, about almost 54% of the population voted.

    See also this story.

    1. Sorry, I left out a key word. These are MN Primary voters. I had been looking at primary stats for a couple of reasons including the idea that they are probably a more sensitive indicator of activism. The general election stats show the same pattern, however.

  7. Agree about no internet voting, and use paper ballots, and limit absentee.

    People overreacted to hanging chads, putting in all sorts of electronic voting.
    End result was lots of government money went to one of George W Bush’s supporters(Diebold).
    Then some more money went to other supporters as Diebold was castigated as compromised.
    They make lots of ATM machines, the type of expertise people might want.

  8. Have you considered what happens in other countries? When elections are held too often, voting goes down. In Denmark parliamentary elections are scheduled every four years and the voting percentage is over 80%. Local elections are held at other times and the voting percentage in our most recent elections was 71%. One reason people vote here is that we believe our votes matter and won’t be wasted. Another is that we’re all encouraged to vote. Everyone who can vote is sent a voting card with the date and location of the assigned polling place.

    The American system’s main problem is that it was designed for a reality that never existed and is totally out of step with the way things are today. Today’s reality is that opposing viewpoints are represented by political parties and citizens organize themselves in or identify with those parties, and this kind of organization is fundamentally at odds with the democratic pretensions of a winner takes all system. Without some kind of compensatory arrangement that secures urban and rural proportionality and ensures against speculating in wasted votes, as exemplified by gerrymandering, the American system will be viewed as a rigged system that skews the result and doesn’t encourage voting.

    By the way, in some countries voting is obligatory, and not voting is fined.

    1. I have looked at other countries. That is important to do. Here I’ve only looked at one phenomenon.

      I’m not sure if the comparison between countries is going to be safe for making direct conclusions but it is important to do. Political culture across the world varies a great deal. I would first want to, say, try to match European countries in some way with states to see if one or another cultural pattern has an influence on (or reverse, or common causal link) voting patterns, so we can seek a way to calibrate.

      My observation is pretty clear, I think: making only one in four elections really count, one in two kinda count, is temporally so closely correlated nationally, and as we see here, at the state level (one state so far) that I think it was a factor in the 20th century decline. It is going to take a lot to talk me out of that; Specifically, a better explanation for that exact phenomenon.

      Whether this can be reversed by simulating the 19th century is a bit trickier.

      I do think that the majority of Americans are, right now, for the first time ever or in decades, truly ready to re-examine our system of election.

  9. America Used to have get-out-the-vote campaigns which Boy Scouts distributed reminders door-knobs and put up posters local businesses. That stopped when somebody noticed that higher or lower turnouts tend to help one party or the other. That made encouraging a higher turnout a partisan activity!

    1. Indeed, general voter suppression is considered a form of election manipulation, and it boosts Republicans. It is a key reason so many states are red or purple. Probably more important than gerrymandering.

  10. Since this blog touches on political issues frequently, I would wager that most readers vote.

    Most people who do not vote do not read blogs such as this one.

    I have no solution to this problem – but just wanted to point it out.

    I totally agree with the paper ballot.

    I do not agree with paying people to vote.

    I used to think we should fine people who do not vote, but am now not so sure that is a good idea either.

    On balance, I think we should encourage people to vote, it is your civic duty and so forth – but not reward or penalize failure to vote.

    1. RickA, the idea may appeal to you more if you rephrase it. We are going to use market forces to help people do the right thing.

  11. Greg – that does sound better (grin).

    But say you could get to 100% (or close).

    Do you really want 30 or 40 (or whatever %) of uninformed people voting?

    I am not sure that would be much of an improvement, either for the democrats or republicans.

    I admit I am stereotyping – in that I am assuming people who don’t vote are uninformed, and I am sure that is not true for every non-voter.

    What other civic responsibilities should we pay for?

    Should we pay people to obey the law?

    Should we pay people to pay their taxes?

    I am just not so sure paying people to register and vote is such a good idea.

    I could be wrong – but that is my opinion (at the present time).

    1. RickA, 1) I do not assume that the degree of ignorance goes up or down when participation changes, and it is probably always pretty low. After all, people are voting for Republicans all the time and that is generally acting against their interests and the interests of their state, the country, and democracy in general. 2) Any move to increase voting turnout would probably come with natural increase in understanding of the process and issues, but in any event 3) there should be a concerted effort to do so.

      The slippery slope argument you make is silly and irrelevant. Having a simple tax credit incentive to encourage participation in democracy as part of a program to stop voter suppression by Republicans and others, and inform people better of issues is an excellent idea. Any efforts to better inform and engage voters pays off directly on the basis of turnout. Adding the modest incentive enhances that payoff.

      I would add this: Earmark $150 per eligible voter. Take all the remainders, representing those that don’t vote, and divide it up into 50-something lotteries representing each state and territory, and put some in one big lottery. When you vote, you get your tax credit AND your lottery ticket, winner take all.

      VotaBucks!

    2. Say 150M eligible voters, that is 22.5B. That is a lot of money. The voters paying for people to vote.

      I think your assumption is questionable – especially if you pay or force people to vote. If you make it illegal not to vote (as some countries do), I think it is very safe to assume the level of ignorance will go up. Ditto for paying people to vote.

      But that is just my opinion, and you are certainly entitled to your own.

      I find your assumption that democrats are “right” and republicans are acting against their interests and the interests of their state, the country and democracy highly amusing.

      I am sure many republicans would say the same against democrats – that is what partisans do.

      Me – I believe people always act in their own interests and what they perceive to be the interests of their state, the country and democracy in general. It is just that not all people agree on what the interests are or what is best for themselves, their state or their country.

      That is why multiple parties have formed.

      Anyway, I look forward to 2018 and reading your posts and the intriguing comments of your readers.

      Keep up the good work!

  12. Greg: I agree on the incentives of the agencies. I think part of that is also the difficulty. You would think there would be incentives to catch illegal hackers in general, but they don’t. Is this because it is too hard, and you don’t want to be the agency that implements a program promising to do something that can’t happen?

    It is hard to identify illegal hackers because they have ways to cover their tracks. Also it is generally impossible to prosecute those identified if they are in foreign countries.

    The solution, I think, is better defenses. It’s almost certainly true that sophisticated hackers can break into most systems, just as no home can keep out a determined burglar. But well-designed defenses can block most intrusions.

    Having read The Cuckoo’s Egg, I think a big part of the problem, even today, is simple carelessness: using weak passwords, not installing patches promptly, etc.

  13. Direct internet voting over a period of a few days (no electoral college or voting districts) would take away the effects of gerrymandering, winner-takes-all schemes and intimidation at the polls.

    I would like to see direct individual voting on major federal bills.

    I think a significant issue is that the general populace has little control over the individuals who are selected to run for office.

    1. The problem with voting on bills is that the masses can’t actually be trusted. Not entirely their fault, but generally they don’t know enough. I could see multiple bills competing where the worst one got chosen because it had some feature that is easily marketed.

      I think to see this we can look at states like California, where voters can actually create laws with zero input from the legislature. Some of the stuff they’ve done is great, some not.

      But, having voters somehow more involved in the process, directly, would likely keep people awake and involved more. Maybe something like American Idol, but for bills.

    2. Joe:

      This is a very big idea.

      It would require major changes to the constitution.

      We would be going from a representative democracy to a pure democracy.

      It could be done, but it is so hard to change the constitution that I don’t see it happening.

      We would probably have to have a constitutional convention to attempt this, and then who knows what would happen.

      The tyranny of the majority could be scary.

  14. Greg,
    I though there were studies that showed that the crowd – although largely composed of under informed idiots – usually came up with the correct collective answer to problems.

    RickA,
    I wonder which is worst: the tyranny of the majority or the tyranny of the minority.

    1. “usually came up with the correct collective answer to problems”

      That claim was all the rage for a while, but lacks substance

  15. There were a bunch of studies, but they showed something a bit different. Given a problem with few steps that anyone could make a guess at, if you ask enough people the average of all the wrong answers will be right or close.

    So you can ask, “How many movies has Kevin Spacey Made” and get a good answer, but if you ask “which provisions should we include in a bill regulating interstate commerce of goods affected by international trade agreements” you’ll get gobblygook.

    There are a number of ways this is done, as noted, in states, and there may be some wisdom to it if done for certain things.

    I like to refer to the Constitutional amendments we’ve had in Minnesota. When I first moved here, there was an amendment that would guarantee the basic right to hunt and gather for every citizen. The only commentary from experts I could find indicated that the experts were baffled. I asked people, hundreds of people (as a scholar of hunting and gathering) what it meant, why it was on the ballot, and not one person knew.

    The amendment passed with a very strong majority.

    More recently we had an amendment that would create a citizens panel to set the salaries of the members of the legislators. During the lead up to the election, again, the experts confessed not having any really good idea of how this would work or exactly what it was for, though each expert had a guess. The guesses mostly contradicted each other.

    The amendment passed with a strong majority

    Subsequently, it turns out, if I am not mistaken, that a large number of people assumed the citizen panel would CUT the salaries to really low, and another large number of people assumed the panel would RAISE the salaries.

    When the panel came into being, it raised the salaries significantly. The legislature responded with a bill that cut funding for salaries to the citizen’s constitutional decision could not be implemented. I don’t know if that was the source of the idea the Governor later had, to veto funding for the legislature until they did certain things he wanted. Anyway, he did that, and this time the Legislature complained that the salaries were not subject to process, even though they had used process to go against a constitutionally mandated change. The courts ultimately sided with the Governor, and if it ever goes to court (which it will not) they will side with the citizens panel.

    The point is, introducing and voting on amendments to the Minnesota Constitution is roughly like a Monte Python skit.

    1. There is more to be concerned about — the person currently pegged to head the 2020 Census is on record as being in favor of racial gerrymandering — he’s the ass-clown responsible for North Carolina’s redistricting attempt to marginalize and suppress black voters. That, coupled with the DOJ’s attempts at tampering with questions on the census and the lack of funding for it, shouldn’t make anyone with an understanding of the Census’ purpose and/or correct statistical methodology very nervous.

  16. I think you may be over-generalizing from non-representative and somewhat misleading data.

    The primary data you are using is not very representative of general election turnout. For example, using the MN Secertary of State’s numbers, the average turnout for the six primary elections from 1950 to 1960 is 32.11%, while that for the most six recent primary elections, 2006 to 2016 is 5.71%, or about a 82% drop.

    However, for the general elections, the average turnout for the 1950-1960 elections is 69.59%, and that for the 2006-2016 elections is 66.01%, or only about a 5%.

    The primary election data seems to be misleading as to overall trends in that the reported fall-off is many times greater for the primaries than for the general elections, suggesting the problem with voting is much greater than it actually is, at least for the general elections. Why the historical trend for MN primaries is so much different than that for the general elections may be interesting, but it is not representative of overall voter participation is general elections.

  17. In addition to what iI said in my previous post, the use of reported voter turnout data is misleading in another, probably more important sense.

    It seems that what we are really interested in is the percentage of people who actually vote. So, instead of reported voter turnput data, another measure we can use is the percentage of the population that actually vote, which is quite different than reported turnout.

    For example, in the presidential election of 2016, the reported turnout in MN was 74.72%; there were 2,968,281 voters, and the totsl population was 5,519,952, or about 54% of the total population voted. In contrast, in the 1952 presidential election, the reported turnout was 77.22%, and there were 652,825 voters andthe population of MN was about 3,030,000, so only about 22% of the total poulation voted. So despite the fact the reported turnout fell slightly from 77% to 75% the proportion of the population that voted rose from 22% to 54%.

    Running a linear regression line though the general election turnout data reported by the MN secretary of state, the slope is indeed negative, going down by about a 0.32% a decade. But the regression line through the proportion of voters per total population has a positive slope, going up by about 1.4% per decade.

    So, from the viewpoint of actual voter participation, things are much better now than in the 50’s and 60’s, and has been moving in the right direction, despite reported turnout data seeming to show the opposite.

    1. Running a linear regression line though the general election turnout data reported by the MN secretary of state, the slope is indeed negative, going down by about a 0.32% a decade. But the regression line through the proportion of voters per total population has a positive slope, going up by about 1.4% per decade.

      What data are you getting these runs from? Not from the final link you posted?

  18. @dean
    I think Rick R’s point is that the percentage of all people that vote has increased, rather than the percentage of eligible voters. I’m not 100% sure but I think this reflects an increase in the proportion of people eligible.

  19. Are all the folks is the total population eligible to vote? Of cours not. The total population includes those under 18, non-citizens, convicted felons, etc. who are not eligible to vote. So why use that number? Two reasons:

    The first is simply practical – it’s available. I can find the yearly estimates of total population for the states, and I don’t right off know of a source that gives me, say, the population of each state over 18, for example.

    But the more important reason flows out of democratic theory. Voter eligibility can be, and has been historically, limited and changed. And limiting elegibility to vote can be an effective anti-democratic tactic. Until 1920 women could not vote in most states, when the 19th amendment became ratified, those eligible to vote suddenly doubled. Literacy requirements limited elegibility to vote. Race has been used to limit elegibility. Age has been, at one time 21, not 18.

    In general, expansion of the franchise is seen as a pro-democratic good, and looking only at voter eligibility can make a very un-democratic system look more democratic that it is. Limiting the franchise to adult, property owning white men? – it’s been done, and is not very democratic, even if it produces a high turnout rate.

    Using total population as the base is an attempt to measure democratic participation in a way that elegibility to vote can, and in some cases does, hide. Is it perfect? No, but it is, from a democratic participation standpoint, probably better than such measures as percent of register voters.

    1. “Using total population as the base is an attempt to measure democratic participation in a way that elegibility to vote can, and in some cases does, hide. ”

      That is essentially assuming the population grows at the same rate the set of people who could vote grows.

      But more directly — did you get the population data from your link above or from somewhere else?

      Just playing with the data from your previous link

      > regressing the number of votes on the number eligible gives a negative slope but not a slope you gave (and it isn’t a percent since none of the data are percentages)
      > That regression gives a lousy fit — lots of curvature in the residuals (due to the lack of linearity seen in other plots) AND the votes in 1982 and 1994 were identified as having high amounts of influence on the fit. As bad a measure a p-value is, removing those two votes from the data set dropped the p-value by a factor of 4. Those issues tell me that looking at this with anything related to regression is
      worthless

      I’m still not sure where the general population values came from

  20. Canadian observer here, so potentially some bias, but I think one of the problems is election overload. It might be better to get all elections every 4 years along with the POTUS elections. That would increase the importance, and take away from the midterm election distraction. It would mean all the houses would be consistent for 4 years, and would have a chance to get something done.

    But I think this is just a sideline to the overall problem which is that political parties don’t represent the interests of their voters, but rather a subset of those voters that have influence. When it comes to serving the best interests of the country as a whole that’s out the window entirely!
    I believe this is actually the biggest driver behind dropping voter turnout – the increasing understanding that the people we elect will not represent our interests. This also contributes to the tribalistic voting that dominates current politics – the reason to support a party doesn’t depend on it’s platform if no platform actually matches your own interest.
    This is a much more difficult problem to solve, but the only one worth solving anyway. Even if more people vote, what does it matter if the elected representatives don’t actually represent them anyway?

  21. Where did i get the data? The general election turnout data comes directly from the MN Secretary of State’s website i posted previously:
    http://www.sos.state.mn.us/election-administration-campaigns/data-maps/historical-voter-turnout-statistics/
    The direct links to the data were were the ones that didn’t work; to get to the data, right under the first table on the website, labeled “General Election Turnout Since 2000” there are two links, “Download pdf of Primary and General Election Turnout since 1950” and “Download spreadsheet of Primary and General Election Turnout since 1950”, either of which has the data (I used the spreadsheet version).

    For the voters/population figure, I took the total voters form the same Secretary of state’s website, and the historical population figures from the large table at the bottom of this page:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_historical_population
    Since that data only goes to 2015, I googled “Minnesota population 2016” and used the census bureau’s figure.

  22. note = [[

    Dean

    “That is essentially assuming the population grows at the same rate the set of people who could vote grows.”

    No, I am essentially avoiding that assumption. And, at least for the period of we are looking at, the assumption is not correct; there was, for example, a change in 1971 with the passage of the 26th amendement when 18-2-year-olds were added to those eligible to vote, with no corresponding change in population. It seems that the use of reported voter turnout implicitly makes that assumption.

    If the proportion of eligible voters grew at the same rate as the population, the two measures should be the same, except for a scaling factor. But they are not the same, with one going up and the other going down.

    So the question is, to what degree does the fall in voter participation numbers represent a fall in actual voter interest in voting. Voter participation number can fall because fewer people are voting, or because the pool of eligible voters rises.

    Take for instance the 19th amendment, approximately doubling the number of eligible voters. If women voter at the same rate as men, the voter participation rate would stay the same, although the proportion of the population who voted would approximately double. If no woman showed up to vote, the voter participation rate woud fall approximately in half, but the proportion of the population would stay the same.

    It seems that finding the proportion of all people who voted is a better indication of democratic participation than just the proportion of those elegible to vote if the eligibility to vote is restricted. A highly restricted franchise seems to be less democratic than a broad franchise, even if a smaller fraction of those eligible to vote exercise that franchise.

    “regressing the number of votes on the number eligible gives a negative slope but not a slope you gave.”

    If would be interesting to know what number you did get for that, I could do that calculation to check my figures. But that’s not the calculation I did; my calculation was a regession for reported turnout over time. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. Certainly it is no surprise that that slope be negative.

    “That regression gives a lousy fit”

    Yeah, the data is noisy, and we cannot put too much reliance on the exact numbers. But regressive is is an easily available indication of whether voter participation is overall going up or down. In spite of the noise in the data, it does appear that the reported voter participation rate is going down, and this is one quick way of checking that appearance. Therenote = [[

    Dean

    “That is essentially assuming the population grows at the same rate the set of people who could vote grows.”

    No, I am essentially avoiding that assumption. And, at least for the period of we are looking at, the assumption is not correct; there was, for example, a change in 1971 with the passage of the 26th amendement when 18-2-year-olds were added to those eligible to vote, with no corresponding change in population. It seems that the use of reported voter turnout implicitly makes that assumption.

    If the proportion of eligible voters grew at the same rate as the population, the two measures should be the same, except for a scaling factor. But they are not the same, with one going up and the other going down.

    So the question is, to what degree does the fall in voter participation numbers represent a fall in actual voter interest iin voting. Voter participation number can fall because fewer people are voting, or because the pool of eligible voters rises.

    Take for instance the 19th amendment, approximately doubling the number of eligible voters. If women voter at the same rate as men, the voter participation rate would stay the same, although the proportion of the population who voted would approximately double. If no woman showed up to vote, the voter participation rate woud fall approxiamtely in half, but the proportion of the population would stay

    It seems that finding the proportion of all people who voted is a better indication of democratic participation than just the proportion of those elegible to vote if the eligibility to vote is restricted.

    “regressing the number of votes on the number eligible gives a negative slope but not a slope you gave.”

    If would be interesting to know what number you did get for that, I could do that calculation to check my figures. But that’s not the calculation I did; my calculation was a regession for reported turnout over time. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. Certainly it is no the that slope be negative.

    “That regression gives a lousy fit”

    Yeah, the data is noisy, and we cannot put too much reliance on the exact numbers. But is is an easily available indication of whether voter participation is going up of down. In spite of the noise in the data, it does appear that the reported voter participation rate is going down, and linear regression is one quick way of checking that appearance. There may be other ways, and they may be better, but for a quick, back-of-the-envelope type calculation it seems not unreasonable.

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