Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Good and the Bad in Dispatch Election Analysis

Like it or not, the Columbus Dispatch is the paper of record when it comes to statewide politics. Between some political reporters and the natural proximity to politics central, the paper will run more stories and have more statewide information than anyone else.

The Good.

The best Dispatch post-mortem so far is a story analyzing Obama's 88-county strategy. The story doesn't stop at the obvious (scoreboard; it worked.) Instead the writers dig through the numbers to show that the strategy paid off. Obama improved Kerry's performance in most regions throughout the state, winning some new counties in the northwest and blunting the Republican advantage on its home turf. Moreover, the paper notes that Obama actually underperformed Kerry in Appalachian counties and in the Mahoning valley.

Click. Read. The whole article is worth the time.

The Bad.

The headline alone tells you we're heading off the tracks: "As Usual, Dispatch Poll Was Accurate." As usual? Do you guys remember any of your earlier polls? Or are we engaging in a bit of revisionist history.

Let's review. As accurately noted, the Dispatch poll showed a dead heat in 2004 just before the election which was in the MoE of Bush's two percent win. But a month before, the Dispatch poll was an outlier, showing a seven percent Bush lead when the average of Ohio polls showed two percent.

The next year, the Dispatch suffered a humiliating stumble, predicting victory for two of the four Reform Ohio Now amendments before all four were crushed at the polls.

In '06 the poll showed Strickland ahead by six and a half points more than his ultimate margin of victory and was, again, the only poll to do so. For a poll that claims a 2% MoE, that's ugly. By the way, the RON poll and the '06 gov poll were so far of that they gave Fitrakis fodder for his usual moonbattery.

Happily, no significant statewide races last year offered the paper a chance to issue a meaningful poll.

"As usual" it was accurate? A better headline would have been "Dispatch Poll Fails to Embarass the Paper This Time."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Two hundred nineteen years ago the new nation ratified a Constitution that enshrined both fundamental guarantees of liberty and the institution of slavery.

One hundred and eight years ago, the Supreme Court decided Plessy v. Ferguson, effectively gutting the constitutional attempt to guarantee newly freed slaves real equality. Plessy would remain the law of the land for fifty eight years.

Sixty years ago the cold war with the Communist world began. It would be fought in the main as a chess match in former colonies in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and America's moves would not infrequently include supporting dictators and erstwhile colonists.

Forty Four years ago Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and famously declared that Democrats had lost the South for a generation.

Yesterday the still-young country elected as President the son of a former subject of British colonial rule in Africa.

My head still swims at the thought.

Monday, November 03, 2008


I begin the day so early it won't be entirely accurate to describe it as morning. I'll be working voter protection all day and at some point staggering over to the Dem victory party. It's safe to say I won't be blogging, but will Twitter whatever, whenever I can.

The Election and the Supreme Court

While wading through some long neglected corners of my Google Reader, I ran across this anti-Obama rant by Holly in Cincinnati on Moderate Voice. Holly was one of the most stridently anti-Obama voices during the primary and apparently is feeling quite PUMA-ish.

Holly will do what she will do, but one item in particular caught my eye. She rejects the argument that a vote for McCain is a vote for a right wing lurch on the Supreme Court, "because SCOTUS appointees historically tend to moderate their views and do the very best job that they can to serve the American people and our judicial system."

That's not an argument. That's denial.

First off, understand what we are talking about. Currently the Court is composed of four predictably conservative judges -- Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia -- and four judges that vote in what passes these days as liberally -- Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter and Stevens. Kennedy is currently the swing vote.

Holly is right that some justices moderate their views. Kennedy is an example. He is by nature a conservative, but unlike the right wing of the court, his conservatism includes respecting stare decisis (the principle that says precedent should be followed) and worries about a drastic change by the Court disrupting society. In addition, he has allowed life experience (for example, getting to know gay clerks and employees, attending international law conferences) to influence his jurisprudence. O'Connor, the previous swing vote, what much the same.

On the other hand, Thomas and Scalia have not moderated their views one iota. For example, in a concurrence in the early Nineties Thomas outlined a view of the Constitution that would render most government regulation of the economy -- including labor, health and environmental legislation -- unconstitutional. Scalia recently declared that the decision that simply allowed Guantanamo detainees to have a day in court would inevitably result in more people dying in terrorist attacks.

Court watchers generally agree that Roberts and Alito are similarly unlikely to moderate their views. Alito for one is still the same jurist who declared a Pennsylvania law requireing a woman to notify her spouse before having an abortion constitutional before the Court struck it down in Casey v. Planned Parenthood.

Not only are some judges disinclined to change their views, the right wing seems to be getting better at making the prediction. The three most recent Republican appointments -- Thomas, Roberts and Alito, are also the most recalcitrantly conservative.

This matters now more than ever. The next President will almost certainly replace two, if not three members of the liberal block. Stevens is 88. Ginsberg is 75 and a cancer survivor. Souter is 69 but reportedly loathes DC. (Scalia at 72 is the only conservative near any possible retirement age.)

So the next President will almost certainly replace a large segement of the liberal bloc. McCain has signaled his intention to nominate justices in the mold of Roberts, Alito, Scalia and Thomas. In point of fact you have at least three different molds there, but the message is clear -- no more compromisers like Kennedy and O'Connor.

If this happens, losing Roe v. Wade will look like a relatively mild consequence. Large swaths of legislation protecting consumers, guaranteeing bargaining rights and safeguarding the environment will be at risk. Individual civil liberties on the other hand will be given a back of the hand. In particular, the righty bloc has little patience for challenges to government religious speech or limits on law enforcement. Whatver moderating effect on all this Kennedy has had would be gone as Scalia would take his place at an increasingly rightward center. (Prof. Will Huhn has a series of posts getting more specific on all this. Click here and scroll down to the Court in the Balance posts.)

For my conservative friends, this is all fine of course. But if you do not want to see a simultaneously ultraconservative and activist court, vote Obama. It's your one chance to shape the Court.

Tips for Voting Tomorrow

Assuming you haven't done so already, voting tomorrow will present challenges. Here are a few tips for making it a little easier on yourself and making sure your vote gets counted. I offer this as a service and, yes, it's based on my voter protection work. But in case there are any questions, this officially comes from me, not the voter protection effort.

1. Bring Your ID

Yes, you know that already, but really. Bring your ID. No ID and you have to cast a provisional ballot.

Also remember, if you use a driver's license, state ID or military ID, the address on the ID need not match the address under which you are registered. If a poll worker tries to tell you otherwise, firmly but correctly point out that that isn't the rule.

If for some reason you don't have one of the above, remember that you can bring a utility bill, paycheck or government document of any kind, provided it shows your name and (different this time) the address under which you are registered.

2. Go to Your Proper Polling Place

The one sure way to cast a vote that won't be counted is to cast it at the wrong polling place. Questions about your polling place? Check out and plug in your address. But remember, that only gives you a polling location. Many locations house multiple precincts. You have to find the table where your precinct picks up ballots. Polling locations have greeters this year to help you find your way.

If you try to vote and aren't on the list, it may be because you aren't at the right polling place or precinct table. So first off, check that. Polling staff are supposed to look your address up in the book if there are questions, but if the crowd swells, you might have trouble getting this done.

Whatever you do, if you aren't on the list do not cast a provisional ballot at that precinct unless you are sure it is the right one. Some poll workers were letting/encouraging this in '04. Remember, if you cast at the wrong precinct your ballot does not count.

3. If You Have Problems, Look Out for Voter Protection Observers.

While we don't have observers at every location, where we do they are there to help. We should have outside observers at lots of locations, and inside plus outside observers at a good many. They can help you resolve problems with voting if they arise.

4. Leave Your Campaign Gear Behind

The rule about campaign shirts/hats/buttons etc. isn't clear, which means poll workers will be enforcing it as they see fit. The base rule is no campaigning within 100 feet of the door to the polling location. Under some interpretations, wearing a candidate's paraphernalia is campaigning.

If you want to test the rule and have a well-connected team of lawyers ready to file a declaratory judgment action and get a judge on the phone for on on-the-spot ruling, by all means, be a test case. If not, understand that the presiding judge at the polling location has the last word unless you go to court. So the smart move is to go into the polling place sans Obama (or McCain) gear.

Yes, "Your Professor" at 216 said the opposite. One difference between Your Professor and the present instructor -- he says you can look it up; I actually do.

5. Vote.

Seriously. No matter what happens tomorrow, people will be talking about this election for decades. You want to be part of this.

6. Tell Your Story.

Wiki the Vote is compiling voting info with an eye toward improving the process. SoS Jennifer Brunner's website also encourages voters to log their experiences. Whatever doesn't go right will be a lot harder to solve if people don't know about it.

TNR Spotlights Jennifer Brunner

Just up on The New Republic's site is an article shadowing Ohio SoS Jennifer Brunner as she prepares for tomorrow's elections. Much of it is familiar to Ohioans -- chaos in 2004, Republican attacks on her neutrality, howling fantods about database mismatches. As the article notes, Brunner is now lining up her bucket brigade to douset any fires that flare tomorrow. A taste:

    On the floor below Brunner's office, dozens of staffers in the Elections Division are recovering from months of GOP blasts while, at the same time, bracing themselves for Tuesday's swarms of voters and the hiccups or disasters they might bring. "We're preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best," says field leader Katherine Thomsen, who will coordinate polling site checks and conference calls on Tuesday to keep the secretary of state's office in the loop about what's happening on the ground.

    One wing of the floor houses a "phalanx of lawyers," in one staffer's words, ready to handle any legal problems, while another is staffed by campaign finance officers still answering phone calls about possible problems with candidates' yard signs. Piles of filing boxes stuffed with election documents stretch down one wall in the floor's central hub, past cubicles where "paper jockeys" are busy with faxes and e-mails from local precincts.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Is Arizona Obama's Head Fake?

For political junkies, the question of week is why is Obama bothering to advertise in Arizone. Sure the polls show him within striking distance -- in some cases even within the MoE. But they consistently show McCain ahead and the RCP average puts him outside the MoE.

Futhermore, as 538 demostrates, Arizona pretty much can't make a difference in any conceivable scenario. That is to say, it's impossible to imagine Obama surging enough in Arizona to win but losing enough other states that he actually needs the ten electoral votes.

One hypothesis offered by Chris Cillizza is that the Arizona ad buy is a signal to the electorate as a whole that the race is in hand. As an alternative consider this. By going after McCain's home state, Obama could deke his proud opponent into abandoning his game plan and doing something rash. Like, say, cutting way back on GOTV for a last minute ad buy.

Anyone passingly familiar with Obama's biography knows his lifelong love of basketball. You've got to admire his head fake. Just hope he doesn't miss the layup.